By John Kovacevich
Yes, Will Smith is just as charming and nice off screen as he is on screen.
Most of you can stop reading now. Because without a doubt, the main thing that people want to know when they hear that I have a small role in The Pursuit of Happyness, is whether or not Smith was a good guy. "Was he full of himself?" "Does he have an entourage?" "Did he yell at the craft service guy when they ran out of bagels?"
No, no and no.
But you, gentle GreenCine reader, are not your average person. You are a fan of the cinema! You care about the details - the tiny brushstrokes that make up a great work of art.
In other words, you care about the story of YOUNG EXECUTIVE #2. And that story is all mine...
As you might expect, working as a professional actor in San Francisco is a very different gig than making your career in LA or New York. Much of the on-camera work here is industrials or voice over. (There is a good chance I'm in your company's safety, sales or sexual harassment training film.)
Years ago, it seemed like Robin Williams shot a film in his hometown once a year and SF-set shows like Nash Bridges provided work for a lot of people. But, sadly, the market has changed a lot in the last 10 years and the Bay Area doesn't see as many big film and television productions in town.
That's why lots of local people got excited in 2005 when we heard that Sony was going to shoot 100 percent of their new Will Smith movie on location in San Francisco. And it was even better news when they decided to audition local talent for some of the smaller roles. By no means was this a given. Many of the big productions that do shoot in the city bring in actors from LA, even for the smallest of roles. So when my agent called in July 2005 with an audition appointment for the movie, I was excited. When I arrived at the casting agency, actors were tucked into corners, reviewing the lines for COP #3 or HOSPITAL NURSE or HIPPIE CHICK - those 10-words or less roles that might or might not end up on the cutting room floor.
The trick of auditioning for a small part is to make an impression with just a few words... without looking like you're trying to make an impression. If you look like you're "acting," you're not going to get the part.
So, when I stepped into the audition room to read for the part of PAUL (two lines; thirteen words), I just tried to be as natural as possible. They put me on tape and I walked out of the room... less than two minutes after I entered. (This isn't necessarily a bad thing. In the early stages of casting, they put a ton of people on tape, so it goes pretty fast. What you want is to get a callback in front of the director since it's ultimately his or her call.)
A few days later, my agent called and said they wanted to bring me back in to read for a few more parts on tape. On that second visit, I read for FERRARI OWNER and YOUNG EXECUTIVE.
Two weeks later, I got a callback to come in and read for the director, Gabriele Muccino. He had me do the YOUNG EXECUTIVE part and again, I just tried to keep it as natural as possible. Later that afternoon, my agent called and said they were having "final" callbacks the next day and I went over the production offices in the Presidio for my fourth audition.
About a week later, my agent called with the news that the part of YOUNG EXECUTIVE #2 was mine! Four rounds of auditions to land a role with five lines. Not that I was complaining! I was thrilled to book it and even more excited that both of my scenes were to be with Will Smith's character. But it's interesting to note how hard people compete to land those split-second roles that most viewers forget before the movie is even over.
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