One of the things that usually gets a gratifyingly big reaction from audiences in CRY FOR BOBO, the clown film I directed in 2001, is Little Joey the infant clown.
Played by three-year-old thespian Lewis Reid, he’s an endearing yet nightmarish figure, and his entrance is the point where the viewers realises they’re in a rather different kind of world. Coulrophobes start squirming immediately.
Lewis was used to the idea of acting and make-believe, like most kids, but especially because both his parents are actors, and he’d seen them at work in panto. He came to meet us while we were preparing the shoot at our studio/offices, having been suggested by one of our adult clowns, I think Stevie McNicoll. Lewis worked the room vigorously, seeming like a complete little grown-up, eagerly showing us his Thunderbird 2just the way an adult would. We were all immediately convinced he had what it took to play the part of Joey. “It was amazing — the whole time he was here I just assumed we were definitely going to cast him,” remarked costume designer Ali Mitchell, who had the substantial job of making both a clown wardrobe and a business suit for the little thesp.
So, Lewis’s first day of filming dawned. I screwed up. Lewis was so self-possessed and confident I failed to realise that a three-year-old is like an elephant, you have to kind of work around their needs. I devised a tracking shot that pulled back with our two clown protags, Mark McDonnell and Stevie, and then Lewis was supposed to walk in. But he was afraid of the tracks. He’d seen the camera dolly trundle along them and he was damned if he was stepping into its path.
On take one his dad sort of prompted him into shot, but got into shot with him.
For take two I sat Lewis in the foreground and let the camera reveal him. But he looked like a sort of abstract squiggle down at the bottom of the frame, a colourful hair in the gate or something.
Take three — I had Tracey Robertson, as Betty the clown housewife, carry Little Joey in. He’d been demoted from actor to prop. That seemed to do the trick.
Then we filmed other stuff. For hours. BIG MISTAKE.
This is what happened when we put Lewis in front of the camera just after his bedtime. Three-year-olds have an Off-Switch somewhere in their little brains, and when they get tired, it trips, and they’re out like a light.
“We’ll have to be quick,” I told cinematographer Scott Ward, “Lewis is falling asleep.” Scott assumed I meant “Lewis is tired,” until he looked through the camera at the close-up, and realised, NO, he’s LITERALLY falling asleep.
I promise, just about the cutest thing you’ll ever see.
Lewis was nothing short of magnificent for the rest of the shoot. While acting as an extra, Fiona asked him what his favourite film was. “CRY FOR BOBO!” he replied, without hesitation. Now that’s my kind of actor.
You can watch the whole film HERE if you like: