I haven't done one of my Oz movie blogs in awhile, probably because there just hasn't been anything worth blogging about! But, I have set up an interview with the cast of the independent film After the Wizard, which will be on DVD August 7th for this week's blog. I'm interviewing Jordan Van Vranken (Dorothy/Elizabeth), Jermel Nakia (Scarecrow), and Orien Richman (Tin Woodman).
How did your casting come about, and what was your reaction when you found out that you were going to play such iconic characters?
Jordan: I didn't actually audition for the role of Elizabeth/Dorothy. I participated in the table read as a favor to Hugh, and after holding auditions he called me and asked if I'd like to play the character. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to play such a complex character. It was a little nerve-wracking at first, because so many people know and love Dorothy and The Wizard of Oz, but I realized that when you take away the whole Wizard of Oz aspect from After the Wizard, the film just tells the story of an orphan girl who's had a tough life.
Jermel: At the time of casting for After the Wizard, I was represented by an agency that sent me out on various auditions. If my memory serves me correctly, I found out about auditions for the movie relatively last minute and I wasn't sent the "sides". When an actor goes in for an audition, they are usually given material from the project called "sides" to prepare; which are lines from the script in the project. Unfortunately, there were wires crossed and I didn't see the "sides" until I was waiting to be seen at the location of the audition. As I read over the material, within five minutes or so, Hugh (the director of the film) opened the door and I went in to do the best work I could as an under-prepared artist. I must say that not having the material put me at an advantage because I didn't have the normal jitters associated with the work. I felt after I walked out of the room, that it was meant to be. About twenty four hours later, I was offered the role. I was elated to bring this character back to the screen, with my own interpretation at the director's request. I knew if it wasn't this time around, I was destined to play this character at some point in my career.
Orien: I met Hugh when I was in a play that he wrote called Stated Income. A few months after the play closed, Hugh came to me about After the Wizard. I was very pleased that he wanted me to be in his movie. We were not allowed to have our movie have any similarities to the 1939 movie for legal reasons, so I had free reign to make a completely new Tin Woodman. Once we settled on the costume, the make up and the black contacts, the character began to take shape. I tried to concentrate on a few elements such as being made of metal which affected my walk and head movements. Many of the scenes take place in the United States of America. Obviously, my character has never been there before. Everything and everyone I encountered was new and fresh. Therefore, I tried to be as innocent and naive as possible with my portrayal.
About how long did it take every day to get the make-up on and off?
Jermel: The make-up process was two-and-a-half hours to three hours everyday. This includes putting it on and taking it off.
Would you consider The Wizard of Oz movie a childhood favorite?
Jordan: Definitely! I even had my own ruby slippers! I still own The Wizard of Oz on VHS.
Jermel: I am from Missouri, so growing up this story was a childhood stamp. It truly was. All and all, I would consider it a very magical memory when I first saw it. My favorite of the films is The Wiz. Now that interpretation holds all my dreams of being the Scarecrow someday...
Orien: The Wizard of Oz movie was most definitely a childhood favorite of mine. I saw it many times.
Did you read any of the original Oz books prior to filming After the Wizard?
Jordan: I didn't read any of the books or re-watch the movie before filming. In my mind, I had a clear image of how I wanted to portray Elizabeth. I knew she was just a normal girl with a big imagination who was dealing with challenging obstacles in her life, and I didn’t want to overplay it.
Jermel: No, I don't recall reading the books.
Orien: I didn't actually read the book until I got the part in the movie.
How was it working with each other and the rest of the cast?
Jordan: The entire cast was phenomenal! I was really fortunate to be able to work with such a talented group of people that I really connected with. We sort of became a family on set. Almost all of my scenes were with Jermel and Orien and having such a great relationship with them off-camera really helped me be able to convey such strong emotion on-camera.
Jermel: Jordan is a very dedicated actress; she was always ultra-prepared and ready at a moment's notice to take her position as Dorothy. As a young actress should, she took well to direction on set from myself and Orien. Her career will soar, if for no other reason than being dedicated to her art and being prepared, something many actors can not say. Orien (The Tin Woodman) is so very passionate about this movie in general and the resurgence of his career, that you couldn't help but feel his contagious energy. He is a performer unlike anyone that I have ever worked with.
Orien: As you may or may not know, I happen to come from a family of actors. Hugh was receptive when I suggested my father Peter Mark Richman and my brother-in-law Loren Lester for roles in the movie. Both ended up playing big roles in the film and after many attempts at finding the right actress to play Mrs. Murphy, my mother, Helen Richman, finally won the part. Quite unusual to find a feature film with four family members playing significant roles in the film! Besides my family members, I have grown quite close to all of the other cast members. Many of us flew to Kansas and stayed together in a house for the world premiere last year.
Would you ever do another Oz movie if given the opportunity?
Jordan: I love what I do, and I loved playing Elizabeth. If the right story was written I would love to return to Elizabeth’s shoes and tell the next part of her life’s journey. She has a good heart, she’s grown up and matured….so it could be interesting to see where her story goes next and how her good friends from Oz fit into it.
Jermel: I don't think I would ever turn down the opportunity to play this role again. I really like all that the Scarecrow represents with his salt of the earth disposition.
Orien: I would love to do another one. We have already talked about it.
Why do you think Oz fans will enjoy this interpretation of Oz?
Jordan: I definitely think Oz fans will enjoy this interpretation. All of the magic from the original story is still here, with a few little twists. After the Wizard is heartwarming story that I think everyone can enjoy, even if you’re not a big Wizard of Oz fan!
Jermel: I believe Oz fans will enjoy this film because it's sweet and pure from the core. The original characters are in traditional costuming with a modern twist, but the back drop is 2012. This in and of itself creates a marvelous visual for anyone to see. This movie is destined for greatness, and I am standing behind it one hundred percent to witness its elevation.
Orien: Oz fans will very much enjoy this movie because we made something that is respectful of L. Frank Baum's book and the characters that so many fans adore and revere. After the Wizard is not a remake; it is a completely different story. In the movie, a lot of questions are answered like what happened in Oz to the Lion, the Scarecrow, and the Tin Woodman after the Wizard left and what happened to Dorothy after she got back to Kansas.
How would you describe your experience working on the movie?
Jordan: I was only 12 when I started this project, so I was basically growing up on set. From that standpoint, it wasn’t hard to relate to Elizabeth as she matured throughout the film. I was blessed to be able to work with a group of incredibly talented and generous actors and I even got to film on location all over Kansas and see things I've never seen before. I think it was a learning experience for many of us—it being my first time acting in a lead role in a feature film, and Hugh’s first time directing. Everyone pitched in and gave it their all to put forth a great film.
Orien: Overall, this has been a wonderful experience working with Hugh and the rest of the cast doing the best we can to put something of high quality out there on a very modest budget.
A very special "thank you" to Hugh Gross and Rita Van Vranken for helping me set up this interview! You can pre-order After the Wizard on DVD from Amazon here.