Rising star stays in character
By Chris Castillo
Special to the News
I was taking an axe to the stubborn root holly bush when the name of an actor popped into my head - Charlie McDermott.
Kris Kristofferson called this 16-year-old actor "the next Dakota Fanning."
I met McDermott, star of the film "Disappearances," at the South By Southwest Film Festival in Austin. Charlie got his start after answering a casting call for M. Night Shyamalan's "The Village." The young actor even got a few lines in the film's wedding scene. He said actor Adrien Brody (who portrayed a mentally challenged man) stayed in character throughout filming.
But it wasn't his start in movies that stayed with me. It was his passion for acting. Charlie wanted a part in "Disappearances" so bad he could taste it. Director Jay Craven, who adapted the story from the award-winning novel by Howard Frank Mosher, takes place during the Great Depression in Vermont's Northeast Kingdom.
Craven, who describes the film as a whiskey run adventure, saw some 130 young actors for the part of Wild Bill Ñ a lead role. A few got a call back for the role, but none of the actors had prepared like Charlie.
He gave up his MP3 player, video games, TV and all electronics to get into character. In addition, he started chopping wood in his back yard to get a feel for the era. Craven said Charlie took the character of Wild Bill and grew into it. "Charlie was able to take a chance to discover something new," he said.
This role required authentic behavior that was specific to 1932, Craven said. And Charlie did what it took. At his father's suggestion, Charlie was driven out into the woods blindfolded. He was left in an unknown area and had to find his way home, Craven said.
In the story, Wild Bill (Charlie) chooses to follow his father (Kristofferson) on a whiskey smuggling run. The family hopes to make enough money to help their cattle survive the long winter.
This mystical tale focuses on the boy's rite-of-passage and his father's mysterious past while blending snapshots of fantasy with reality.
In one scene, Wild Bill carries his father in a makeshift stretcher through the snowy woods as seemingly immortal being follows their tracks. This truly showed Charlie's potential as an actor. You could feel him struggle to drag his injured father out of the woods as a ghostly figure stalks them. Charlie became Wild Bill. It was captivating.
Shot during a period of three nights, the cast endured extreme cold weather to create the memorable scene.
Charlie got the acting bug at age 5 and won't give up. "When you're acting you become that character," he said. During his time with Kristofferson, he said, the pair really connected and got to be friends. Charlie hopes to evolve as an actor, like Johnny Depp, who hasn't been type cast into a role.
"Disappearances" is screening throughout Vermont, and at the time of the interview it had not found a distributor.