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A few are wet behind the ears

June 03, 2007|Lynn Smith

"JOHN" stars plenty of familiar faces -- Rebecca De Mornay ("Risky Business," "Wedding Crashers") and Bruce Greenwood ("I, Robot") play the volatile, verbal grandparents Mitch and Cissy Yost; Brian Van Holt ("Black Hawk Down") is their son, Butchie; Ed O'Neill ("Married With Children") plays family friend Bill; Austin Nichols ("The Day After Tomorrow," "Deadwood") plays the supernatural stranger John.

But David Milch spoke proudly of the nonprofessional actors he found by chance and cast in the show. "I just happened to see them," he said glancing approvingly at a scene on the Imperial Beach pier in which a group of children was joking with Van Holt.

As it turned out, the children were actors who had been hired by the casting department. But it would be an easy mistake to make since there are many more who weren't.

For instance, Keala Kennelly, a pro surfer who has played herself in films such as "Blue Crush" and "Step Into Liquid," plays the fictional Kai, who has secret feelings for Butchie. One of the staff writers had told Milch about a documentary featuring Kennelly. "There aren't a lot of successful women surfers," Milch said. "So she came over and I hired her."

Skateboarder Greyson Fletcher, the fourth generation of the surfing Fletcher family from San Clemente, plays the youngest member of the Yost family. According to HBO, Milch met Greyson Fletcher on set "and thought he could be perfect for the role."

Milch said he found a part in the show for a local woman with cerebral palsy; he told Nichols he could find a part for his mother, who water-skis.

With actors, Milch said, "I try to form characters around what the person is able to do. What we respond to in a performance is some intuition we have about the soul of the spirit before us. I think an audience makes that contract even more easily with someone who doesn't have a lot of craft, rather than with someone who's accumulated so much craft they've turned it into a kind of technique rather than a genuine transaction of the spirit."

Also, he doesn't like auditions. "They're very hard for me. When you have a weak ego structure, you want to promise everything to everybody. You wind up casting 10 or 12 people for the same part. You can't do that."

Later in the day, co-creator Kem Nunn introduced Milch to an old friend, a surfer and sometime street person named John Crotwell. Later in the day he was hired "as a consultant of some sort," Nunn said.

-- L.S.

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