Screen tests and early auditions have been supplemented as ‘bonus features’ on our DVDs ever since Sam Raimi went mad and released what seemed like a television series off featurettes for the DVD release of Spiderman; But many great screen tests before this era have also been preserved for our pleasure. Naturally, this means that a lot of these hidden gems can now be found on YouTube.
I’m not sure how I feel about releasing early recordings without the permission of the actor. In an interview regarding his first time in the batsuit, Christian Bale joked that he hated the idea of people seeing his early portrayal of the dark knight. It’s like what Llewyn Davis says, “You’re not supposed to let your practice shit out – it ruins the mystique”.
That isn’t to say that I don’t appreciate as much extra footage that I can get my hands on, especially directors commentaries, but there has to be some credit due to directors that don’t give you deleted and extended scenes because they’ve already made the film they set out to make. Of course, a get-out-of-jail-free card applies here for any director who has had their rights to the final cut taken away from them (Here’s look at you, Ridley). Anyhow, YouTube now offers a great, seemingly endless supply of great audition tapes. Here are some of the best:
Marlon Brando in Street Car Named Desire
Look at that guy! Nothing really needs to be said here, it’s the master at work. He always brings his A-game and this screen test is no exception. Truly one of the greatest film actors of all time.
Al Pacino – The Godfather
I remember once seeing this list of potential Michael Corleones written by Coppola himself.
As you can see, the list includes Martin Sheen and Dustin Hoffman. To know that even Coppola has had some ridiculous ideas in the past makes it all the more surprising that The Godfather is the Mary Poppins of film, ‘practically perfect in every way’.
De Niro was also considered, but here is Al Pacino, our lord and saviour from ever seeing Michael Corleone in Meet the Fockers.
Steve Carell – Anchorman
Anchorman is one of those films where the most surprising thing is that nobody cracks up during every scene. Sometimes it seems as though the actors have more context to the jokes that we presume are nonsense (in a good way). Anyway, here’s Steve giving it what he’s got.
Christian Bale – Batman Begins
As a nice little extra to go with Bale’s screen test, Nolan describes how he hadn’t asked for that famous needs-a-cough-sweet voice. Both daring and far beyond any of his competitors, Bale proved that Bruce Wayne was wrong when he said anybody could be batman. Unfortunately, the footage keeps getting taken off YouTube but here is Bale talking about it.
The interesting thing about child actors is that you can safely assume that the actor is an unknown. This means that the screen test is all the producers had to make a decision by, rather than, for example, knowing how terrifying Christian Bale would be as Batman after seeing him play Patrick Bateman. Here are some of the best and most interesting:
Scarlett Johannsen – Jumanji
This one is interesting because Kirsten Dunst ended up with the role. Here’s a young Scarlett trying for the part.
Natalie Portman – Leon
Portman has always been somewhere in the limelight. She was the go-to young actress to play the troubled daughter, notably in Heat and Mars Attacks!. Even to this day, with all of her accumulative screen talent, Leon remains one of her greatest roles.
Hialee Steinfeld – True Grit
Auditions for the role of Mattie Ross in the Coen’s remake of True Grit actually took place through YouTube submissions. Although it’s tricky to find Steinfeld’s audition, there are countless audition tapes of unsuccessful applicants. For the record, this is the latter.
Henry Thomas – E.T. – The Extra Terrestrial
This is the greatest screen test out there, bar none. Child actor or not, this is how you make sure that part is yours. Notice the sheer surprise in the adult’s voice following Thomas’ display.