When a director
shows up in town, wannabe stars abandon books and carrels to audition
By Alex Rawson '01
Last month, Hollywood
showed up at Princeton. And students flocked.
At Triumph Brewing Company
on Nassau Street, MTV set up shop in mid-February in an effort to
find a Princeton student for their next edition of The Real World,
a popular reality-based program. That same week, in McCosh 10, hundreds
of students hoping to land roles as extras in an upcoming biographical
movie, about Princeton professor-Nobel Laureate-paranoid schizophrenic
John Nash, sat uncomfortably through a painfully melodramatic performance
by the film's casting director.
I did not audition for the Real-World, since I can imagine few things
less desirable than to have my every move, thought, and emotion
chronicled in a setting designed for maximum group conflict, a huge
number of students did. They were herded in groups of eight in front
of a camera, asked a series of slightly offbeat questions ("What
is the strangest thing that has happened to you this week?"),
and 10 minutes later sent on their way. Only those who had satisfactorily
unique answers were called back for a longer, more private interview.
Of that second group, only a handful were asked to submit personal
videotapes. And only one will be chosen.
I did attend the casting
call for the film A Beautiful Mind, if only because I thought it
would be interesting to see how filmmaking works, both during casting
and, with any luck, during production itself. And it was interesting,
though not for the reasons I might have expected.
The casting director,
a man quite appropriately named Mr. Dance (at least that's what
it sounded like), took the stage at 9 a.m.. for a presentation he
would give 10 separate times over two days. Dressed in black, Mr.
Dance pranced across the stage, alternating between affected tears
and equally affected heartfelt reflection for more than an hour,
telling stories about his prior casting experiences in Steel Magnolias
and other films, and generally trying to demonstrate his artistic
genius. He claimed to be "trying to get a read on how we in
the audience conveyed our emotions." I think he was just egotistical.
At the end of his monologue, we were grouped with others who looked
just like us, photographed, and sent on our way.
seems certain, though, both MTV and the film company will use some
number of Princeton students. Who will they choose, and why did
both groups choose to come here in the first place?
In the case of the film,
the answer seems obvious -- the film is set in Princeton. But this
is Hollywood, and the movie stars Russell Crowe (yes, the same Russell
Crowe who, just months ago, was wielding a sword and running around
half-clothed in the Roman Colosseum) as John Nash and Ed Harris
as his psychologist. The movie doesn't need Princeton students,
but the producers want Princeton students anyway. As Mr. Dance himself
explained, this movie is an "Oscar-type script." This
is to be a major-release film, and my guess is that its makers have
a very particular Princeton stereotype in mind that they want to
portray. We all know what that stereotype is. It is the same stereotype
that makes Tom, one of the singles on Fox's Temptation Island and
sadly (in my opinion) a Princeton graduate, such a popular character
on the show. Where all of the other singles have actual occupations
listed next to their names on the screen, Tom is simply "Ivy
League Graduate," which immediately gives him a whole host
of imagined characteristics in the eyes of the national audience.
And that stereotype sells.
guess is that MTV wants to capitalize on the Princeton stereotype
in precisely the same way -- regardless of how the student they
ultimately select ends up behaving on the show, they can select
footage that implies the stereotype, and they can build a whole
set of made-for-TV conflicts around that image.
By flocking to the casting
calls and the auditions, we students merely help the entertainment
media to perpetuate the Princeton stereotype. That's not good for
the university. Of course, that's also not what we are thinking
about when we go to the casting call in the first place. Really,
the stereotype isn't true, and we're no different from students
at any other school -- in the end, we all just want to be on TV.
You can reach Alex Rawson