A few weeks ago I wrote about the movie “In Harm’s Way” and how the director, Otto Preminger, wanted things to be as authentic as possible.
Filmmaker Alexander Payne has a similar style for his movies. His credits include “Nebraska,” “Sideways” and “About Schmidt.”
In 2011 he produced “The Descendants,” written by Kaui Hart Hemmings, hanai daughter of Fred Hemmings. It is a fictionalized account of an extended family in Hawaii.
A friend of mine, Linda Rose Herman, played a small role in the movie. She was also in one episode of the TV show “Lost” in its final season.
In 2010 Herman heard that Rachel Sutton, the casting director for “Lost,” was auditioning for roles in “The Descendants.” She called Sutton and asked her if she had a role that might be right for her.
Sutton responded that she was auditioning for a grief counselor. “You would be perfect. It’s a man in the script, but I see no reason it can’t be a woman.”
A couple of months after her audition with Sutton, she received a call asking her to audition again for Alexander Payne. “The moment I met him, he said, ‘Linda Rose Herman, it’s an honor to meet you.’ I, of course, said, ‘Well, it’s an honor to meet you!’”
Unbeknownst to her, Payne had auditioned many actors for the role. He also had viewed her initial audition and told her that he loved her rendition because she was genuine.
“Payne asked me about myself. He was very personable and completely disarming. I felt completely relaxed around him. He makes everyone feel like they are the most important person in the world. He’s one of America’s best directors. I felt Payne believed in me, and I wanted to do my best for him.
“He asked me what I thought about the script, and I asked him if he really wanted to know. The last thing I wanted to do was offend him. He had written the screenplay. He said he had taken the lines out of the book but said, ‘You’re the expert. What do you think?’”
“I said, ‘For a deep subject, this is way too artificial. No grief counselor is going to talk like this.’ He said, ‘Put down the script and be yourself.’ So that’s what I did.” He gave me the honor of creating the lines that ended up being used.
Herman, who is actually a pre-planning adviser with Hawaiian Memorial Park and Borthwick Mortuary, believed she could be authentic since she has been assisting families and individuals facing end-of-life issues for 38 years in Hawaii.
Herman got the part. Filming began in March 2010.
In the movie, George Clooney played the trustee of a local estate. He had to decide whether to develop a 25,000-acre parcel of land on Kauai that had been in the family for generations so that all the descendants could be compensated, or the land could be left untouched. Most of the film was made in Hawaii, and it had Gabby Pahinui music throughout.
Complicating the story was that his wife was in a coma after a speedboat accident. Clooney discovered that she had been having an affair.
“My role was filmed over three days,” Herman said. “They told me to bring some of my work clothes, and I got to wear them, including my name badge. My company got free product placement!
“The actual line I spoke was, ‘It’s really hard to say and even harder to hear. Your mother is going to die very soon.’ I was being asked to tell the daughter what no one else could manage to express. It is a situation I have faced numerous times in my life, personally and professionally.
“People love working with Alexander Payne. I was told by an assistant director that actors and actresses accept lower payment in order to work with him, from Jack Nicholson to Kathy Bates to George Clooney.“
Herman was told that Clooney had wanted to work with Payne for years and said yes before even reading the script. “I think it was one of his best roles and displayed his depth and subtlety as an actor,” Herman said.
“It was wonderful to meet George Clooney and discover he is as wonderful as he seems. His public persona is completely congruent with the human being I got to share time with. He was wonderful with the kids.
“He was extremely respectful and kind. He treated me as a professional fellow actor. He was also very humble and took direction just like everyone else.
“We were in the makeup trailer together, and he was friendly and funny. One scene, where I held his hands, looked into his eyes and told him I was sorry he had to go through this, was cut from the movie. It would certainly have been fun to see myself acting with George on the big screen!”
If you’ve seen “The Descendants,” you know it ends with Clooney and his two daughters eating ice cream in front of the TV. Clooney and the girls spontaneously added to the scene by sharing the bowls of ice cream. “I look at the movie as a depiction of a healing relationship between a father and his daughters,” Herman said.
“A few months after the film had wrapped up, Alexander Payne called me on Mother’s Day while he was visiting his mother in Nebraska. He was filming ‘Nebraska,’ which he told me was a type of love letter to his place of birth.
“He wanted me to know the movie’s release date and told me I was still in it. My part wasn’t cut. Getting a personal call from Alexander demonstrates the type of person he is. Here is a world-famous director, and he took the time to personally call me. That is a moment I will always remember and cherish.
“My only regret is that I didn’t want to be like a groupie, and so I never asked for a photo with George or Alexander. That would have been something to treasure,” Herman concluded. “As it is, though, I have wonderful memories that always bring a smile.
“I had a peripheral part, but it was at a pivotal moment in the film. It was very meaningful for me. It was something that came into my life so effortlessly. It wasn’t something I ever envisioned or tried to make happen.”
“The Descendants” was released to critical acclaim. It grossed over $175 million worldwide and won two Golden Globes and one Oscar.
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