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From The Producer's Notebook - Dispatch 2: Casting Our Leading Lady

We're in Los Angeles, standing in the Lobby of the Peninsula Hotel waiting to meet the woman that Paco imagined when he wrote the script for The Healer. When he and I first discussed actress types to play the leading role of Cecilia, we knew we needed someone who would do a lot more than draw the attention of our male lead (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) by virtue of her beauty. He's a hunk himself, and plays a character who has no problem with the ladies. So Cecilia has to have that special something that sets her apart. The role also calls for an actress to project intelligence, strength and independence. Her character has a very specific purpose that won't be revealed to the protagonist or the audience until the end, so her performance must be subtle and layered.  

We also wanted to entice an actress who would be known to audiences around the world, preferably someone popular on a TV show. Though many TV series are on hiatus during the summer, actors on the more successful shows are highly sought after and have very limited availability.

It was late February, and with growing unease I realized we needed to start moving fast if we were to start shooting in June. I was getting desperate and thought we might need a casting director to help. Little did I know I had one at home. 

One evening my 14 year-old daughter, Natalie asked me how we were doing with the film and I told her about the challenges of casting the role. Being an obsessive Grey's Anatomy fan who's seen every episode of the last 11 seasons, it took her all of a nano second to come up with what to her was the obvious choice. "I know exactly who you need," she said, as she walked over to my computer and Googled Camilla Luddington.

Nat was right. Camilla would be perfect. And as we would learn shortly thereafter, she liked the script, and she'd squeeze us into her crazy schedule. I made a mental note; when it comes to casting, always consult your kids. 

Paco, Camilla and Ricky

 

And that's how we found ourselves waiting in the lobby of the Peninsula, anxious to meet our Cecilia. The lunch had been coordinated weeks earlier with her agents. There's always a moment of tentativeness before you meet a celebrity. Will the person be nice? Friendly? Generous? Or Standoffish and conceited?

At 2pm, as agreed, she arrives. Radiant and beautiful. She walks confidently towards us, smiles and gives us each a warm hug, immediately setting the tone. For the next 90 minutes we ate and spoke about life, about the script, about Canada, about Dogs (her rescue dog Gus, Paco's Border Collie, Batman who starts in the film and my Black Lab, Sandy.) Paco and she exchanged views about the story and her character, seeking a shared understanding of how to accomplish the intense work that lies ahead.

Good movies can be made by people who don't get along well. But something special happens when the work is shared by people who are generous and enjoy each other's company. Actors and their director who feel that way create something intangible that a camera can capture, something that breathes life into a film in a way that cannot be expressed in a script. It's a magical ingredient that makes a film wonderful, and makes the process fun for the whole crew.

After our lunch, as we watched Camilla drive off, Paco and I turned to each other and smiled. She's going to be great!

The night before, Paco invited me and our director of Photography, Javier Aguirresarobe to attend a gala event for Serious Fun Camps founded by Paul Newman. Paco is on the board of this amazing charitable organization. SeriousFun Children’s Network, as it’s name suggests is all about providing kids who suffer from serious medical conditions with all of what may be necessary for them to take their fun seriously away from hospitals, in a camp setting, regardless of what may ail them. As we learned throughout the evening, often the intense pursuit to solve a child's medical problem robs the children of their childhood as much as the condition itself.

In the same way that the proceeds from Paco’s debut film, “Maktub” were used to build one of Europe’s most advanced medula transplant centers, a large portion of the proceeds from “The Healer” will benefit Paul Newman’s organization.

The Gala was held at The Kodak Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard, where the Academy Awards are held every year. The place was packed despite being large enough to hold 3,400 people. And boy, did they put on a show. Carole King sang as did Natalie Cole. Danny DeVito was there as was Renee Zelwegger, Annette Bening and Angelica Houston amongst others. But the real stars of the evening were the twenty or so kids from the camps who also performed. All were wonderful; some were truly amazing.  At one point the kids joined Burt Bacharach and together sang his legendary “Raindrop Keeps Falling On My Head.” I can’t remember how many standing ovations there were thought the evening.

 

This last week I am reminded that making films is a privilege. That making them with people you like is a joy, and that doing so to benefit a cause that matters is sheer perfection. What more could we possibly ask for?

If you feel so inclined, you can help to SeriousFun Children’s Network by going here: https://www.seriousfunnetwork.org/donate