‘The Darkest Minds’ Movie Talk #5: Let’s Talk Auditions

Every Monday and Friday we’re bringing you The Darkest Minds content leading up to the film’s Aug. 3 release

When it comes to anticipated films of this summer — and year, to be honest — The Darkest Minds is at the top of my list as it brings to life one of my favorite books.
The Darkest Minds tells a story where a mysterious disease swept through our country killing most of America’s children and leaving the survivors with powers. The adults are afraid of these surviving children and the abilities they possess so they try to control them in concentration camps. We follow our lead protagonist, Ruby Daly, as she escapes from Camp Thurmond and joins up with three other children on the run.
The heart of The Darkest Minds no doubt rests with the four young protagonists who lead our story: Ruby, Liam, Chubs, and Zu. Next to drafting a script that was faithful to Alexandra Bracken’s book, finding the right actors to portray these characters was incredibly important.
So the audition process was an important one as they were tasked with finding the right actors to bring these beloved characters to life. First up was Amandla Stenberg, who has seen her share of YA roles, leading the charge as our protagonist Ruby Daly. Harris Dickinson (Liam), Miya Cech (Zu), and Skylan Brooks (Chubs) soon followed.
The audition process can be a long and grueling one. Stenberg was cast in September 2016. Then the casting process stretched another few months before Dickinson was cast in January 2017, and Cech and Brooks in February 2017.
So what goes into finding the right actors for the roles?
Sometimes you just know, which was the case for Amandla Stenberg when it came to Dickinson, who plays Liam in the film.
“We read with a few actors, and then Harris walked into the room and he hadn’t even said anything yet and I knew immediately that he was going to play Liam,” Stenberg said. “Just because he didn’t try to put up any fronts. He was just kind of letting his guard down and being real and authentic. That’s what’s really special about his style of acting.”
The same thing happened with Miya Cech, our lovely Zu, who despite not having a single line in the film absolutely knocked it out of the park.
“I also got to read with Miya on the same day,” Stenberg said. “She was actually the only actress I read with, and she killed it. I think she was 9 at the time, so small, and just so filled with emotion, and I think we just all knew in the room.”
When it comes to the film adaptation of The Darkest Minds, as a fan I want two things: 1) A faithful adaptation that maintains the essence of the story; 2) A faithful adaptation that maintains the essence of the characters. And one of the ways to do both of those is to find the right people to portray these characters. From what I’ve seen so far — and what we’ve heard from Bracken — it sounds like they managed to do both of those.
Let’s take a look at how the audition process went for each of the Black Betty gang:

Amandla Stenberg (Ruby)

Amandla recalls her audition for Ruby as a pretty quick process.  It was a process that consisted of a lot of conversation about the story and the desire to cast a person of color in the lead role. “I met with Jennifer (Yuh Nelson), the director,” she said. “I think we talked for hours and went through some of the scenes with Ruby. That was it, pretty much. It was a very fast, quick process. But they knew they really wanted to cast a diverse lead, a person of color in the role. So their first kind of inspiration was to look towards me.”

Harris Dickinson (Liam)

Harris recalls a process that initially consisted with him sending an audition tape in and getting called over to Los Angeles to formally audition. It was there where he did his screen test and also his chemistry read with Amandla. “I sent a self tape — because I live in London — I sent a self tape and the next week I got a call to go over to LA, where they were casting, and do my screen test,” he said. “I met Jen (Yuh Nelson) and the producers and I met Amandla and we read together and it was really lovely. They set up a really nice, comfortable environment. It wasn’t too high pressure.”

Skylan Brooks (Chubs)

Skylan immediately connected with Chubs in terms of his quirkiness, speed, and interactions with the other characters. “I came in reading for Chubs and I kinda liked his speed, his pace of how he is,” he said. “I like his quirkiness in a sense. I just like the way he interacted with all the characters, his certain relationship with Liam and how they’re kind of brothers in a sense and how that carries on with Zu as like a little sister and Ruby as becoming a new friend and opening up himself in a way he’s never done it before. So he had a lot of facets to go through.”
Brooks felt pretty confident after his first audition, though he admits there’s always a feeling of wondering if you’ve done enough. “I don’t think I bombed it,” he said. “I felt pretty good, actually. There’s definitely always that feeling of, ‘Oh did I hit a certain point right or feeling about who he is — did I emphasize that enough?’”

Miya Cech (Zu)

Miya recalls her initial audition, as well as the chemistry read with Amandla. She recalled the cute moment that her mom told her that she’d booked the role, as well as how happy she was when she got it. “The first audition I did was in LA,” she said. “I wasn’t really sure after the audition that I’d get it. Then I got a call for the chemistry read so I was really excited. Then we did all sorts of stuff. It was a few months before my mom got the thing saying I booked it. I was at a photoshoot in San Francisco, and she pulled me aside for a second and said, ‘I have to ask you a few questions.’ She tricked me. I said, ‘For what?’ ‘For like a self tape.’ So she started recording me, and she said, ‘You got the part,’ and I was crying I was so happy.”

The Darkest Minds hits theaters on Friday, Aug. 3.

Stay tuned to Fangirlish every Monday and Friday for more The Darkest Minds Movie Talk leading up to the film’s release.

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