by writer/director Michael McGowan
My First and Second Conversations with the Leading Man
You never know who you’ll be dealing with when you cast a role. For the vast majority of actors I’ve worked with, it’s been an absolute pleasure. However, there is always the possibility things could go wrong.
So it was with some trepidation that soon after James Cromwell agreed to play Craig Morrison (incredibly the first time he’s been the lead in a film), I was told he wanted to schedule a call to go over his script notes. This was a first, as I’d never had script notes from an actor before. In fact, for most of my films, there’s been virtually no rehearsal time before the cameras roll.
As a writer/director, I don’t care (or insist) that the actors perform what’s on the page verbatim. In fact most are usually much better than I am at reworking some of the mangled syntax so that it ends up sounding considerably more elegant. That said, I’ve never once improvised a scene. An actor has never asked me, I’ve never felt the need to and there simply isn’t enough time. So when Jamie announced he had notes, I was worried he would insist on a substantial reworking of a script that had already undergone a number of drafts, our investors had signed off on and I believed in. In short, I was worried a Pandora’s Box of potential rewrites and revisions could be in my future.
The call was set up and after some small talk, Jamie (he insists on Jamie) dove into his notes. However, it quickly became apparent we weren’t actually discussing the same script. None of the scene or page numbers he referred to matched up to mine.
When I realized (and told him) that the draft he had done exhaustive analysis on was not the latest version (of which substantial changes had been implemented), there was an awkward silence on the line.
How could things have gone off the rails so early in our working relationship? I was terrified someone on our end was the cause of this oversight, that in the craze of preproduction, we had forgotten to send him the latest draft. Going further, this incompetence would convince Jamie that we were not the sort of folks he should be throwing his lot in with and he’d decide to pull out of the picture.
Fortunately, emails revealed it was not our fault.
We agreed to talk in another week after both of us had time to look at both versions.
The next call took hours and it was during this conversation that I learned the depth of his preparation before he ever appeared on camera. I don’t think there was a scene he didn’t have a question about or a comment on. Usually, in those situations, I tend to get fairly defensive. With Jamie this wasn’t the case. He was curious. He wanted to understand where I was coming from and wanted me to articulate my choices. If he disagreed, he did so not needing to be right, but simply because he was able to articulate a different point of view. It was never an argument, rather, an examination of the alternatives.
The result? He pushed me to write a better script. Our conversation continued through the entire shoot. If I missed anything, Jamie would catch it. If I hadn’t thought something through, he would question it. As a result, Still Mine is a much better film for Jamie’s effort both in front and behind the camera.