B R I E F   S Y N O P S I S
In her English-language debut set in contemporary Glasgow, director Lone Scherfig (Italian for Beginners) tells the comic story of two wildly different brothers transformed by love. Harbour (Adrian Rawlins) is a congenial bookstore owner cursed with a troublesome younger brother, Wilbur (Jamie Sives). After weathering Wilbur's latest suicide attempt, Harbour tries to find him a girlfriend. As luck would have it, Harbour falls in love with the prime candidate (Shirley Henderson). Unfortunately, Wilbur does too, and so the storm clouds begin to gather...
  Casting Wilbur

Des Hamilton, a football player turned model turned actor turned casting director (somehow it is never the other way around) meets me in a very small bedroom with a very big bed at the Victorian (and highly recommended, though not for casting sessions) Portobello Hotel in Notting Hill. A lot of Scottish actors, a lot of Scotsmen in general, are in London to find work. The combination of kilt and sneakers is more convincing than Mr. Hamilton's attempts to assemble the two items that will make his camera work. Usually people who wear skirts are better at hiding technical ignorance.

A doctor walks in. I have asked to meet the doctor from Breaking the Waves, my favourite almost-Scottish film by my favourite Danish almost-colleague, Lars von Trier. The doctor, Adrian Rawlins, not Scottish at all, and I, not an actress, and Des, definitely not a cinematographer, play and film a scene from the script of Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself. There is almost room enough for us in one corner of the room. Adrian Rawlins is very good, totally uninfluenced by the fact that I am very very bad reading the role of Harbour, Wilbur's generous and warm older brother who is the real main character of the film. The doctor seems to understand Harbour's fragile character very well. We swap roles and I, now as a seemingly tipsy Scottish doctor with a thick Danish accent, am in tears with Adrian Rawlins' performance as Harbour.

Adrian leaves and I manage to not let Des see how touched I am by my own dialogue the first time I've heard it played. Tasteless amateurism. It must be my co-writer's fault.

Des tries to convince me that Adrian has blue eyes and red hair. The Wilbur-actor we desperately hope to get, Jamie Sives, totally unknown except to Des because Jamie is a good football player, would be his black-haired brown-eyed brother. Des does not know that if actors are good enough, genetics no longer exists and the tape he just recorded is so blurry and inspired by the Dogme movement that we cannot see what Adrian looks like anyway.

Actors keep coming in all day. They are much more humble than I am used to. Unemployment is much more serious here than in social democratic Denmark, as is the literary and dramatic tradition. They do everything they can to stick to the script, spelling mistakes, bad translation and all. They read and analyse for a very long time before even asking, whereas Danish actors almost change everything by principle. Sometimes because they are too bad of an actor to say a very good line, sometimes because they are better than the writers.

We find a few more actors that day. Some are from the piles of Scottish films I have seen; some have resumes with more than one film by directors I admire (If they are good enough for Ken Loach they are certainly good enough for me!). I begin to trust Des and the actors Des trusts. I thoughtfully nod when he, in the middle of the train ride on the way to Scotland, suggests that he should play the butcher in the big supermarket scene and that I include additional dialogue or even a monologue for the butcher in the
final draft.

A very funny and intelligent comedy writer, Julia Davis, gets to play the pushy, sexy nurse, though Julia is too beautiful for the part. She reads exactly what I hoped we wrote, so I know I will not have to direct her when we shoot. One less actor to direct in a language I do not speak well.

In Scotland I finally meet Shirley Henderson, always hard to recognise since the roles she has played are so different and she changes with them. She turns out to seem much quieter and well balanced that I would expect from an actress with as many screen identities and acting styles as her. From Shakespeare to Trainspotting to Bridget Jones to Harry Potter. But Shirley, as pale, petite and polite as Snow White, is strong. She analyses the script well and solves the problem of being a mysterious heroine with no past by using her brain, not her magic. She is very well-read and seems to know how to steer clear of the sentimentality in the role of Alice. When she meets Lisa, who is going to play her daughter, she immediately copies Lisa's mild Glasgow dialect, making sure that I don't need subtitles to understand them.

We are almost there. Des kicks the piles of pictures in the very big casting room over in the corner and pushes the tables aside so there is more space for football.

Jamie Sives, Wilbur, flies to Copenhagen to meet me. I am relieved he does not look like his official photo. He looks more like Wilbur or perhaps Robert Downey Jr. And all the girls in the office start looking like Jayne Mansfield.

Jamie is witty and he knows from experience how to do an ordinary job (though Wilbur actually does not share Jamie's past in either the scaffolding or the insurance business). He has good taste in acting and a good sense of Wilbur's restless and tactless style. Jamie can be an English comedian in the morning and a Latin lover in the afternoon. And he is someone I would like to sit with at lunchtime. Unneurotic, uncomplicated, bright.

Des is relieved that he is busy with a new project. The remaining part, the insensitive psychologist Horst, will be played by Danish superstar Mads Mikkelsen. I hope the butcher will not upstage him.

–Hellerup, Denmark


©2004 Landmark Theatres