With sparkles glimmering in their eyes, hundreds of Hollywood hopefuls crammed into Hmong American Partnership in St. Paul for an opportunity to gain instant stardom.
Unlike any other entertainment phenomena to hit the community before, the upcoming Warner Brothers film, Gran Torino, has the Hmong community buzzing aloud.
Slated to be directed by Hollywood icon and Oscar Award winner Clint Eastwood, the film’s casting specifically calls for Hmong actors and actresses from a variety of different age groups (it should be noted that nobody representing Warner Brothers has confirmed that Eastwood will act in the movie).
Unlike previous Hollywood productions where Hmong people make brief appearances such as Air America (1990) with Mel Gibson and Robert Downey Jr. (with Chinese actor Burt Kwouk playing the role of a supposed opium warlord who is based on Gen. Vang Pao), Hmong actors will play a number of major roles in Gran Torino.
According to casting associate Amelia Rasche, the film hopes to capture a realistic picture of who the Hmong are, stressing that being able to speak Hmong was a big plus.
“We couldn’t exactly walk down Hollywood streets and find many Hmong speaking actors,” Rasche commented in regards to why the casting calls took place in Fresno, CA., St. Paul, MN and Detroit, MI. “That’s why we made the effort to reach out to communities where the Hmong lived.”
Quickly calculating the numbers in her head, Rasche confirmed that nearly 700 people showed up to audition in Minnesota with an estimated 10% of those being called back for a second opportunity to show their stuff. According to a number of different sources, the casting call in Fresno produced roughly 100 participants.
Explaining that the selection process was a long way from being completed, Rasche expressed that she was “thrilled with the outcome.”
Rasche was also impressed by the numbers of volunteers who assisted the casting crew all throughout the process with such things as crowd control and interpreting.
Bryan Vue, an aspiring film maker, pursued the chance to be involved in a major studio production and spent most of his Saturday to assist with what turned out to be an eight-plus hour grind.
“I noticed a few discrepancies in the way the film was portraying the Hmong so I contacted the studio to see if they could use my help,” Vue explained about why he had signed up as a volunteer. “Hey, if I get a chance to work with ‘Clint’ I’m willing to sacrifice a Saturday!”
According to a number of different Hollywood sources including Variety Magazine, Clint Eastwood is not only going to direct the movie but also star as the main character. If this remains true, Gran Torino would be the first film that Eastwood has acted in since Million Dollar Baby, which captured four Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director in 2004.
Thought to have “retired” from acting, Eastwood’s purported involvement with Gran Torino has the Hollywood community in a buzz of befuddlement as this movie was at first rumored to be the next installment of Eastwood’s immensely popular Dirty Harry series.
Instead, as reported in various publications, Eastwood is expected to play a grumpy old man whose prized possession, a 1972 Grand Torino, is broken into by one of his neighbors, a teenaged Hmong kid named Tao.
Rather than report Tao to the authorities, however, Eastwood’s character befriends Tao and his family and in the process gets to know more about Tao’s cultural background.
According to those who have read parts of the script, the movie will be a light-hearted comedy in which Eastwood imparts wisdom to a young, unsuspecting protégé (much like he did in his previous movie, Million Dollar Baby).
Apparently, Tao and his sister, Sue, are entangled somehow with a local gang and Eastwood, through his new found fondness for the family, “takes steps to protect them from the gangs that foul his neighborhood with their strutting presence.”
Despite being based in the Twin Cities, filming is scheduled to take place in Michigan in July. A release date is tentatively set for December of this year.
While it is unknown where the main characters will be selected from yet, Rasche has indicated that the majority of extra roles will come from the Michigan area. Involved primarily in helping to select the main characters, Rasche also confirmed that all main characters will be receiving “Hollywood-type compensation.”
With all the excitement within the Hmong community over this film, there remains some skepticism as to how the Hmong will be portrayed. Blogging on a specifically created website called, www.eastwoodmovie-hmong.com, bloggers wonder if the Hmong will be brought out in a bad light.
“Why would Clint Eastwood want to make a movie with Hmong in it?” One commenter ponders. “What is appealing about Hmong that is good for a movie by a big time Hollywood celebrity?”
Sandy Ci Moua, an aspiring actress based in the Twin Cities who is helping to organize and reach out to the Hmong community on behalf of the casting crew, reported that a number of scams have popped up, hoping to make money off the naiveté of those who wish to be cast into the movie.
“You should NOT be paying money to submit your photos and resumes for Gran Torino!” Moua proclaims on her Xanga page devoted to disseminating ‘official’ information about casting for the movie (www.xanga.com/sandycigrantorino).
For those who auditioned and were fortunate enough to get a call-back, the excitement level remains at a boiling point. Mai Lee Vue from Minneapolis came to support her 14-year-old son, David, as he was given a second opportunity to read for the part of Tao.
“When we got that call to come back, it was so exciting because that means the possibility is still there,” Vue exclaimed about her son’s shot at becoming a movie star. “We are here to support him all the way!”
68-year-old Mai Lee had no idea why her daughter had insisted that she join her. Reluctantly, she agreed to read for the part of Phong, the 60-plus-year-old grand-mom of Tao and Sue.
After she was called back for a second reading, Lee was mildly surprised.
“When they told me to act angry, I just thought about how I yell at my own kids in real life,” Lee reflected with a chuckle. “I think I did a good job.”
Things hadn’t gone so well for all the hopefuls, however. One woman, who refused to give her name, stormed out of the audition after being told she was too old to try for the part of Sue and was asked instead to try out for Vu, the 40-50 year-old mom.
“That’s show-biz,” one of the staffers commented. “It can be a cruel business.”
It didn’t matter either on how far one drove to get to the audition. KT Vang, for instance, drove all the way from Toronto, Canada.
As Sandy Ci Moua recalled, Vang had arrived after the last audition had taken place for the day. When they found out how far he drove just to read for a part, the casting crew made a special exception to allow the reading.
Unfortunately, he didn’t get a call-back.
Although the scheduled live auditions have been completed, those who are interested in being considered for a role may send a current snap-shot and contact information to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
For updated information regarding the progress of the film, you may go to: www.xanga.com/sandycigrantorino