Casting net thrown wide for 'Pearl'

Filming is underway for the film "Pearl" based on the life of Pearl Carter Scott, legendary Chickasaw aviatrix. Casting for this movie began in July and already the cast, largely made up of young actors, is proving their talent. "The production team has assembled an amazing cast for this film," said Chris Freihofer, casting director.

Auditions were held in Los Angeles, Dallas, Oklahoma City, Tulsa and Ada (OK). Hundreds of video and live auditions were submitted, particularly for the lead role of Pearl. "The role is very challenging, and it calls for an actress that we can immediately get behind and cheer for", said Freihofer. Audition materials were received from as far away as Canada for the role, but the crew had a hard time finding that "star quality" required for playing Pearl.

Until Elijah DeJesus walked in to the Los Angeles casting call." She had that special adventurous spirit and tom-boyish charm that I felt the role called for", Friehofer said. After Elijah's screen test, Friehofer's hunch was confirmed. "It took just moments for everyone involved to be convinced that she can carry the whole film," he said. "There was just something about her smile, her energy, her enthusiasm and her maturity that gave us all confidence." Last year, Elijah guest starred as "Young Betty" on ABC's sitcom "Ugly Betty", but this will be her first feature role. Soon after Elijah was chosen as Pearl, the casting crew began to build the Carter family piece-by-piece.

Andrew Sensenig was cast as Pearl's father, George, Sr. Sensening has been featured in many film and television roles, including Fox's dramatic series Prison Break. Angela Gair, a Dallas area actress, will play Lucy, Pearl's mother. Georgie, Pearl's brother will be played by Cameron Rostami of Flower Mound, Texas.

Pearl's sisters Opaletta and Arnetta proved to be a challenge to cast due to the depth of the characters and of the remarkable relationship between Pearl and her two sisters. "Some did the role well, but were not a visual fit," Freihofer said, "some were a good fit for the family, but just didn't convey the complexities of the character." It was by a chance catching of a TV commercial that Isabel Archuleta was cast as Opaletta. "My wife looked up and said 'You know, Isabel looks just like Elijah. They could be sisters', Freihofer said. "I looked up and it hit me." Freihofer contacted the recent University of Oklahoma grad via Facebook and she sent in an audition video the next day. "After that, the decision was simple," he said.

While casting in Ada, they found 14 year-old Paden Brown to play Arnetta. "Paden walked in and just nailed it," Freihofer said. This will be Paden's first role in a film. Paden Brown was not the only asset that they found at the Ada casting call.

"The casting day in Ada was a very pleasant surprise," Freihoffer said. "We just couldn't find the right people for certain roles until we opened the doors in Ada and they just walked right in. At last count, there were eight Chickasaws with speaking roles in the film, and dozens of Chickasaws serving as extras.

The Chickasaws who hold speaking parts in "Pearl" are Milton Brown (Sharecropper Ishmatubbe), Pauline Brown (Widow), Micah Hart (Older Georgie), Jaisen Monetatchi (Chickasaw Bride), Dakota Brown (Chickasaw Friend), Tim Harjochee (Sharecropper 1), and Robert Cheadle (Sharecropper 2).

Pearl's mentor and friend, Wiley Post will be portrayed by Tom Huston Orr. Huston Orr is the director of the Drama department at the University of Oklahoma.

Sean Cain stars as Scottie, Pearl's boyfriend and later husband. "There was an immediate connection and an instant chemistry between Elijah and Sean Cain," Friehofer said. "It was the most organic pairing I had ever seen." The chemistry seems to go beyond the on-screen couple of Pearl and Scottie.

Currently about halfway through filming, the cast has become like a family, on screen and off. "Seeing them all together, it amazes me how much they look and act like a family," Friehofer said. "There is chemistry among all of them."