Angela Demo, the casting director for “Cha Cha Real Smooth,” ruled out neurotypical actors for the role of Lola, an autistic girl. It never crossed Demo’s mind, she tells Variety. We never once discussed the possibility of casting performers who aren’t autistic for this project.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise, as famous films have included characters that are either clearly or implicitly autistic for decades. Casting actors with autism is extremely rare, as can be seen in films like “Rain Man,” “Forrest Gump,” “Dear John,” and many more.
Cooper Raiff’s “Cha Cha Real Smooth,” named after one of the many bar mitzvah songs featured in the film’s music, tells the story of Andrew (Raiff), a 22-year-old man who falls in love with Domino (Dakota Johnson), an older woman while babysitting Lola, Domino’s daughter (Vanessa Burghardt).
lola Is More than Simply a Way for Andrew and Domino to Meet Each Other.
There are some things about her that are unique to her age, such as her love for her hamster Jerry, her obsession with potato mashers, and her dislike of dancing. She is just like any other teenage girl her age, and like many of her peers, she has a wide range of views and interests.
After reading the sides, Burghardt says, “I remember for the first time feeling like it was an audition that I wanted to take part in”. “It felt so real. It was a scene about Lola’s life and how she was feeling, not about her being on the spectrum. A story like that, where the autistic character was portrayed as a human being rather than just a plot device, had never come across my radar before.
There are many performers with autism in the industry, but it is difficult for them to find managers and agents who will represent them. When it comes to casting, this is a big barrier to entry for these actors, but Demo did her best to circumvent it by going outside the regular range of possibilities.
It Was a No-Brainer After Spending Time with Burghardt.
In Demo’s opinion, Vanessa was the perfect Lola. “It’s a hoot just to say that. However, Cooper’s script was brutally honest. Lola tells it how she sees it. She’ll always give you the truth, whether it’s good or bad. And Vanessa is exactly that. When she was paired with the role, it was a perfect fit.
That sentiment was echoed by Burghardt, who said, “There is one thing I talked about [as Lola], that I appreciate the company of an empty room. That I’m exhausted in the social arena. That resonates deeply with me. I enjoy mingling with others, but it may be exhausting when you’re expected to pick up on things you’re not naturally adept at.”
Afterward, Raiff began to further mold the role to fit Burghardt, making a conscious effort to ensure Lola felt open and honest with her.
Originally, the role was for a 12-year-old, but Burghardt was only 16 when he was cast. “They had to shuffle certain things about,” he explains. “However, Cooper never mentioned anything to me before. In order to rehearse, he would get on Zooms with me and explain that he wanted my feedback on specific lines. By the time we were done, I realized we had essentially rewrote it. It was a shared effort, and I never told him he needed to make a change. Maybe he didn’t want me to feel like I was under any obligation.
But Things Have Just Opened up A Little for Burghardt After the Release of His Debut Album.
“Recently, I’ve been receiving more auditions. Although none of them were perfect, she believes there had been more than one. In terms of representation, I don’t think the industry is quite there yet, but I do believe they’re making progress.” Although it’s a wonderful thing that they portray the characters authentically, these shows don’t truly resonate with me. Autistic persons are more important to them than the people they serve. In contrast, I really enjoy a reality show called ‘Love on the Spectrum,’ where the cast is allowed to be completely themselves.
For now, she’s focused on developing her own set of skills. She’s fully aware that the high-energy character of the stage doesn’t quite mesh with her calm demeanor, so she prefers to act for the screen instead. She also hopes to play characters who aren’t autistic, a move she believes the industry should make in order to be more inclusive.