Any member of the filmmaking community has probably met at least one actor-director, one writer-director or one cinematographer-director. But how many can say they’ve met a casting-director-director? In an interview with The Daily Californian, French indie filmmakers Lise Akoka and Romane Gueret described how they moved from filling the shots to calling the shots — and who inspired them to do so.
“The two of us met because we were both casting directors for another movie for another filmmaker. And we were supposed to find child actors. While we were doing that, we met two kids that we fell in love with,” Akoka shared. “We decided to write a short film so that we could have them in it. That led to our first short titled ‘Chasse Royal.’ Then, we decided to continue elaborating on the issues in the film by turning it into a feature film, which became ‘The Worst Ones.’ ”
“The Worst Ones,” is a dramatic arthouse film-within-a-film that follows child actors Lily (Mallory Wanecque), Ryan (Timéo Mahaut), Maylis (Mélina Vanderplancke) and Jessy (Loïc Pech). Unlike the obnoxious American “Disney star” archetype, these kids are lovable, earnest — French. Offering a fictionalized yet genuine behind-the-scenes look into the world of filmmaking, the movie draws inspiration from Akoka and Gueret’s real experiences casting children.
“A filmmaker ended up selecting one of those kids for his movie — one of the two kids who we fell in love with. The kid was brought to Paris, went through several stages (of casting) and was officially confirmed for the film,” Gueret said. “But at the very last minute, the filmmaker changed his mind and the kid was no longer hired. That triggered something in us. We wanted to do justice by this little boy.”
From grief to imprisonment to extreme anger management issues, the young characters in “The Worst Ones” face problems that even a wise adult would struggle to overcome. Scruffy, spunky and full of heart, the ensemble of “The Worst Ones” brings an air of youthful authenticity to the screen — an attribute only made possible by Akoka and Gueret’s astute casting strategy.
“In the beginning, what we focus on is a face, an energy, a particular body type or a voice,” Akoka said, describing her approach to finding the perfect actor. “After that, we get to know these kids better. There’s a relatively long discussion with each individual kid — we learn if this kid has in him or her something that’s close enough to the character they are auditioning for. If we decide that they do, we do a little bit of improv to see how capable they are of inventing and diving into a role. We usually take the best actors that come out of that process.”
Though the order of casting operations seems mathematical, it’s moreso a means of withering out fluff and uncovering something real. Oftentimes, as Akoka and Gueret explained, the best casting decisions come from taking chances on actors who don’t initially have all the pieces in place.
“Sometimes, a child at the first audition is not immediately the right one — they’re not perfectly matched to what we have in mind. But we do see some promise at hand. At the casting level, we see potential there,” Akoka said. “Our responsibility is to unveil whether a kid’s ability to evolve and progress is there. You only have 20 minutes or 30 minutes to do it, but in 20 minutes, you can already see whether there is some margin for progress or development.”
A touching tear-jerker, “The Worst Ones” premiered at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival and took home the “Prix Un Certain Regard” — an award granted to cutting-edge cinema made by young, innovative filmmakers. According to Akoka and Gueret, this big-time exposure has proven beneficial to several actors in the film, especially lead actress Wanecque.
“We can observe a sort of explosion in Mallory right after Cannes. She was one of those kids that came from a really, really challenging background. She had been through a lot. So when she saw this opportunity, she held on to it really tight. She didn’t want to let it go,” Gueret said. “After the movie, she went through five casting processes, most of them for lead roles, and she just shot her fourth movie. So yes, for her, we can say that she found her vocation. And it’s true that in our movie, ‘The Worst Ones,’ she was able to discover that. There’s nothing more beautiful for us to witness.”