Landing Lincoln

Posted by Mike Shiflett
Richard "RB" Botto Richard "RB" Botto

So what's it like to land a role in a major motion picture directed by a filmmaking legend? How about to perform in scenes with one of the most respected actors of our time?

Oscar Week continues here on 32 with a guest blog from actor and Stage 32 member, Mike Shiflett. Mike had the opportunity to audition for Steven Spielberg's Oscar nominated film, Lincoln. He nailed it. Shortly thereafter he found himself acting beside Daniel Day Lewis, who, of course, is up for Best Actor for his portrayal of the 16th President of the United States.

Today, Michael shares his experiences with the community. I thank him for contributing.

Enjoy!

RB

It all started in the back hills of Virginia. The run to the 'outhouse' was a cold and hurried experience... that's when I knew I had to act... not really but I thought that sounded good...

After having performed in a few local productions and also "expressing" my extra/ background work with a couple of serious films, I was notified by a local casting organization, Erica Arvold Casting, that Mr. Spielberg was coming to town and that she was seeking a few actors to read for some desired roles. I of course said "no way", I mean how in this world could anyone follow Jaws. This was a clear moment of insanity. I immediately called her back and spoke very professionally, and told her I would love to read for this wonderful dream.

A meeting was set up and sides were sent. I ran over and over the sides because how often does one get to audition for a "giant in the industry". Upon arriving at the audition there were numerous nervous personalities waiting and pacing for their shot at the big kahuna. When it was my turn, I stood there with my little name slate and stated what I thought was my name and proceeded to act out the copy. The anxiety and nerves began to run down each arm and each leg. I believe I heard a voice inside saying, "try not to pee right now". The emotional spout that is in all performers began to pour while I tried to maintain some calmness. The reading turned into quite an emotional trauma. Most actors I know have "that place I can go" element in them. Well, I went there, but never quite as intensely as I did on that day. The reading was finished and so was my composure and most of my remaining breath. I exited the room and felt that I had left it there. Gave it all.

Weeks had passed. I was examining my audition in my head. The actor's insecurity was applying itself to me body and soul. Then one bright and sunny day the phone rang. There was a voice stating that "Avy" in New York City wanted to speak with me. She said that "we would like to offer you the role of Senator Hunter in Mr. Spielberg's new film." Now at this moment, all time stops.Even the "black holes" in the universe cease their sucking.The certainty that this is a prank from a friend was heavily on my mind. "Avy" waited until I took another breath and sat down. She insisted that this was a real call and that if I was available (oh please) that there would be a script mailed to me. This along with a document stating that if I even spoke the word Lincoln or movie, that my toilets would back up and I would never ever work in this or any universe again. I agree because I've seen a backed up toilet.

Approaching the "home base", where inside sets were still being designed, I felt a sense of belonging. That is until I could not get through the front door desk. The misspelling of my last name (this happens all the time) sent me reeling. Had I been rejected after all? Was "my" part already eliminated? Then came the friendly assistant who apologized for the mistake and "would you please come in" followed. What a relief. I was in. It was not just a dream.

The room was busy and flowing with energy. The paper work followed and then wardrobe was next. The friendly but distant people adjusting you to a character were intent on perfection. I like that.

The first day on set I was surrounded by faces, if not names, that I knew. Trying to keep my cool and distance from these familiar people was a trial. When I finally spoke with Gregory Itzin he could not have been nicer. That followed with David Strathairn and Jackie Earle Haley. These gentlemen were so kind and supportive to this new kid on "their" block. The day was quite memorable with actors I respect and lines that I kept repeating backstage. Sitting in those director chairs next to these actors was a feeling of positive reward.

There was a day when I was on set with Jared Harris, who plays General Grant. We had just finished a scene on the riverboat and I was blown away. What a marvelous actor. I had to say something to this man. Not being sure of his name I spoke and said "What an outstanding scene. You were amazing". He spoke back in his very british accent and said, "Thank you so much." Well that only compounded my impression of him. Jared is not only the son of Richard but also had me convinced he was American.

Throughout this whole wonderful event in my life Mr. Steven Spielberg was kind, gracious and supportive. He introduced himself to me on day two. Upon entering the scene for that day he said, "Here is the great Senator Hunter". I felt like I had been accepted by this exceptional director of film. I had heard that Steven is in love with film making and that he does not portray himself as special or lead with an ego. It is true. What an amazing man.

One day on set the camera man slid a very heavy camera rig over his own foot. Of course this disrupted the scene. Steven was kind and concerned about his health more than the shot. This is Steven Spielberg.

Daniel Day Lewis is and will be one of the best this world has to offer in acting. His record speaks for itself. I feel the awards he has accumulated are only a small fraction of this man. There are certain souls put on this earth to perform certain tasks. Daniel is performing his. On set with Daniel there is a real air of respect. His presence as Lincoln was very strong and everyone around him extends their game. He brings out the best of himself and the actors working around him. He is a focused method actor who would try various takes of a scene and each one was great and some were incredible. On the set everyone called him Mr. President. He has only begun.

To see this body of work so entrenched in the Oscars is a marvelous thing. The making of a story that matters to this entire country and world is an exceptional event. To be part of this magic is a true sense of pride. It makes me want to talk to the people represented by this story. Senator Hunter still stays with me. I would ask him, "What was it like for you?" I think I know the answer but would still love to hear his heart speak about these days and times. This is the magic of film. It can be unending. It can speak to millions at a level that is common to all.

So with this in mind I love and truly respect this film. The "awards" have already been granted on several levels. The "Oscars" already breathe. The "best picture" is complete.


Michael is available for questions and remarks in the comments section below.

Who do you like for Best Picture? Which films and performances were overrated? Underrated? Get it all out in the comments section of the Stage 32 Academy Awards Contest page.

And if you haven't entered the Stage 32 Academy Award Contest, you can do so here: Stage 32 Academy Award 2013 Contest

 
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