When I first started writing Moderngrumble, the main character, ‘Boy’ was envisioned as an ethereal creature, a hairless, albino with a mouth stained gray/black with ash, chapped, raw, pursed lips, and glowing green eyes. He was also meant to have a mouth and jaw that could unhinge like that of a Python. However, as the writing progressed two things began to dominate my vision: 1) Boy was androgynous and 2) The more human he appeared the more disturbing his actions would be. We are after all speaking about someone who eats the dead and for my money that’s a far more interesting idea when it’s not simply another monster doing the eating but a living, breathing human being.
Once I started working with Michael Duggan on the storyboards/graphic novel however we settled on a more hulking, monstrous but gentle vision for ‘Boy’. Fortunately the hairless albino look, with the green eyes and chapped, stained, pursed lips remained. This change in physical style was due to the artist’s strengths and in the drawn frame the hulking version worked better than a more slight one. Still my intentions remained basically as they had originally, save for the unhinged jaw, and I thought that when the time came to cast, I would still entertain the idea of casting an androgynous actor. I even thought for a while that I might cast a female in the lead to further play with the ambiguity of who and or what Boy is.
As I made the first moves toward casting however I realized that while visually the slight, androgynous look for Boy that I favored fit well with my vision there was one significant aspect of the script that I was overlooking. Boy is an almost entirely silent role which means I need a great physical actor who can project his presence and emotions through body motion and gaze alone. I entertained the extreme of this idea, that I should look for a model, and not an actor, someone who could take direction and project the desired emotions or even in Bresson’s style a model as empty vessel or conduit for my direction and intention. Thankfully, my senses returned with the realization that I needed to find someone with a strong physical presence coupled with the ability to play naïve, and innocent as well as deeply soulful, a child with an old soul, not a model.
Luckily, rather early in the casting process we have discovered an experienced, professional actor who has reacted strongly to the script and whom I hope to secure in the coming week for participation in the trailer shoot. Watching this particular actor in other films, I was struck by a few things: 1) He was consistently the best actor in the film as well as the most interesting thing on screen. 2) He has a very striking, very male face with enough angles to make lighting him a very rewarding adventure. 3) His eyes belie a great deal of experience while at the same time projecting a great deal of vulnerability.
So, not the androgynous look I was initially looking for but something better, the best of two worlds really; the strong male presence and look balanced with the more feminine and vulnerable qualities expressed in his gaze. I can only hope that that same gentle expressiveness will not be hampered but amplified by the green contacts he will have to wear throughout the shoot. If we cannot find a set of contact that allows for that communication between actor and viewer then we may have to consider changing that too. After all, if there is one thing I have learned in this process it’s that you have to be nimble and willing to re-imagine the finer points in accordance with the numerous variances that arise from working with others. The trick is to always come up with something as good or better than the original idea. And that challenge seems to me to be the real core of successful filmmaking. Sticking rigidly to a script written a year ago, and imagined well before that will only result in failure.