“Bella Morte” Lead Role
“Bella Morte” (Beautiful Death) is my next project, once Season 1 of “Shepard” wraps in October. It explores the life of a beautiful femme fatale, Jaiyana, as she is forcibly drawn out of retirement and hired to take on one final hit. Even though I’m still refining the script for this short, I’ve had the rare pleasure of already casting the lead role.
Those of you who have directed anything, stage or screen, know that casting a project can be both incredibly exciting and very challenging. Sure there are casting directors and talent agencies to help narrow down the choices for you, but ultimately it comes down to matching that vision of a character in your head, with actual, physical people in the room next to you, patiently awaiting their turn to audition. This also means keeping an open mind about it. You may have to compromise on that vision to a degree. But sometimes that’s when the greatest magic happens.
While casting “Shepard” I was met with tremendous good fortune. I was fortunate enough to be able to offer two roles the very same night as the auditions. The actors were just that good, and that perfect for the roles for which they auditioned. I very nearly was able to offer a third that night as well, the role of Jamie. We had two strong contenders for the part, so I decided to do callbacks for them both and see how it would go. Once we got rolling, the choice was obvious. And honestly, it had been my gut instinct from the start.
Megan von Wertman is a versatile actress. She auditioned for two roles originally: Jamie, and Shayla. These two characters are so diametrically opposed to each other, I was actually surprised to see she wanted to take them both on. Far more common was to audition for Allyson and Jamie – characters that were more similar to each other. Megan could have easily handled either role, but I was very compelled by what she brought to Jamie.
Most times, the “quiet” girl comes off as being fairly bland. But Jamie, in Megan’s hands, leapt right off the page, right off the screen. Finding a pretty girl to fill a role like that is easy. But finding one who can infuse a character with so much personality – especially given the brevity of the character’s sides – is much more challenging.
It was also about that time I noticed that Megan’s versatility could make her the perfect candidate for Jaiyana, the assassin brought out of retirement in “Bella Morte.” Jaiyana is a challenging role, to say the least. There’s a lot more to her than just being a patient, precise killer. So much more, in fact, that to divulge even the slightest detail would utterly spoil the film. She has a lot of pain and grief to carry with her, and a profound sorrow that most people cannot begin to imagine. If there is a place more tormentuous than hell, that is where Jaiyana resides. But there’s also a humanity to her, a spark that makes her relatable, sympathetic to the viewer. To have already met the person capable of tackling that broad range at this early stage is definitely a pleasant surprise.
It’s a rare treat at this level to have such consistent good fortune in casting. I couldn’t be more pleased with my cast for Shepard – every one of them is exactly right for their roles. And now, Bella Morte is starting things off in the same way. Although we’re months from rolling cameras on this exciting short film, I greatly anticipate seeing Megan’s Jaiyana in action.