George Clooney movie auditions tap into community

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Kathy Chaffin

Salisbury Post

CHARLOTTE — Margaret Papadakis had just arrived home from her third-shift job at Carolinas Medical Center Saturday morning when her son’s agent called and said he needed to audition for “Leatherheads.”

By the time she and 16-year-old Michael waited in line for a couple of hours, filled out his “Talent Profile” form and waited in line again for his audition, she was having problems staying awake. They sat down on the floor and leaned back against a massive, fabric-covered column.

Michael seemed to appreciate his mother sacrificing sleep for his chance at fame. “He said, ‘Just lay your head against mine,’ ” she said.

The audition was for the role of “Bug,” the water boy for the 1920s football team to be depicted in the Universal Pictures film starring Oscar-winning actors George Clooney and Renee Zellweger.

“Leatherheads” is scheduled to start filming in South Carolina in February, with the production crew moving to North Carolina in early April. When asked if Rowan County would be among the filming locations, a production crew member declined comment, then said the Post readers would likely be very happy.

Of course, that could all change in a day, the crew member added.

Rowan Countians began going “looney for Clooney” after the actor/director visited the Salisbury Depot and the N.C. Transportation Museum in Spencer, which includes the Barber Junction Depot.

To work with Clooney, who is also directing and producing the film, would be a dream come true for Michael Papadakis. Clooney is his hero, his mother said.

Michael said he hopes his experience and versatility will help him land the role of Bug. In case he doesn’t get the part, he also filled out a separate Talent Profile form and provided his photograph to be considered as a background extra.

His acting experience includes a leading role in a documentary on the Revolutionary War as the grandson of a former soldier recalling the Battle of Cowpens. It was during production that Michael and his mother met Luther Sowers of Salisbury, who served as a consultant on the film.

“He is so awesome,” Margaret said of Luther.

Michael also once auditioned for actor Tim Roth for a part as his son in “Funny Games,” a thriller also starring Naomi Watts. However, he said he didn’t know who Roth was at the time because he was wearing a Pokemon hat and went by the name of a character on the cartoon show.

Many of the hundreds of people who waited in line for a chance to be in the film were serious about their acting. Others said they just wanted a chance to be around Clooney, recently selected by People magazine as the “Sexiest Man Alive” for 2006.

Though she’s part of a community theater group in Matthews, 14-year-old Willa Folmar said she was there for Clooney. “When I was a little girl, I was obsessed with ER,” she said, referring to the medical drama on which Clooney played Dr. Doug Ross.

“I was in love with George Clooney,” Willa said dreamily. “I wanted to marry him.”

Helen Leak of Cabarrus County and her 16-year-old daughter, Jillian, are also Clooney fans. Leak said he has the same kind of star quality as the late great Cary Grant.

They also like Zellweger. “But she’s a girl,” Helen said. “I like guys.”

Leak, a public relations manager for Piedmont Behavioral Healthcare, said she had kept up with the Clooney sightings in the Post and read last week about the casting call for Bug, football players and background extras.

The Leaks waited two hours to fill out their Talent Profile forms to be considered as extras. They had fun talking to the others in line and met some really interesting people, Jillian said.

Twelve-year-old Cameron Berkowitz of Waxhaw said he’d make the perfect water boy for “Leatherheads.” He was among hundreds who auditioned for the part described in a casting call as a “rough and tough 9-to-12-year-old boy.”

Cameron said his 14-year-old brother, Martin, beats him up a lot, “and I have to be rough and tough.”

Besides that, he said he wants the part “really bad.”

He was with three other members of the Matthews theater group auditioning for the role: Cameron McKinley, 12, of Weddington; Will Ridgeway, 10, of Waxhaw; and Phillip Krouse, 14, of Matthews.

Jerry Berkowitz said they’re all experienced actors.

Ten-year-old Scott McFall of Greenville, S.C., was also auditioning for the role. He wore a hat and chewed on a plastic coffee stirrer to boost his “rough and tough” image.

