Quest for the Northern gem: Auditions sweep NWT for cast of Van Camp’s The Lesser Blessed

Quest for the Northern gem: Auditions sweep NWT for cast of Van Camp’s <em>The Lesser Blessed</em>
Richard Van Camp.

Fort Smith author Richard Van Camp is journeying across the NWT, seeking the person who can breathe heart and soul into Larry Sole, the centre of his first novel The Lesser Blessed and the soon-to-be lead star of the acclaimed novel’s film adaptation.

Throughout the beginning of October, Van Camp, movie director Anita Doron and casting director Jason Knight visited schools from Bechoko to Hay River, searching for the right qualities hidden somewhere, hopefully, in a few teens from the North who have never acted before.

“We are looking for something that is commonly known as the ‘X-factor,’” Van Camp told The Journal during his stop at PW Kaeser high school for auditions on October 6. “We’re looking for what the industry commonly calls non-actors. Larry is very innocent, he’s very naive, he’s very sweet and he’s very trusting, and sometimes that can’t be taught – it just is.

“We want the world to meet Larry for the very first time just as Larry’s discovering himself.”

Van Camp describes the teenage Larry as a smart-ass, a poet, a fighter and a total mystery. He is a Tlicho Indian from the fictional town of Fort Simmer – a town inspired by Fort Smith, where Van Camp attended high school. Larry comes from an abusive background and in his past is a hidden tragedy that he is just beginning to face.

Having the story so situated in the NWT, said Van Camp, is what makes the search for a northern Larry so much more important.

“This is a northern story,” said Van Camp. “It was lived, it was earned from growing up in Fort Smith here in the Northwest Territories. It’s the first novel that’s ever come out of Fort Smith, it’s the first novel that’s ever been written by a Dogrib Dene, and so what better time to return that gift to the Northwest Territories and share this abundance with Northerners.”

Over 100 youth aged 15 to 19 auditioned for the roles of Larry, his best friend Johnny, his beloved Juliet and the school bully Darcy across the NWT.

No final decisions have been made on Larry, yet.

“At this point it’s anyone’s game,” said Van Camp. “Potentials are a dime a dozen. We need the one – the one person that you will not take your eyes off of for an hour and a half because you can’t.”

Shooting is set to start next month in northern Ontario. So far, $2.2-million has been raised for the shoot, with half a million coming from the Ontario government. While Van Camp said his dream has always been to do the exterior shoot in Fort Smith, shooting film in the North is extremely expensive and they are still looking to secure funding.

The first round of auditions in the NWT is done, but online video submissions continue.

“I’m so proud of all the youth who did their very best and showed up to stand and deliver,” said Van Camp. “We were all impressed. What a dream come true! We’ve been working on this for six years.”

A Dance of Trust

Van Camp said he is “thrilled” to have his novel picked up by award-winning filmmaker Anita Doron and First Generation Productions from Toronto. Doron, who made her first film at age 12 in her native Ukraine, is best known for the 2006 film The End of Silence starring Canadian musician Sarah Harmer, which won several international awards.

“It’s a gorgeous screenplay, I certainly could never have written it,” Van Camp said of The Lesser Blessed. “My job is done as the novelist, the story is perfect as is. Now I’m very interested to see how that will be translated to the big screen.”

Having worked with illustrators, journalists and other filmmakers throughout his career in television and writing, Van Camp said he welcomes the collaborative process.

“Anytime you collaborate it’s a dance of trust, so you have to let go,” he said. “Nobody wants to make a bad movie. Let Anita do what she was born to do, let the producer do what she was born to do, let all the actors do what they were born to do. This is the ultimate dance of trust.”

The Lesser Blessed movie is set to be released in 2012.

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