Heidi Levitt has six weeks to fill 29 roles for a $7 million film with no distribution deal. That’s the good news
Sitting in the half-dark of a small Hollywood theater down the hall from an office crammed with crates of glossies, resumes, and videotaped auditions, Heidi Levitt finishes feeding lines to an actor. She snaps shut her thick, three-ring notebook, thanks him, and ushers him out the door. Then she leads another actor in. They’re reading for the film The Man from Elysian Fields, a $7 million independent feature starring Andy Garcia. Each audition lasts between three and four minutes, and the actors have an audience of two: Levitt and the film’s director, George Hickenlooper.
Levitt, who has been casting movies since 1987, is pleased with the progress this morning. So far nearly two dozen actors have tromped up and down her green-carpeted stairs. To minimize what she calls “kiss-assing,” Levitt marshals the prospects in and out with rhythmic efficiency.
The Man from Elysian Fields is Hickenlooper’s fifth feature, and he sees it as his ticket out of the straight-to-video racket. A likable oaf in modish horn-rimmed glasses, he fumbles with a stack of photos. Waiting outside is television actress Victoria Rowell. “Is she a big star?” he asks Levitt, sounding worried. “I feel weird about actresses I don’t know.” Then, signaling Rowell to come in, Hickenlooper offers her a seat facing his. “Come sit in the electric chair,” he says.
Next, the three-foot-nine-inch actor Billy Barty tools in on a motorized scooter. He has come to read for the bit role of an Italian tailor. He wears a furry black hat and tells Hickenlooper that his real name is Guiseppe Bertanzetti. “They changed it when I was three,” he says, “when I started in vaudeville. My first movie was in ’27.” Hickenlooper tells the actor it’s an honor to meet him. “I loved you in Day of the Locust,” he says.
After Barty’s exit comes the verdict: “Sweet, but not right for the part.”
Next, Saturday Night Live alumnus Ellen Cleghorne offers a hilarious reading for a role simply called FEMALE CUSTOMER. “You did the first part with perfection,” Hickenlooper says. “You’re an amazing actress.”
Verdict? “Funny, but slightly cartoonish.” In other words, no.
Actress Maureen McCormick, who played Marcia Brady on The Brady Bunch, arrives. She doesn’t need to audition because she worked with Hickenlooper on his 1997 film, Dogtown. He immediately offers her the role of a character who likes to have her toes sucked. McCormick jumps up from her seat, kisses him, and shrieks, “Oh my God! I love you, George. I love you. I love you. I love you. Oh my God! Are you serious? I love you. I love you. I love you. Thank you so much, George. I will just totally blow you away. You’ll love it. Oh my God. I’m so excited. Where will we be?”
“We’re going to work in the Ambassador Hotel. So wear pearls,” he says, adding that the movie will be a six-week shoot.
“Oh, honey,” she replies. “I’ll do whatever you want.”