December 15, 2010
This Christmas. Retribution. From a 13 year-old.
Like everyone, except maybe the people who voted for the Golden Globe nominations, I'm really excited for the Coens' remake of True Grit. I've never seen the original, but the Coens say they "only dimly recalled" seeing it when they were kids, so I'm not too worried about not grasping the context. As my friend T-Rock said, the remake with The Dude and Jason Bourne is good enough for me.
There's starting to be some press about the movie's young star, Hailee Steinfeld, who plays the narrator and central character of the movie, Mattie Ross. A recent piece in the Times stresses how much time they put into casting that role. Joel Coen says, "We only cast her three or four weeks before we started shooting the movie, and we had been looking for a long time. But that was a crucial, maybe the crucial aspect of making the film."
I happened to meet the person responsible for casting Mattie Ross at my local old-timey bar, the kind of place that opens at 8 AM and offers its patrons free unlimited hot dogs. This woman had been in charge of extras casting for a couple of Coen Brothers movies, and if you think about the actors in memorable small roles that are such a great part of movies like No Country For Old Men (the "where does he work?" lady) or A Serious Man (all those swearing boys on the school bus), you know this is maybe one of the world's best jobs.
Anyway, she was charged with casting Mattie because of her experience in finding unknowns that have that certain Coen-esque combination of everyday familiarity and weirdo strangeness. Specifically, they wanted a girl who could ride a horse, act convincingly tough, and hold her own with really famous actors who tend to dominate every scene, like Jeff Bridges. And most important, the casting director said, she had to be completely devoid of sexuality or flirtatiousness. If there was any suggestion of creepy sexual tension between this actress and Jeff Bridges, it would be a disaster.
She told me they went through well over 10,000 actresses (the article says it was 15,000) over the course of 8 months of constant searching. The casting team basically moved to Texas and went to hundreds of rodeos and riding demos all over Texas and Oklahoma, introducing themselves to young riders and cowgirls and screen testing anyone who possessed the appropriate combination of badass and unsexy. They got videotapes of thousands of midwestern girls and local actresses. The Coens didn't like anybody. She said that finding a 13 or 14-year old who could appear to be unaware of her own sexuality was almost impossible.
Eventually they got a taped audition from Hailee Steinfeld, who's from LA and has an agent and has done some TV and commercials. So much for the real-life cowgirl. If you've seen the trailer, you can see how awesome this girl is. Apparently, regular 13 year-olds from America's heartland can act sexy on film, no problem, but finding a no-nonsense kid who doesn't look like she wants to hump Jeff Bridges while the cameras are rolling is basically out of the question.
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