'Me and Orson Welles' actor Christian McKay steals show
on Day 1 of 2009 New Orleans Film Festival
It's Zac Efron's face on the poster for "Me and Orson Welles," him being the "it" boy in the cast and declared by many observers to be just one breakout role from becoming a bona-fide, mainstream star. It was a relatively unknown name, however that stole the show during Friday's night's (Oct. 9) opening-night screening of Richard Linklater's fun and fluffy period drama at the 2009 edition New Orleans Film Festival.
English actor British McKay plays the part of the iconic Welles in the film, which is about a young teen (Efron) who is cast in a Welles-produced 1937 staging of Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar." It's a role McKay nails with an eerie accuracy.
Not only does he resemble Welles physically -- Linklater said Friday that McKay has joked he's the only actor who had to lose weight to play the famously rotund actor -- but he also manages a dead-on impersonation of Welles' most-recognizable attribute: that deep, commanding, one-of-a-kind voice.
As the closing credits rolled after Friday's screening, the capacity crowd at the Prytania Theatre burst into applause when McKay's name and face appeared on-screen.
That was music to the ears of Linklater, who was in attendance and who said that going into the project he viewed the casting of that role as one of the keys to the film.
"I wasn't going to disrespect Welles and do anything less than (getting) the right guy to do him," the director said.
Finding that "right guy" wouldn't be easy, however. But after looking at who-knows-how-many casting tapes, Linklater finally got a call from Robert Kaplow, the writer of the novel on which the movie is based. He told him a bout an actor -- McKay -- who was performing as Welles in a limited-run, off-Broadway play called "Rosebud: The Lives of Orson Welles" in a tiny theater in New York.
Friday's opening-night selection of the 2009 New Orleans Film Festival.In reviewing "Rosebud" in the New York Times, Ginia Bellafante wrote in June 2007: "When Christian McKay appears on stage in 'Rosebud: The Lives of Orson Welles,' one wonders if the casting session took any longer than the time it would to drink a glass of ice water on a hot day. What nature hasn't already bestowed on him in Wellesian aura and appearance, he meticulously affects."
"I live in Austin, and I thought, 'Well, I guess I've got to fly to New York to see this thing,' " Linklater said.
It's a good thing, too. Because as soon as he saw the play, he was sure he had found his Welles.
"That was the good news," Linklater said. "I felt like the film gods had handed him to me. The bad news was nobody had ever heard of him."
That he knew, would make financing the film difficult. Eventually, he had to go to Europe for financial backing, shooting much of the film in England.
"Me and Orson Welles" is scheduled for release Nov. 25.
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