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The Little Play That Could : Film: Five years ago, 'Scorchers' was playing in a 60-seat Equity Waiver theater. Writer-director David Beaird did an end run around the studios to get his vision on the screen.

July 06, 1990|TORENE SVITIL | Svitil is a Los Angeles-based free-lance writer.

Having played three precocious teen-agers and a showgirl involved in murder, Lloyd was attracted by her character's vulnerability. "She's the only character I've played that is so scared of sex," she says. "I find that really endearing because a lot of young girls are depicted as really confident sexually. I found the awkwardness of the whole thing appealing."

For an English actress, Lloyd has spent a good portion of her career playing American girls and not just ordinary girls with standard American television accents. She did Brooklynese in "Cookie," and a Kentucky drawl for "In Country" before taking on a slightly modified Louisiana Cajun for "Scorchers."

"I'm lucky because I've got quite a good ear," Lloyd says.

Lloyd had worked with dialect coach Tim Monich on those earlier American-set films, but there was no money in the "Scorchers" budget for such luxuries. So, Lloyd took advantage of the 10-day location shoot in Louisiana to put her talents as a mimic into practice.

"In Louisiana, it was great because I had people to feed off. I just sort of hung around to immerse myself in the people and the culture. I assimilated them and tried to emulate it," she says. "I'm crossing my fingers; I don't know how it's going to turn out. I think I'm also lucky because Lee's got the accent down perfectly, so I can feed off of him a bit."

Why cast an English actress in the part of a Southern girl? "She's perfect for this part," Beaird insists. "Bear (James Earl Jones) wasn't written as an African-American either. I don't think type at all. I get a kind of juice from an actor and that's what I go for. Dolan has always been played by big, goofy looking guys. James Wilder couldn't be better looking but he has that right kind of spark."

If Wilder sparks, Lloyd is like a forest fire. Racing along at 90 miles an hour, she jokes with her co-stars between takes, slipping in and out of various accents, while showing off bruises from the previous day's filming. She brings the same young girl playfulness to the camera, waggling her fingers when she's being lectured and throwing herself on the floor as she pleads with Jumper to save her from sex, an action that delights Beaird.

"It's so nice working with these actors," Lloyd says. "It's so refreshing for me; they don't have egos. Creatively, it's fun. Sometimes the essence of a good film or good performance is the other people--that it's collaborative as opposed to competitive."

"Emily's had some trouble with getting directors that would give her her head as an actor," says Eisenman. "David is very much an actor's director. After meeting David, she felt that he would give her a chance to realize the actor in her. From that point on it was romance between them artistically."

Beaird, a tall, fast-talking man on hugging terms with everyone, works hard at keeping the performances lively and the pacing quick. There are no languorous pauses in this Southerner's lexicon. "Anytime there's anything that's huge and fun or vital and passionate, actors get afraid that it's over the top or too big (for the camera)." He pauses for dramatic effect. "It's never too big if it's full. And that's what I watch real, real closely. Like when Emily was (imitating Jumper), that wasn't full, that was a caricature. Emily knows that feeling; she knows how to get on the floor and be an ass."

Far more unusual than the casting of Lloyd as a Cajun is the presence of Leland Crooke in the major role of her backwoods father. Crooke created the character and is not a stranger to movies but he doesn't have what producers call marquee value.

"The original intention was to have big names in every role," Eisenman says. "We had a number of possibilities for the financing and distribution that didn't pan out because we weren't able to do that. David always wanted to work with Lee Crooke but distribution companies wanted a name in the part of Jumper."

The role of Jumper was offered to such name actors as Nick Nolte and John Lithgow, but eventually the film's backers supported the casting of Crooke. "Goldcrest was the most understanding about this," Eisenman says. "They're most concerned about making good movies. We've gone after actors that are known for being great actors. Maybe on their own they're not enough to carry a film but when you put them all together that adds up to something significant."

In addition to Crooke, the set designer and several of the minor actors are alumni of the theatrical production and Anthony Geary has worked with Beaird in film and theater. "David is a very loyal man and when possible will work with people that worked with him in the early stages of the project," says Eisenman. "Where the credentials were right we tried to bring them along. We felt they could bring something to the production in addition to their talent."

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