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The ‘Boys’ are 6 and 14, and their story is taken from an often disjointed but powerful memoir by their English journalist father, Simon Carr. Director Scott Hicks was incredibly fortunate to find two youngsters – Nicholas McAnulty and George MacKay - who deliver the film’s emotional payload, says Andrew L. Urban. But directing them had its challenges, as Hicks explains to Urban in this PODCAST – in which he also recalls the harrowing screening of the film to the now grown up boys.

It took years for the process to percolate into a production and finally the feature film The Boys Are Back. Scott Hicks says, “Once Clive Owen got involved, his schedule and my schedule refused to align, so it took several years while each of us were completing various projects before we could get to this passage of time where we were both available.”

"His attention to detail is painstaking"

But Hicks says he has a “very Zen approach” and that “these things do seem to have their own time.” And in this case the intervening years provided an opportunity for the writer, director and actor to meet and work together developing the story.

Owen says he often gets involved working on a script “once the thing gets going” but says that on The Boys Are Back he spent a “serious amount of time” working in London with writer Allan Cubitt and Hicks during development as the memoir was adapted into a screenplay – and the political journalist in real life turned into a sports reporter for the film.

Hicks says: “I spent longer with Clive going through this script than any other actor I’ve ever worked with. His attention to detail is painstaking.”

CASTING ARTIE, Joe’s 6 year old son

Hicks cites the protracted development time as beneficial to the casting of Nicholas McAnulty as young Artie. “Nicholas would have been about a year old around the time I got interested in the film. The intervening five years development time was necessary “to allow Nicholas McAnulty to be born and achieve the age of six so that we could actually work with him.”

Nikki Barrett, the Australian casting director, conducted a nation-wide search for Artie, looking at approximately a thousand boys, then screen testing about one hundred and short-listing about twenty.

Scott Hicks recalls his experience: “Nicholas really intrigued me from the outset, from the first time I met him, he presented in such a forthright way for a six-year-old. He had apparently no shyness and no inhibition about him.”

“He was very direct and struck up a conversation with me like any adult might and I found that very intriguing as many of the other children were quite shy and retiring and he clearly had the ability to put himself into the moment in believing what it was he was doing.”

Hicks recalls: “When I made the choice of Nicholas the next step was presenting him to Clive for his response because that was going to be so vital to the success of the film: the connection between those two characters.”

Hicks says that Clive was ecstatic when he saw Nicholas’s audition. “We were in a hotel room in London, I showed Clive the quick time on my computer and he bounded with excitement.”

Hicks says he understood that playing the part of Artie was an enormous task for a child to fulfill: “The last thing I was looking for was a child ‘actor’. I didn’t want any acting, I just wanted someone who could believe in a situation.”

Owen agrees and says the casting choice felt right for the character and the heart of the movie.

Producer Greg Brenman comments on the believability of Nicholas as Clive’s son:
“If you put them together as a family, you can see what a great job Scott and the casting directors have done. They are spookily alike. We are really, really pleased with the way the family has shaped up.”

CASTING HARRY, Joe’s 14-year-old son

When Hicks started looking for Harry he saw a number of boys in London and says when George MacKay came in and auditioned for Harry, “His reading was so touching and so subtle that it stuck in my mind.”

Hicks recalls: “I just gravitated towards that. I found that if somebody could, with no appearance of acting, touch me emotionally so strongly that he had to be worth exploring.”

George had astounded the director, casting director and producers with his audition piece.

Tim White says, “I recall looking at these casting tapes when Scott came back from the UK and sitting down with Scott and Nikki Barrett looking at this lad... there’s a scene at the end of the film where he really tells it as it is to his father and there’s a moment where he really challenges the Joe War character and I know I was in tears just watching George’s performance.”

When Hicks showed George’s audition to Clive he says, “Clive just flipped out and said ‘he’s fantastic!’ and so we were both very excited about the idea of the two of them working together.”

Published November 12, 2009

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Scott Hicks



The Boys are Back

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