It may have been Twickenham, but it felt like Hoth. Before I’d even reached the famous rugby stadium and seen the hordes of people queuing I couldn’t feel my fingers. I then found out some had stayed overnight.
Only a phenomena like ‘Star Wars’ could drive people to camp outside in the middle of November. Some arrived at 11pm the prior evening, with many more arriving throughout the night. Their mission? To audition for a lead role in J.J. Abrams’ ‘Star Wars: Episode VII’.
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The gates opened at 6am and by 9 Twickenham Stadium’s car park was packed with thousands of hopeful fans and aspiring actors. Some were taking it more seriously than others, but everyone was enjoying themselves – even if the process was a little cutthroat.
"We are doing this to find someone who might not have necessarily gone to drama school,” the film’s UK casting agent Kate Bone told the BBC. “They don't have to have acting experience - just the right look and then we can see if there's any talent there.
“We don't want to leave any stone unturned, we want to see what's out there. To find an unknown talent is very exciting."
Finding that “right look” is ultimately what November’s open auditions around the country have come down to. According to people who had been through the process it was over very quickly and most of the time came down to a simple no.
Mitch Reeves was among the first to work his way around the queue, so I asked him what the process was like. "Quick,” he said. “Well, we got here at like 12am so there was a lot of hanging around, but the actual process of being seen and having your photo looked at - very quick, probably twenty to thirty seconds. In and out, then a straight up no.”
One of the lucky ones was aspiring French actress Albame Courtois, who having received a yes moved inside the stadium for phase two of the process. “I went in and it was like an individual meeting,” she said. “She [the casting director] asked me about what I do with my life, how I was, my favourite actresses, things like that. Basic questions to see who I was and to know me better - then they said yes!”
Albame was given an audition script, a bracelet and a time to come back later in the day for a proper read-through. She was however, one of few.
Both her and Mitch were aspiring actors, but many in the crowd were simply there for the hell of it. Lorenzo Caravantti was one such person, and I asked him what it was like in the crowd. “There’s lots of excitement, a very joyful atmosphere,” he said. “I came here with my flatmates and we actually made friends with a lot of people. It was a really nice atmosphere.
He was happy too, despite the being met with a ‘no’ at the first hurdle. “We came here for the occasion really. I've seen the movies but I've got other plans for my life [laughs] I don't really plan on becoming an actor.”
Lorenzo’s attitude was indicative of most people’s. The chances of getting such a life-changing part are slim-to-none, so instead most opted for the sensible approach and arrived in Twickenham just to enjoy being part of the event.
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They went to say they were there and to be able to tell people that they at least tried - after all, it isn’t very often an opportunity to be in ‘Star Wars’ comes around.
To keep spirits high and minds off the biting November cold StarWars.com brought along two members of the UK’s 501st Garrison – a charitable group of ‘Star Wars’ cosplayers who attend events around the country.
Dressed as Stormtroopers they walked along the queue, posed for pictures and inspired a sing-a-long of the Imperial march. It was all very good-natured, and helped create the kind of positive atmosphere Disney would have hoped for.
Now they’re over it’s all too easy to say the open auditions were a publicity stunt more than anything, but be that as it may it gave fans something to remember and brought them a little closer to a film series they clearly love.
‘Star Wars: Episode VII’ will be released on December 18th, 2015 – will a young British unknown be part of it? Watch this space...