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Category: Dear Frankie News
Article Date: January 8, 2003 | Publication: The Scotsman | Author: Brian Pendreigh

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A SCHOOLBOY is to get a chance of film stardom with a leading role in a pounds 3 million feature film to be shot in Scotland in the spring.

The lucky youngster will follow in the footsteps of such recent discoveries as Martin Compston and Kathleen McDermott, who won BAFTA new-talent awards for their performances in the dramas Sweet Sixteen and Morvern Callar.

The star of Natural History will not only be a complete unknown, he will also be deaf - if the film-makers can find a deaf boy who fits the bill and shows sufficient acting promise.

Natural History is the story of a single mother and her son Frankie, nine, who is not only deaf, but also painfully shy. One of the few ways in which he communicates is through letters he writes to his long-absent father, who he believes is at sea. However, his mother intercepts the letters and writes the replies.

When Frankie learns that his father's ship is supposedly due in port, his mum has to hire someone to act out the role of parent.

Gerard Butler, who stars in the recent Reign of Fire action adventure and the forthcoming Tomb Raider sequel, will return to his homeland in his first Scottish film role since he played Billy Connolly's brother in Mrs Brown.

Emily Mortimer, the daughter of the writer John Mortimer and star of Disney's The Kid, will co-star, but the role of Frankie is wide open.

The film-makers have been searching schools for the deaf in Scotland in hope of finding an actor.

"We have been looking," said Gillian Berrie, the film's producer. "There are possibilities. Some aren't deaf, some are partially deaf and some are completely deaf.

"The headmasters and mistresses of these places are very keen for the kids to do acting because they don't really have much opportunity in the creative industries, so we're just figuring it out at the moment."

Talent-spotters have already visited Donaldson's College for the Deaf in Edinburgh and this week will be visiting schools in the west of Scotland. The Natural History team includes the casting director Des Hamilton, who famously spotted a Glasgow hairdresser, Kathleen McDermott, while she was out shopping in Argyle Street.

"We look at everybody," he said yesterday. "That's how we work."

"We are looking for 'still waters run deep' basically," added his colleague, Kahleen Crawford. "He's got to be nine by March next year, very intelligent, quite focused, quite thoughtful.

"We will just meet a lot of children and have a quick chat with them. You can tell an awful lot about a child by asking them simple questions.

"The one or two who are most like the sort of character we are looking for, we will usually get them back and do a reading with them."

Casting a deaf child as Frankie would entail communication complications and necessitate the recruitment of signers as well, meaning filming would take longer. But there are successful precedents of deaf actors in films, notably Marlee Matlin, who won the best-actress Oscar in 1987 for her performance in Children of a Lesser God.

Janet Allan, the principal of Donaldson's, said it would be "brilliant" if a deaf child were involved.

"Drama in general is obviously a means of expression," she said. "The children take part in drama in the school curriculum and they put on The Firebird in the school, a fantastic production.

"I think anything like that gives increased self-esteem and confidence."

The film-makers are looking for children to play Frankie's friends, and the roles will be cast over the next few weeks.

Natural History was originally devised as a short film by Andrea Gibb, a Scots actor-turned-writer, but was considered so promising that it was expanded into a feature film and now has the backing of Pathe and Scottish Screen.

"It's a beautifully written script," said Ms Berrie.

The film will be directed by Shona Auerbach, a Scot who has previously directed shorts and commercials.

It begins shooting in March, with locations in Glasgow, Greenock and Gourock.

Copyright 2003 The Scotsman Publications Ltd.


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