"My Adopted Little Baby From China"

This is part of Ryan’s series of posts telling the story of how the film came to be. If you missed them, you can still go back and read the earlier posts in the series.

Having received and reviewed all the audition videos and reels from actors in round one of casting, I made a series of not-so-tough decisions about whom to invite to callbacks. As I’ve mentioned before, this part of the process is probably harder with a budget, but in the absence of money far fewer actors submit themselves for parts, so most of the roles only had a few quality actors to consider. These all got invited to callbacks, which I now had to schedule. Hampered once again by my unwillingness to part unnecessarily with any of the movie’s extremely sparse budget, I at first tried calling Chicago-area colleges and universities on the advice of my friend Shawn Victa, who used to produce a lot of TV series and commercials but now works in the orthopedic industry, and who guided me through most of the pre-production process.

Having struck out at all the local schools, which either had no space available in the near future or reserved the use of their open rooms for students only, I eventually stumbled upon Gorilla Tango Theatre, a small, scrappy, independent theatre focused on helping even smaller playwrights and companies mount their still tinier (but much scrappier) productions.[1] The theatre rents out rehearsal rooms for, if I remember correctly, $12 per two hours, and they don’t care what you do with those rooms as long it doesn’t involve drums or amplified sound. I booked a six-hour block one Saturday and planned to drive up with Sally early in the morning, heading back to Warsaw in the evening so as to avoid paying for a hotel. I also asked my friend Jon Wilson, a seasoned actor from the Chicago theatre scene, to join us and give me the benefit of his experience on both sides of the casting table.

Meanwhile, Joyce had struck out in all her attempts to entice older Asian talent into auditioning for the part of Maria. In one of my frequent meetings with Shawn, while going over all the outstanding tasks remaining in pre-production and prioritizing the most immediate, I mentioned the dilemma I faced in trying to cast Joyce, and he said, “It’d be great if you could get Ivy.”

Ivy was the wife of Greg Francis, Shawn’s best friend and the only other member of my on-again, off-again writing “group”. The Francises lived in Los Angeles, where Greg was also in the process of putting together his own first film after over a decade of writing, producing, and directing TV content.[2] Ivy had never acted professionally, but Shawn had always praised her natural ability, and as Greg’s longtime producing partner, he would know better than most. Even if I could get Ivy to the other side of the country, though, persuading her to agree to the part would be much harder, as she rarely performs publicly in any way. On the other hand, the character of Maria, who manifests all her emotions through the screen of a deadpan snark, was partially inspired by Ivy’s interactions with her own children and husband—so the mere idea of being able to actually cast her seemed almost too thrilling. And, crucially, Ivy is Filipina, which means a person with a liberal imagination could engage in sufficient suspension of disbelief to accept that she might have given birth to someone who looks like Joyce[3].

Shawn and his wife, Laurie, decided that their contribution to the film’s budget (ignoring the copious amounts of time Shawn had already poured into baby-stepping me through pre-production) would be to fly Ivy out for the shoot, if she would agree to the role. Shawn even called Ivy for me, since he knew her better, and talked her into at least reading the script and thinking about accepting our offer.

I had some dialogue with Ivy over Facebook a day or so later, at about 1 a.m., which is when she tends to be awake and in a chatty mood. After I had steamrolled her objections about lack of experience, she eventually agreed to do the movie if I decided to cast Joyce—which at that point became almost a foregone conclusion. I sent her Joyce’s headshot, and she responded, in her usual tone: “My adopted little baby from… China?” I laughed this off, but it did make me nervous—and still does. While even large-scale Hollywood productions frequently cast East-Asian people in parts for which their ethnicity is incorrect, they don’t usually cast two of such disparate backgrounds as members of the same family. Even apart from the afore-mentioned question of suspension of disbelief, such a move might smack of “they all look the same, anyway”, which is not what you want anyone thinking about your production, or while watching your movie. After talking it over with Joyce and Ivy, though, neither seemed troubled by the issue, so I made my peace with it. (I really, really wanted to cast both of them.)

Callbacks went off quite well, but none of the other women auditioning for the part of Amy presented much of a challenge to Joyce, talented though they were. She had, by this time, spent so long dialoging with me about the character and incorporating that research into her rehearsal that she had a clear advantage over everyone else in the room. I asked her to come back later in the day and read with the men auditioning for the part of JJ, just to see which of them meshed better with her. By this time she had more or less guessed that I was going to cast her, so she didn’t balk at the additional time commitment. At the end of the day I was able to tell her the part was hers, and I messaged Ivy to give her the news shortly thereafter. Satisfied that I had at least two important roles filled, I drove back home with Sally and Jon to watch callback footage and choose the rest of the cast.

Next time: rounding out the cast and starting rehearsals.


  1. Gorilla Tango’s most frequent productions are from a series of comedic burlesque/striptease adaptations of pop-culture properties that nearly always include the word “BOOBS” in the title. Current examples as of this writing: BOOBS and GOOMBAS: A Super Mario Burlesque, TEMPLE OF BOOBS: An Indiana Jones Burlesque, and A Nude Hope: A Star Wars Burlesque. No one said indepedent production was pretty.  ↩

  2. Poker Night, which had a much bigger budget, much more high-profile cast, much longer shoot, and most importantly, a much more talented director at the helm than this movie, is currently in post-production and will hopefully be finding its way into theatres in late 2013 or early 2014.  ↩

  3. (More or less)  ↩