“I just really want to know what it’s like,” he said. “This is my first time doing this.”

People of all ages waited for hours in a line that stretched outside the Merchandise Mart the length of almost two football fields. Extras Casting Director Tona Dahlquist addressed each group called in to fill out Talent Profiles forms, which asked for special skills, talents, jobs, hobbies; any acting or previous experience as an extra; the locations of any piercings or tattoos; and wardrobe sizes.

Dahlquist said extras had to be willing to cut or color their hair and shave their facial hair if needed.

Anyone interesting in playing a football player in the movie should be a male between the ages of 18 and 35, 5 feet, 9 inches and 6 feet, 1 inch in height and 160 and 230 pounds in weight. The film will be about 1920s football, she said, which is a lot different from the sport today.

“This process is also like a mini-audition,” she said, reminding people to complete all of the forms, including as much information as possible, attach their photos if they have them and leave their pens on the table.

Dahlquist said more than 1,250 people auditioned at the first casting call for athletes to work as football players. Two more casting calls are scheduled for next week in Greenville, S.C., and she said more may also be held in North Carolina before filming starts here.

“I need a lot of people,” Dahlquist said.

When asked about the people who gathered around her at one point, she said some have worked for her before. At age 48, she’s been in the film business for 18 years and has worked on such films as “Forrest Gump,” “Radio” and “The Dale Earnhardt Story.”

While working on his Talent Profile form with his father and his father’s friend, 11-year-old George Cox VII of Matthews suggested that Sherry Frank include drawing as a talent. She’s good, he said.

This is the first time George VII has joined his father, 55-year-old George Cox V, in an acting venture.

The senior Cox’s most recent appearance was in Grizzly Park, a horror movie scheduled to come out this year.

He’s also been in other movies and a diet cola commercial “a long time ago.”

Cox’s special skills include martial arts, kickboxing, baseball and football and fire breathing. The most important thing to remember about fire breathing, he joked, is not to inhale.

Frank, 55, of Indian Trail, who is one of Cox’s martial arts students, said this is her first attempt at being an extra. “I’m a school secretary,” she said. “This is not my area.”

All three of them are Clooney fans. “I really like the new work he’s done,” said the senior Cox. Unlike some actors, “he’s more of a cause person.”

Frank said Clooney is versatile and does a good job in serious films as well as comedies. “He was great in ‘A Perfect Storm,’ ” she said. “He’s more like a real person.”

People came dressed in all types of outfits. Twenty-three-year-old Courtney Witz and 22-year-old Kelli Willenborg, both of Charlotte, wore elegant black dresses.

Courtney is getting ready to move to Los Angeles and pursue acting as a career. “It’s definitely a dream of mine,” she said.

Her resume includes working as an extra in three movies in New York, including “Music and Lyrics.” Planned for a February release, the film stars Drew Barrymore and Hugh Grant.

Kelli said she’s not interesting in an acting career. “I came for George Clooney,” she said. “He’s just one of my favorite actors.”

LaVant Voltaire of Charlotte said the spirit of God led him to miss work and try to secure a part as an extra. “I’m a natural,” he said.

Voltaire said he was in the entertainment business years ago, but got out of it to raise his children. Now that they’re grown, he said he wants to give it another try.

He said he’s also a writer.

Outside in the long line, many of the “rough and tough” boys played together while waiting. Ten-year-old Shane Wyatt of Monroe, who had climbed up in a planter, held onto a small tree as he talked to 10-year-old Joe Eiselt, who was standing on the concrete below.

Joe’s 12-year-old brother, Jack, sat quietly on a column beside them.

Shane said the audition was a good opportunity to improve themselves. His enthusiasm would land him the part, he said confidently.

When asked about Clooney, Joe said, “Never heard of him.”

Shane said his mother likes to read about the actor all the time.

“I’ve always liked him,” Jack said.

Contact Kathy Chaffin at 704-797-4249 or