Here, writer/director Taika Waititi (“The Flight of the Conchords,” Eagle vs Shark) writes about the making of Boy. The highest-grossing New Zealand film in history, the film stars first-time actor James Rolleston as Boy, a Michael Jackson-obsessed 11-year-old who is forced to confront the fact that his jailbird father (Waititi) is less a martial arts expert/war hero/master criminal than an incompetent hoodlum after he reappears in his home town of Waihau Bay, New Zealand to dig up some buried loot.
The film has earned rave reviews at festivals ground the globe and is finally coming to the States starting tomorrow—Friday, March 2nd—for a limited theatrical run that starts in New York City at the Angelika Film Center and the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center and will later expand to other cities.
We found our main actor three days before principal shooting started. I don’t recommend that process, but sometimes you have to go with your gut and believe everything will be okay.
Someone once said of casting: “This is quite painful and I’d rather be at the pub.” It was me. I’m not a fan. I’d rather write a role for a specific actor and then convince them do it with treats or weapons. Some of this probably stems from being an actor, having to audition and knowing the feelings that go with it: Putting yourself out there, walking into the room hoping to not suck, convincing yourself you don’t care, secretly knowing you’re amazing.
I don’t really act anymore. I lost interest when I was cast as a stripper in a TV show; I was sitting on set in a g-string, eating a can of tuna, watching another actor do push-ups when I thought to myself, “Hmm… maybe being an actor is not really a good job for me. I don’t really like tuna or push-ups.” So I became a writer/director. A Wrirector.
Now that I’m a wrirector, I know that 75 percent of casting is what your face looks like, 10 percent is what your body looks like, another 10 percent is skin color, two percent is how clean your pants are, two percent is how much you massacre the lines… and the rest is talent. The numbers are probably off, but as an actor I relax now, knowing that if I don’t get a part it’s most definitely because my face is wrong. It’s too good-looking, which is obviously a burden.
But casting a film full of kids is different, especially when they have no acting experience. Instead of caring so much about faces, you find yourself grasping for talent. You become desperate, and when you find someone amazing, someone real, someone present who scares you with their talent, it doesn’t matter if they’re Korean, you’ll make him look Nigerian. And when you trawl through hundreds of auditions in schools and town halls, hoping that the next kid is going to be your Jodie Foster or that dude from The Sixth Sense, it becomes easy to lose faith, because there aren’t many Dakota “Old-Lady-In-a-Kid’s-Body” Fannings out there. That’s actually a good thing. We shouldn’t have too many of these super kid actors. They’re scary.
So when casting my film Boy, I really had a hard time. Sometimes, for the smaller roles, I was lucky and had too many choices, but most days I was thinking about getting a new job. Eventually I found a fantastic kid to play the lead. He was young, smart and really different. Fickle as the world of film financing is, it was another eight months before we started pre-production and I could rehearse with my lead. But in that eight months, something had happened. He had changed. It wasn’t his fault. It was nature’s fault, and life and time was to blame. He was closing in on 13 (two years older than the character) and was now almost as tall as me and developing a mustache nearly as big as mine. I think it was when he declared he was getting a tattoo and asked if I was aware that Tupac would soon be resurrected and how cool that would be because he was going to drop a new album that he’d been writing in Heaven that I felt we should really have a backup plan. He was a good actor and was probably smarter than me, but he wasn’t there. He was protecting himself, too concerned with Tupac, whether or not he looked cool and that the ’80s clothes we wanted him to wear might make girls not want to bang him. I struggled: We were shooting in a week, and I would look like a total dick if I said, “Umm, can we postpone another month?”
And at that very moment we happened to notice this other kid, a polite and incredibly smart 11-year-old who had been cast as a background extra in a classroom scene. I hung out with him and discovered a very real, incredibly intelligent individual who also happened to be an insanely good actor, even though he had never performed before. I made a leap of faith decision to cast him with only days to go and gave the other kid a nice supporting role of a tall kid with a mustache. I think in the end he, too, was relieved.
I’ll tell you this about working with kids: They’re small. I’ll also tell you that 89 percent of the work is finding them. That’s the hardest part of the job, casting. Because once you have them, when you know what they can do, all you have to do is turn the camera on, point it at them and make words come out of their faces. That’s the remaining 11 percent. They are much more fun to work with than adults, because they haven’t ruined their minds with bullshit methods and motivations and back-stories and does my arse look fat in this prosthetic fat arse? Kids will give you truth and light, like a sort of honesty lamp, and they can be in the moment without tricks or gimmicks.
After three days of shooting, we were doing a classroom scene where the main boy is having a conversation with another kid (strangely, it was mustache Tupac guy), and in the middle of a take he says, “Cut, cut, sorry guys, cut.” I’ll remind you that he was 11 and had never acted before, let alone seen a movie camera. “What’s up?” I asked. To which he replied, “It’s just these lines. I’m not sure I’d say that in real life. Can I have a go at doing it in my own words?”
Everyone sort of looked at each other, all freaked out like we’d just met Damien from The Omen. That’s when I walked outside and did one of those little excited body spasms where you kind of twist around on yourself and clench your fists. And I quietly said to myself: “I found my effing Jodie Foster.”
To find out more about Boy, and to see if it’s coming to your city, visit boythefilm.com.