THE PHOTO ON THE LEFT is the first photo I took of Tom at his screen test in Adelaide in May 08. We had seen quite a few kids around the country but the moment Tom walked into the room I knew there was something different about him. He gave an 'OK' screen test, but it was who he was on either side of the test that really stood out for me. He was and still is just such a regular kid. But through the lens something else happens. He takes on a different life, like there is something going on behind his eyes, like he has seen a lot of things.
THE PHOTO ON THE RIGHT was taken on the last day of shooting about 3 months after the first one. I'm still amazed at how different Tom looks. So much more hard and steely eyed. There is a fair bit of hair and make-up going on in that shot but essentially it's the character Chook well and truly on his way...
I have cast alot of kids and worked closely with the same casting director, Fiona Dann for many years. But there is still no hard and fast rules on how to do it well. I think I even googled "How to cast children in feature films" at one stage during pre, just to see if there was any help out there but I didn't find anything useful. In the end it comes down to a gut feeling.
However, a few of the things we took into consideration with Tom were...
1. Even though he had no film experience, he had recently been in the Adelaide production of Les Miserables, so he new what it meant to go through a production process, work hard and late etc.
2. Tom's parents are very grounded and supportive. When you cast kids you also cast their parents, and we were very lucky with Kate and Wally C.
3. Tom is the youngest of 4 kids. He has three older sisters, ranging in age from 16 to 26. So he spends alot of time with, and is very comfortable around people older than him. This was really important, as he essentially spent seven weeks on the road without a bunch of adults and no other kids.
4. He is a really, really regular and normal kid, who is confident both on and off camera. Even though he really wants to be an actor / performer, he doesn't seem to place any real pressure on himself to do so.
The shot above is of Tom a few weeks ago. His head is shaved because has just finished his second feature film playing a kid who has leukemia. I saw him and his folks when we over in Adelaide for a screening and they all came back to watch At The Movies in the hotel room afterwards.