Filmmakers’ quest for Hackney men who’ve lived with mental health problems and have no acting experience

Lara Manwaring is casting director for a new BBC film based in Hackney. Picture: Supplied.

Lara Manwaring is casting director for a new BBC film based in Hackney. Picture: Supplied. - Credit: Archant

Casting director Lara Manwaring has begun her search for an actor to take the lead role in a BBC feature film set in Hackney. Previous acting experience isn’t necessarily required.

Nicolas Cage in Mandy; another of the films which Manwaring helped cast actors for. Picture: Supplie

Nicolas Cage in Mandy; another of the films which Manwaring helped cast actors for. Picture: Supplied - Credit: Archant

Lara Manwaring is always on the look out for exciting new acting talent.

"We cast most of the original Top Boy series by visiting schools in east London," she says, "and recently cast a BBC feature film - Lynn and Lucy - where the lead role was played by a woman who had never acted before in her life."

Manwaring is once again in pursuit of an actor to take the starring role in a BBC film where no prior experience is required. If you are a Hackney-based male, aged 18 to 35, who has grappled with mental health issues and has a passion for rap music: this could be you.

The film in question comes courtesy of a BAFTA-nominated writer/director, with a BAFTA-winning producer also part of the team. Manwaring, who is leading the search for talent in her role as casting director, wants to keep their identities private, but she confirms that planning for the movie has been ongoing for a while now.

Manwaring also played a part in casting actors for the original series of Top Boy. Picture: Supplied

Manwaring also played a part in casting actors for the original series of Top Boy. Picture: Supplied. - Credit: Archant

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"The director has been researching for at least two or three years [in collaboration] with different NHS trusts," she says.

"It is a personal film for the director who has had his own mental health experiences. He's been working with the NHS, including the East London Foundation Trust, researching this film for several years and has spoken with over a hundred people who have experienced psychosis."

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Manwaring herself has worked in casting for a decade, spending eight of those years with Des Hamilton Casting before establishing her own company in 2017. Credits accrued during this time involve Channel 4's original Top Boy series, the recent Nicolas Cage film Mandy, and yet another BAFTA-award winning piece in the shape of 2016 film, Ellen.

So why is she overlooking professional talent in favour of someone new to the craft?

"We are looking for a certain authenticity and realness that you often find when casting non-actors.

"The director is keen to cast someone who has got their own lived experiences, because they will be that much more able to inhabit this character and have a first-hand understanding of the experiences he is going through."

There's scope for the actor to add elements of their own personality in to the storyline, too. "The director is keen for this to be a really collaborative process between himself and the person who goes on to get the role. He isn't completely tied to the script word-for-word.

"Sometimes, you're looking for a rawness, and often professional actors can be a bit more polished."

The movie will be set in Hackney, with scenes to be shot on Ridley Road and throughout the wider Dalston area especially. Manwaring particularly wants to encourage auditions from men who have experienced psychosis in some capacity, with the plot centred on a man who makes rap music but ends up committed to a psychiatric hospital, and his journey towards recovery.

Manwaring will be searching for "someone who's got the ability to really be themselves.

"We are not looking for someone who can 'act' or 'perform', just someone who when watching them you believe that it is real." The casting director says it takes a great measure of courage and belief "to let go of everything and just forget about the camera."

Perhaps wary that she's seeking acting novices, Manwaring explains that the audition process will be as casual and relaxed as she can possibly make it. First up, those interested are asked to email her "with a basic photo of themselves, their name, age [must be 18-35], where they are based and some info about their mental health experiences."

If she thinks a person could be a good fit for the role, the next step would involve an informal meeting somewhere local.

"We know that people applying probably won't have any experience, and we want to be mindful of that.

"Someone would just come in with myself and have a very informal chat in front of the camera, just to send it to the director to see if he thinks this person could be right.

"If the person felt comfortable, we might do a very informal improvisation, loosely based on something in their lives. It's nothing they need to prepare [for] or something to take them out of their comfort zone."

The role, which will be "well paid" and comes with "support throughout and after the film" according to the job spec poster, is open to working-class applicants of any ethnicity.

So what's Manwaring's message to those who tick all the boxes, but may be held back from applying due to nerves?

"I don't think there's anything to be nervous about - it's not going to be an X-Factor style panel at any stage. Just a very low key chat that has the potential to land them a lead role in a very exciting and unique film."

To apply, email with some basic information about yourself. More info on Lara here.

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