My crash course in movie casting came when I was in my second semester of film school at USC.
I needed an actor for a 16mm black-and-white short film my friend and colleague Curtis Linton were working on, a predictably bizarre opus my brother and I had written called Be Nice. Conceptualized as a treatise on the value of human kindness in the world, this was to be a five-minute non-dialogue project that would be half Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line and half MTV’s Sifl & Olly.
Oh, did I not mention it was a sock puppet movie?
Among the sock-people, there was a sole human called for in the script, and our teacher suggested we put an ad in Backstage West describing the film and what would be involved in making it. I tried my best to make our esoteric sock puppet peace fable sound as palatable as possible, and paid the nominal fee to submit the ad. I can’t recall the exact terms I used, but I definitely mentioned that it was no pay, there’d be no dialogue (a big sticking point in the class), and that instead of shooting intensely over a Saturday or two, we’d have to stretch out production for probably six weekends. Basically, I’d pay for pizza for this actor and my posse of fellow film students who’d be helping shoot, and that’d be it.
After a few days, in a surreal postal avalanche, headshots came streaming in. I got at least 75 photos and resumes of up-and-coming actors in my mailbox, and for a week, they kept coming. As a filmmaker, one of the most valuable things to have in your arsenal is a wide array of options, but after sifting through hundreds of photographs of smiling hopefuls, I felt more than a little overwhelmed. I ended up hiring a wonderful actor named Ronnie Steadman, who’d go on to get featured work on Lie to Me and Bones, but I knew from that experience that cold-call ads were not going to be a preferred starting-off point for any of my future films.
I set up a meeting with this woman Shawn had recommended at Bella Bru Coffee & Tea in El Dorado Hills as a formality (I didn’t want to offend any of my fresh new actors), and barely had a chance to wad up the Sacramento Bee ad application before ordering my first cup of coffee. Katherine Fullenlove was friendly and professional all the way as we introduced ourselves, but I immediately recognized that she had the unhinged latent spitfire quality that was so innate to Mary Ann’s character. In Better Than Crazy, Mary Ann is marginalized as Dave’s girlfriend and not, as Robert says late in the picture, “a real cousin”, and I wanted her to not take the bait with this passive shaming. Mary Ann wasn’t aggressive, necessarily, but she had to be able to both roll with the punches and throw back at these cousins what they forced onto her.
The relief that washed over me that morning made me rush through our meeting, to be perfectly honest, because now that I had my last major cast member in place, there were twenty other tasks I needed to tend to. I told Katherine the role was hers if she wanted it. She did, and that was that.
On set, Katherine was more open and accommodating than I had expected, and I had hoped for quite a bit. It took a couple takes of those first few shots to loosen her up a little, but at one point, either Aaron or Nick make a crack about Shawn not being there (he was sick as a dog for our first two days of production – more on that later), and Katherine lost it. We even used this rollicking moment in the final film because it was too juicy to ignore: she laughed so hard that as Katherine snorts and falls back in her chair, you can actually hear Amy say, “Help her!”
Working with Katherine through the rest of production was a snap, though as it was structured, she only was on set for 2/3 of the film. My favorite moments with her, though, came during our ADR (Automated Dialogue Replacement) session a few months after we’d wrapped. She had moved to San, so I had to bring our entire recording apparatus to her, rather than have her come to what we called ‘The Laboratory’ in San Francisco. On a nondescript weekday, I set up shop in a spare room in her house and we re-recorded some dialogue that hadn’t been captured perfectly on set.
It was thrilling watching her get back into the groove of that character. The goal of good ADR is that it shouldn’t be distracting at all – it should seem like any other piece of dialogue in the movie – and Katherine delivered on that. I took too many takes of everything (as usual), but even so, we were able to finish up early and enjoy a long dinner together afterward, talking shop and sharing war stories about other projects and various artistic hopes and dreams. It was so easy I have trouble considering it ‘work’.
I’d like to let the work speak for itself, so I hesitate to expand on what it is that Katherine Fullenlove brought to Better Than Crazy, but each time I’ve sat through it, I’m impressed in a different way just how mercurial and earnest she seems on screen. As we get closer to our release, I’m excited that I’ll have an opportunity to see her again soon.
I can’t wait to remind her just how big a Katherine Fullenlove fan I am.
– Mike Restaino, writer/director of Better Than Crazy
Coming Wednesday: “Sittin’ on the porch next to mama’s chocolate cake…”