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"Pirates" Casting Call Draws 7000 Aspiring Extras,
Sande Alessi Agency Still Seeking Applicants
, December 17, 2004
by Diane B. Rooney

Pirates are back big time as a pop culture phenomenon, fuel by the success of Jerry Bruckheimer's 2003 blockbuster "Pirates of the Caribbean." Sande Alessi Casting held its only open call for extras for the films' two sequels last Sunday at the Ricardo Montalban Theatre on North Vine Street, in a charmingly seedy area of Hollywood enhanced only by the stars on the Walk of Fame.

More than 7000 prospective extras showed up.

"Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl" grossed over $305 million in 2003 (behind only The Return of the King and Finding Nemo) and earned Johnny Depp an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. It also launched dozens of fan websites, online galleries, and forums dedicated to cast and crew members from the first film and to pirate history, costuming, and reenactment.

Sequel production starts in March in Los Angeles, with filming alternating between there and St. Vincent (with other locations possible) through February 2006. Principal cast members from the first film Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Orlando Bloom, and Kiera Knightley are returning, and Rolling Stone Keith Richard, an inspiration for Depp's performance, has been signed to play his father. Hong Kong star Chow Yun-Fat is set to appear as the famous 15th-century Chinese pirate Cheung Po Tsai.

Word of the open call spread like wildfire through fan sites and internet message forums following initial postings by Sande Alessi, also reaching registered extras and Screen Actors Guild members. The more than 7000 aspiring extras began to gather well before the 9 am open call. A few were in full pirate costume while others suggested how they might look with accessories including hats, vests, frock coats, boots, swords, prop pistols, beaded hair dangles, do-rags, tattoos, belts and various types of bling including rings, necklaces, headbands, and bracelets, usually in multiples. While the call notice specified people from the Los Angeles area only, hopefuls with family or friends in LA and flexible schedules came from as far away as Orlando, Portland, Salt Lake City, and Tennessee. In addition to snapshots, many brought photos of themselves in pirate costume. Los Angeles TV stations Fox (Channel 13) was one of several stations that sent crews to cover the event.

Despite the turnout, Casting Director Sande Alessi was expecting more. "This was not as big as most open calls, mostly because we did not want to see children. I was expecting 12-15,000 people. By comparison, we had 6000 for each of the Austin Powers' sequels." Depending on the film and the types of extras needed, an open call can draw, on average, from 3000 to 10,000 applicants, according to Alessi.

Ms. Alessi and her staff handled all applications between 8:30 AM and 5PM, collecting contact information, sizes, skills, experience, and photos. Wigs, eye patches, and beards had to be removed: "We need to see what you really look like," said Ms. Alessi. They spent the next several days sorting people into groups (pirate crew, British and Caribbean townspeople, etc), with cards and photos stacked all over the office. She said the open call drew lots of " great, amazing people" who will be called to appear in the films. Auditions for pirate crew extras are planned for the third week of January with director Gore Verbinski and assistant directors. Ms Alessi explained that in the audition, "They'll select a prop and then be given a scene to act with it." Pirate crew extras are being selected early so they can complete training in sword play and other pirate skills before filming starts. They are meeting with Verbinski because the crew extras are so visible in the film. Ms. Alessi will be deciding on the extras for the numerous other roles. According to Alessi, ideal pirate crew extras should be scrawny (historic pirates tended to live on vegetables and rum), with long hair and beards. She is especially looking for people with a really emaciated look, pirate re-enactor experience, sailing or tall ship experience (including the ability to climb masts, rig sails, and row) amputees, and people with removable body parts such as eyes and teeth.

Although not part of the pirate crew, many female extras are needed, as well as people to play soldiers, marines, fishermen, and townspeople in Port Royal and other film locations. Extras of various ethnic backgrounds will be needed, especially if Chow Yun-Fat's character needs crew members or other associates.

Ms. Alessi stressed that extras would be contracted throughout the year as filming progressed. She encouraged prospects to provide as many phone numbers as possible, "even your mom in Texas," so the agency can reach them if their photo or experience matches the needs for upcoming scenes.

How many extras will be needed during the entire production? "It's hard to estimate, but I would guess about 7,000, the same number we had for the open call," said Ms. Alessi. She wants to see more people and urges them to call the agency hotline at (818) 725-2905 or visit www.sandealessicasting.com/new_forum.html for information.