What Really Happens When You Cast Your Daughter In A Movie

Photo: Courtesy of Sundance.
Pictured: Riley Keough and Jena Malone in "Lovesong."
I was frustrated. My daughter, Sky, was throwing a tantrum and not doing what I was asking to her to do. Which was normal. Only now the camera was rolling, we had a large crew on standby, and I just wanted her to walk up to the front door of this beautiful Nashville home on a river with the lead actress and she wouldn't budge. I walked up to cajole her. My husband walked up to cajole her. No luck — she wouldn't budge. Thank goodness we weren't rolling film so technically this wasn't costing us anything. But time, in a sense, is money in this situation, and I needed to be a mom. But I also needed to be a director. Eventually, through some sort of bribery, we got her to walk to the front door and we got the scene.

Truth be told, I hadn't officially asked my daughter to be in this film. I just told her that's what we're doing. She was also playing an older version of her younger sister, so she had to answer to "Jessie" even though her name is Sky. She obviously, at this moment, wasn't happy about this situation. We had investors, we had a crew, we were making a movie. Maybe this isn't a good idea, wasn't really in the list of options I had at hand. Sky hated doing things more than once. As an actress that goes with the job. Perhaps I bent to her will, but we continued to make the film.

Then, on another day, we're shooting another scene. In this scene Sky didn't have to do anything, just stand in place because the adults were talking. The scene was about a mother making her recently deceased husband's favorite casserole for her son's wedding. Sky, to my knowledge, didn't even know what was going on in the film; as I said, she just had to stand there. But in the middle of the scene she looks to the son and asks him, "How did your dad die?"

The actor, Ryan, just answered as he would to a child. The father had died of cancer, so he replied, "Well, he got sick and then he died."

"Were you sad?" asked Sky.

"Yes," replied Ryan.

"Did you cry?" asked Sky.

"Yes."

At this point everyone in the crew was tearing up. "I would have never stopped crying," said Sky. There was silence. I called cut. And everyone realized the scene was now about something else. So we shot the reverse and Sky was solid and the scene became so much more than I would have written myself.

Every actor brings a gift to a film: themselves. They carry their own dreams, desires, and instincts of love and sadness. As a mother, I initially cast my daughters to be in the film as a matter of necessity. It was the easiest choice. But, I didn't expect them to necessarily bring themselves to the film. By making this film with them, I was reminded of what filmmaking at its best can be. It's a collaboration of emotions and trust. By learning to trust my own children, I was reminded to trust my own instincts of why I'm a filmmaker.
We're celebrating the biggest movies of the year with a new series called Blockbust-HER. We'll be looking at everything film-related from the female perspective, interviewing major players in the industry, and discussing where Hollywood is doing right by women and where (all too often) it is failing them. And now...let's go to the movies!
Advertisement
Advertisement