How do babies get cast in movies?

Ben Falk
UK Movies Contributor
Rebecca Bearman shared the role of Elora Danan in ‘Willow’ at the age of 10 months. (Lucasfilm/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock)

Whether it’s a baby and her three men or the sprog some screen mummy holds in her arms after a particularly gruelling birth sequence, those children – like everyone else in the movie – have to be cast.

Here’s how it happens.

Making a movie baby

When it came time to shoot the finale of Knocked Up, the filmmakers were hit with a unique problem.
They wanted to intercut footage of a live birth with shots of Katherine Heigl pretending to squeeze out her and Seth Rogen’s baby, but turns out they weren’t allowed.

As producer Evan Goldberg told The Guardian, “We found out we couldn’t because the baby, by virtue of not being born yet, couldn’t be a member of SAG.”

A publicity shot for Knocked Up. (WB)

In fact, in California, you need to be 15-days-old before you’re allowed to make your screen debut, as long as you have a note from your doctor explaining you’re not premature and are physically up to the job.

Be prepared to be slathered in grape jam and cottage cheese, or stage blood (aka corn syrup) as well, if you’re being born again. And it will be grape, not strawberry – the latter might cause an allergic reaction.

What your little one needs

“Someone’s who got a likeable face and a big smile and big eyes usually,” says one British child model agent.

Thankfully, you don’t need a lot of patience – not something newborns tend to have in huge supply – because basically film crews will kowtow to your whims more than a giant Hollywood star. Babies less than six-months-old can only be on-set for two hours a day and are able to ‘work’ for 20 minutes of that, one of the reasons filmmakers generally turn to identical twins as it doubles the amount of time the infant character can be on-camera.

Evangeline and Liliana Ellis as Madison Ford in the underrated Netflix Original ‘Tallulah’ (Nicole Rivelli/Netflix)

Experts also recommend that whichever loved one the potential thesp is least attached to should be the one taking them to any audition.

Why? Because casting directors often take the kids into another room to see how they react.

As agency boss Jackie Reid tells Backstage, “Oftentimes a baby will scream when taken away from Mummy and not make a peep when taken from Dad or Grandma or the babysitter.”

Hey – if you want to make it in Hollywood you’ve got to be prepared to do it on your own.

Often it’s all about luck

Two of the most famous movie babies are Kristina and Michelle Kennedy, who took turns playing Diane Keaton’s on-screen daughter in Elizabeth in 1987’s Baby Boom. Their parents had brought them to the open audition, but when Kristina was playing with a ball and it accidentally rolled into the audition room, they got a leg-up.

“They said, ‘Show them in,’” dad Jim told the ‘Today’ show. “And they were the first to be auditioned.”
Because of a ball, they were seen first and were thus fresh in the filmmakers’ minds.

Diane Keaton in ‘Baby Boom’ (United Artist)

For Rebecca Bearman, who shared the role of Elora Danan in the cult 80s hit Willow at the age of 10 months, she knew a guy (her uncle Gerry Toomey, the movie’s second assistant director) who knew a guy (the director, Ron Howard).

“I was used at the last-minute because I was told [the main twin actresses] had grown too big for the backpack that Willow wears,” Bearman told Yahoo Movies.

She never received a proper credit, but did buy her first car for £2000 with the money her parents had saved from her salary for the job (if negotiated cleverly, a baby can earn up to £500 a day).

There’s a reason they say never work with children or animals

“In the beginning, [the film crew on ‘Baby Boom’] thought that they could just have a baby happy on demand,” Diane Kennedy told NBC. “They found out really quickly that they had to work around (the babies’) schedule and they were very, very good about that.”

Adds Bearman, “I was generally a good child so I didn’t cry. They needed me to cry when I’m in the back of a cart, because I’m meant to be terrified, but I was laughing the whole time. They had to give me my bottle and take it away to try and force me to cry. My Mum did more of the acting than I did!”

Ultimately, for very little children, the key seems to be the ability – if you can call it that – to nap when the film crew want you to, be awake when they need to be and generally be silent unless something else is required.

Which is easy for babies, right?

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