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LIAR, LIAR PANTS ON FIRE!

Liar

By Marci Liroff

I’ve been working in Hollywood one way or another (casting, producing, assistant at a top agency) for the last several decades. As you can imagine, I’ve seen A LOT and have some juicy stories; one more shocking than the next. Most of them I can’t share until I write my book when I’ve long retired from the business because I’d never work again!

A few years ago I was casting a television pilot and looking for a 9 year old boy who uses a wheelchair in real life. It was an essential part of the role as it was based on the son of the lead actor who was starring in this real-life scripted pilot for NBC.

We had seen the few actor boys in Los Angeles who used a wheelchair, and set about doing a nationwide search for actor kids and civilians who would fit the part. Using my Social Media know-how and a press release, we got about 50 self-submitted auditions – pretty amazing considering how shallow that talent pool is. Part of this story ended up in my speech for the #140 Conference about Social Media. My story about casting this role starts about the 5:30 mark into the speech.

Simultaneous to our nationwide open call we started seeing non-actor kids based in Los Angeles who used a wheelchair. One nice looking 10 yr old boy came to audition and we wanted to get to know more about him. I like to talk to the actors coming in to read for me to get a sense of who they are. He talked about being adopted and how if he hadn’t been adopted he’d probably be in jail. We laughed – he wasn’t kidding. He won an acting contest and his parents sold their house in Florida to move out here so he could act. At this point he had already stolen our hearts. Then he did the scene. He was actually kind of good and we started getting really excited. When I’m casting a project and an actor comes in who seems to “get” what we’re doing and grasps the character it’s thrilling! When we’re casting a difficult-to-find role working with non-actors, it’s even more exciting to find someone who can handle all the aspects of the role.

We delicately asked all the kids how handicapable they were, because some could walk a little. That’s when he told us he could walk. This kid then proceeded to get up out of the chair and tell us that his parents rented the chair and he can walk just fine. He had just sat out in our waiting room in a rented wheelchair with other kids who had mobility issues and faked it. I should have seen the red flag when he wheeled himself in in one of those GIANT hospital wheelchairs. All the other kids had those cool lightweight ones so that they could maneuver better.

I was gobsmacked, felt utterly manipulated, and after having just gone through 53 self-submitted auditions from kids across the country dealing with their real issues, I was very upset at his parents. He got up out of the wheelchair and walked out into the waiting room to greet his folks. You can’t imagine the look on everyone’s faces. I took his parents aside and calmly explained how inappropriate this was. Surely this wasn’t the child’s fault – his adults are supposed to watch out for him and teach him honesty and integrity.

Later on, my actress friend ran into the kid and his parents in the parking lot after her audition and started talking to the family. She sent me an email to say how “cool” she thought it was that he took such a risk and good for him. Since then I’ve asked a number of actor friends what they thought about this situation and I’m shocked to say that I get a 50/50 response. Half think it was reprehensible what this kid’s parents did, and half think it was great!

What do you think? Faker or risk taker?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this situation.  It’s always good to share with the community. Leave a comment, share this blog with a friend.

Glad you’re here!
Marci

Comments

  1. Before I begin, I must tell you… I’m not an actor. While I cringe at the notion of being a stage mom, I did go along for the ride when my daughter was cast as a double in “A House Divided”, an ABC series that never made it past the upfront. “Said child” was then 8 years old and got to ride in a high speed chase in a car that eventually blew up. What kind of mother???! She now studies acting and musical theater safe inside, but is eager to learn the ropes of all trades. Our belief system is based on truth. Who you are, what you look like and how you perform is all you’ve got, and it either works or it doesn’t. Also, learning the part, being present and taking direction are essential. If you’re going to portray someone or something that you’re not, do your homework and get it right. So basically, I believe in both. Be yourself, be authentic, but if you must go beyond that, lie your ass off so you can create your own truth and get the job done. *exits soapbox*

  2. I don’t think it is EVER okay to lie about something when auditioning. And in this case, I find it very disrespectful. He (or rather his parents) cheated to get him seen. It was very manipulative and inappropriate. Thank you for sharing this story – it’s a nice reminder to stay on your guard for fakers and to always be honest and sincere in everything you do.

  3. I’m not going to judge this kid or his parents. Actors have been doing everything they can to catch a break in this town forever. Remember Steve Guttenberg’s fake office tale? http://www.mediabistro.com/fishbowlla/steve-guttenberg-bible-paramount-pictures-studio-lot-michael-eisner-something-joey_b64204
    He “lied” for two years. Wait, no I mean he LIED for TWO YEARS!… and it worked.

    Verisimilitude is a word that used to mean something in theatre and film. When did it become improbable that a Brit could play an American or that a living person could play dead? Have we really gotten to the point where our stories can only be told with REAL fireman, REAL doctors, REAL athletes, REAL parents, REAL drug addicts….etc.?

    Daniel Day Lewis – has never been a real American President, severely paralyzed or accused of being a raging sociopath. But he has three Oscars that recognize the truth in his performances.

    I love actors. Actors who train, prepare and dream. Professionals who believe that what they do is honorable and worthy of respect. Some of us are amazing, you watch us and forget in the flickering blue light that what you are seeing, while truthful and gut wrenchingly moving – isn’t by definition, real.

