Keeping 'Company' quite close to home
By Loren King, January 16, 2011
Boston actor Richard Snee grabs a few precious seconds of screen time in “The Company Men,’’ which opens Friday. He introduces a speaker at a banquet honoring the character played by Tommy Lee Jones. Did Snee get to rehearse the scene with his marquee costar?
“No, it’s not exactly ‘King Lear,’ ’’ Snee deadpans.
Snee knows from Shakespeare. In his day job as a founding member of the Actors’ Shakespeare Project, he’s played Antigonus in “The Winter’s Tale,’’ Lord Stanley in “Richard III,’’ and Benedick in “Much Ado About Nothing.’’ One of the most prolific actors on the local theater scene, Snee has a resume that might make Sir John Gielgud smile with recognition.
But Snee doesn’t see “The Company Men,’’ John Wells’s drama about the personal side of corporate downsizing starring Jones, Ben Affleck, Kevin Costner, and Chris Cooper, as beneath his talents, despite the brevity of his screen time. For Snee and dozens of Boston’s best actors, the film offered an opportunity to flex different muscles, earn a living wage, and get a taste of the kind of Hollywood pampering that doesn’t exist in local theater.
“We shot my scene at the Harvard Club with all the niceties like craft services and coffee and people asking if you want anything. I had six lines but I made more in a day than I do for the entire run of a play,’’ says Snee, who had small parts in the Boston-shot films “Gone Baby Gone’’ and “My Best Friend’s Girl.’’ “It’s wacky but it’s how things are. You just hope you get enough of these jobs to keep you going.’’
The set of “The Company Men’’ was a reunion of sorts for stage actors who normally meet at openings and auditions. Snee and Actors’ Shakespeare Project artistic director Allyn Burrows, who also has a small role in the film, had lunch with Cooper (“A great guy,’’ says Snee). Snee also hung out on the set with Celeste Oliva and Tom Kee — the three are alums of the long-running “Shear Madness’’ — as well as hair and makeup personnel and other crew members who, like the actors, belong to Boston’s tribe of stage professionals.
Carolyn Pickman, the Boston casting director for “The Company Men,’’ credits writer/director Wells for wanting local talent. Usually a director asks to see auditions on tape, she says, but Wells insisted on being present for all the local auditions, not just the callbacks. “Sometimes you get three, 10, maybe 12 parts [for locals] in a film. This was 37 speaking roles that we cast mostly with theater actors. These are our working stiffs, people who’ve been acting for years,’’ she says. Wells even asked Pickman herself to do a cameo late in the shoot, playing Affleck’s mother at a holiday dinner scene.
“He could have cast these parts out of New York or Los Angeles. That’s our challenge: to keep him off the Acela and keep the work here,’’ she says.
Each film has its own casting needs, notes Pickman. Past projects like “Gone Baby Gone’’ have sent the casting director deep into Boston’s neighborhoods in search of “authenticity’’ and local color. “The Company Men’’ required professionals. “This was a relatively low-budget film,’’ she says. “The question is: In a minor role, will this actor cost the film time and money? I needed top-shelf actors who can take direction, who understand time is of the essence and who know what’s expected of them. They’re not looking for the interesting newbie. It’s not about discovery. There’s a lot of pressure; the actor must be alert, be able to take direction, and improvise if needed. They can’t crumble.’’
“The Company Men’’ provided Adrianne Krstansky, who will direct Snee and his wife, actress Paula Plum, in “Antony and Cleopatra’’ for Actors’ Shakespeare Project this spring, with her first film role. Krstansky plays a secretary in the film and has a brief but important scene opposite Affleck. “Chris Cooper could see that this was a new experience for me and he joked around and helped me relax,’’ she says. “There was no warm-up for my scene with Ben; we just went in and did it.’’ She also found on-set camaraderie with fellow stage actors Lewis Wheeler, Tom Kemp, and Oliva.
Hired for three weeks, Krstansky earned enough on “The Company Men’’ to send her 7-year-old son to a private school. “It was such a blessing,’’ she says.
Krstansky, who’s currently featured in “afterlife: a ghost story’’ at the New Rep, was asked late last year to fly to Los Angeles for some last-minute shooting. But she was in the middle of rehearsing “Body Awareness’’ — opposite Snee and Plum — at the Speakeasy Stage Company and had to decline.
Neither Krstansky nor Snee had seen “The Company Men,’’ so both were relieved to hear that their screen time had survived the final cut. Snee recalls that while playing a newscaster in Affleck’s “Gone Baby Gone’’ the rumor on the set was that his scene had ended up in the cutting room. After the shoot wrapped in the spring of 2007, Snee was appearing in “Present Laughter’’ with Victor Garber at the Huntington Theater Company. Affleck attended a performance with his wife, Jennifer Garner, a close friend of Garber’s since their days on “Alias.’’
“Ben walked past my dressing room, stuck his head in, and said ‘Richard, terrific job.’ I said, ‘You mean I’m still in your movie?’ and he said, ‘Richard, you are all over my movie.’ Lots of us local yokels had bits, but we weren’t sure how much face time we’d end up with. But right there, in the opening scene, was my big fat Irish mug.’’
Loren King can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.