Guys turn out for Milk casting call
by Seth Hemmelgarn
Academy Award-nominated director Gus Van Sant was in San Francisco Saturday, November 17 to oversee an open casting call for Milk , his upcoming movie about Harvey Milk, the former San Francisco supervisor who was assassinated 29 years ago this month.
Academy Award winner Sean Penn will star as Milk. Milk, the first openly gay man to win elective office in the United States, was a city supervisor when he and Mayor George Moscone were shot and killed by ex-Supervisor Dan White on November 27, 1978 in City Hall. White, who was imprisoned for five years, committed suicide in 1985 after he was released from prison. Milk was known for urging gays and lesbians to come out of the closet. He built coalitions with organized labor and other groups and fought against anti-gay ballot measures, including the failed Briggs initiative that would have barred gays from teaching in California public schools.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle , about 800 people showed up at the audition, which took place at the Sanchez School.
Van Sant, who is gay, told the Bay Area Reporter that he wanted to do a movie about Milk because "There hasn't been a movie done about Harvey and he has an incredible story. I hope I can capture some of the more important parts ... he was an unusually important gay figure."
He added, "I think people are aware [of Milk's story], but more and more, as time goes by, younger people don't necessarily know."
"History gets forgotten," Van Sant noted.
Milk was the subject of a 1984 documentary, The Life and Times of Harvey Milk.
The director, in jeans and a gray sweatshirt, blended easily into the mostly casually dressed crowd Saturday. Many of those in attendance said they weren't familiar with his work other than 1997's Good Will Hunting , starring Robin Williams, Matt Damon, and Ben Affleck. Van Sant was nominated for a best director Oscar for the film. He has also directed movies such as 1995's To Die For , starring Nicole Kidman, and 1991's My Own Private Idaho, starring Keanu Reeves and the late River Phoenix.
Van Sant said he'd hoped for maybe twice as many people to come to the audition, but said, "The people that I've seen are really great." He said he might do another casting call. At press time, further details weren't available. Filming is expected to begin in January. Mayor Gavin Newsom issued a statement Sunday a
"I am thrilled this project is happening," said Supervisor Tom Ammiano, a friend and supporter of Milk's. "It is a fitting tribute to Harvey's life and work to have this movie filmed here."
Saturday's audition had been for men between the ages of 18 and 40. Many appeared to be in their early 20s to mid-30s and seemed to be a fairly diverse mix of whites, Latinos, Asians, and blacks.
They gathered in bunches of about 30 to be ushered quickly, but politely, over to a group of tables, where they filled out brief questionnaires about things like their height and hair color, their work schedules, and their willingness to grow their hair or cut their hair, shave or not shave, and be around cigarette smoke.
Unlike other auditions, nobody was asked to read anything. As if they were getting their school portraits taken – or maybe it was more like jail booking photos, since each person held a number just below their face – people stood in front of a blue backdrop for a quick snapshot. Then, they were sent over to a small group of assistants to answer a couple more questions. The whole process took about 10 minutes. Call backs for both speaking and non-speaking parts were to take place Sunday.
Most in attendance appeared to know at least a little bit about Milk. Referring to Milk's story, Marcelo Acevedo, 36, said, it's important "to tell it to the world, to tell people what happened here."
Like many people who came to the school Saturday, Acevedo had had small roles in movies before. For example, he said he played a hippie in Oliver Stone's The Doors.
Others appeared to have less experience. Kevin Yee-Chan, 21, said, "I was just walking by [the school] and someone told me to come in."
Regardless of their level of experience, most people didn't seem too worried about whether they received a call back for Sunday.
"Life's too short," said Jeff Kramer, 40. "I figured I'd just give it a shot."