    I want actors who can move me, serve the story and create amazing works of art.
    I aspire to work with and be that kind of actor.

    What’s that? Can I ride a horse? Um… yeah of course, hell yeah! Blindfolded baby!
    Namaste,
    Lon

  4. Hi Marci,
    Thanks for the great post!
    I’m not going to judge this child- but I am going to judge his parents.
    To be honest, I find his parents choice to be repugnant.
    The casting, at the time they arrived, was for kids who used a wheelchair.
    If their appointment occurred after casting was open to seeing kids who didn’t rely on one, the story ends there.
    Here’s my perspective:
    When I was 12 years old I had a terrible diving accident. I was a paraplegic for a week of my life- during which the doctors didn’t know if I’d ever walk again. I was one of the lucky ones and when my injury healed I was restored to full mobility.
    As long as I live I will never forget what that’s like. If you need an actor to ‘play that’, I’m your man. I’m your man in spades!
    As a working actor I certainly know about desperation, doing what it takes, and ‘saying Yes to everything’. We all know how tough it can be to work to get noticed or stand out.
    In your casting, the other children *had* to use a wheelchair.
    Unfortunately in our society we still have biases and that means these kids have far fewer opportunities to be seen, ever, than this fully able-bodied child.
    The actions of this child’s parents were selfish, short-sighted, and unfair. I shudder to think what the experience taught or reinforced in their child.
    In my opinion, they had several good options;
    -try to contact casting to see if they’ll see a fully mobile kid for the part
    -WAIT(!) and see if the casting opens up to kids who don’t use a chair
    -skip it, play with their kid that day, then be grateful he has 100% mobility.
    Thanks for putting this ethical dilemma out there!
    Dave

  5. Michael Aiden says:

    I think it was wrong of them to do that since you were asking for an actor that actually used a wheelchair. It makes you wonder about the kid and the parents. Do they think that they are so utterly special that they can just bend the rules?

    You once in a blue moon about how an actor took a giant risk like that and ended up getting the role. This makes it seem that if that kind of chutzpah worked for someone else then it should work for me too and it perpetuates behavior like this.

    It was wrong of them to mess with your emotions and time like that. Now if the kid could walk but instead went full method the whole time and never got out of the wheelchair in anyone’s presence so you thought he needed it, now that would be ridiculous. It’d be like a mini Daniel Day Lewis in My Left Foot.

  6. I agree with you that the boy was only doing as instructed by his parents, or maybe his agent. My son was told by his agent “you know how to skateboard right?” (kid–hardly at all) Agent “yes, that’s good enough, just practice at home”. And my son booked that part and one of the cameramen took him aside and helped him skateboard about 10 minutes before he shot. I’m not taking the side of the parents but there are many references, industry pros, who tell young actors to overstate their abilities and this may have been a case of such. However, since you specifically were looking for true wheelchair users, they obviously were misguided in their choice. I feel sorry for the boy, he engaged you and he probably meant well. I feel sorry for the parents too–most actor moms and dads are trying to do the right thing, imho. Hopefully you don’t hold his parents against him in the future. It’s wonderful that you took the time to explain to them what their mistake was. Now if they ever did it again…

  7. Linda Parker-Eaton says:

    If the audition stated that the child needed to be authentically using a wheelchair I would say it was wrong to portray the child as a different abled person.

  8. Hi Marci, I think this is a REALLY interesting post. As an actor you are constantly being told to ‘walk the character into the Casting room’, so, to me I suppose that is what this kid was doing. Unfortunately because of the sensitivity around disabilities maybe this is what made it look like he was doing the wrong thing. There is also a story out there – not sure if it’s an urban myth – about Leonardo DiCaprio. Apparently when auditioning for Gilbert Grape, he pretended to have a disability – and that helped him get the part. I’m not saying I condone this behaviour….just that there might be a reason for this kids ‘method’.

    C

  9. I know this is an old post but I’ve just read it. Two of my kids-now-adults are union actors and everyone has always told them FOREVER to pretend they can do a skill and then figure it out. Always hesitant to blatantly lie, my son will tell the story of how he had to skateboard for a commercial and “Mom, you told them I could”. Honestly I figured he must have an idea at least. He was cast and the cameraman had to teach him how. He is in the commercial boarding down a street as if he had done it his whole life. That said, I recently was asked to audition for a print ad–not being a model of any sort–because I have a serious medical condition that they were looking for. “Your dr will tell you if you have XXX, and we only want to see people with XXX, etc” I gave it a shot and at the audition there were a number of people my age, some clearly pros. That doesn’t mean they didn’t have XXX though of course. While waiting to be seen, some of them who were friends began to laugh and joke about how they said “Oh yeah, I have XXX”. They clearly didn’t have it. I got put on hold, though ultimately released. The thing is, they actually had a doctor in the room who interviewed each of us about how long we had XXX, our meds, symptoms, etc. which are all quite specific to XXX. Ultimately I think it is awful to ignore a cd when they request honesty for a particular medical condition but I do understand that a good actor can pull off most things. I just hope that the person who booked “my” part actually has XXX.

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