Students journey to Chicago for ‘Star Wars VII’ casting call

By Jared Huhta

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Flores and other university students wait in line, trying to stay warm before the ‘Star Wars VII’ casting call in Chicago. (Photo by Logan Bush)

With a franchise as iconic as “Star Wars,” it’s no wonder some college students, who grew up watching the prequel trilogy that began with 1999’s “Phantom Menace” and concluded with 2005’s “Revenge of the Sith,” are excited about “Star Wars VII,” out Dec. 18, 2015. It’s also no wonder why several university students immediately traveled to Chicago, Ill. for an open casting call for a role in the film.

Matt Whitney, Victor McCarty, Logan Bush, Abby Kaufman, Evan Matteson, Scott Murray, Austin Flores, Brett Smith and Derek Zurcher all attended the event at Park West Nov. 14 for a potential role in the highly-anticipated sequel to 1983’s “Return of the Jedi.”

“I remember in ’99 how cool it was to know they were making new ‘Star Wars’ movies,” Whitney said about the prequel trilogy. “I thought that’s the last time. They’re never going to do it again. Then I find out I can audition for the new ‘Star Wars’ movies. This part of my childhood I can actually be part of now. I couldn’t pass that up.”

Bush, a huge “Star Wars” fan, was an extra in “42,” and locked eyes with actor Harrison Ford while on set. Ford is rumored to return to ‘Star Wars VII’ as Han Solo, a role that’s over 35 years old.

“‘Star Wars’ is the reason I am in film school,” Bush said. “I couldn’t live with myself if I did not try. I love Harrison Ford.”

Bush found out about the meet-and-greet and made an announcement at “The Coalition of Manliness” that he would be traveling to Chicago to audition. Chicago is one of six American cities to host casting calls for director J.J. Abrams’ (“Star Trek,” “Lost”) film. The Walt Disney Company bought Lucasfilm, the company behind “Star Wars,” for $4 billion and announced several new films to the saga in 2012.

The group left campus at 11 p.m. Nov. 13 and arrived in Chicago at 2 a.m. to beat any lines before the auditions at 3 p.m. Nov. 14. But when they arrived, there was no one in line.

“We heard later that the first person lined up at 4:30 a.m.,” Whitney said.

The group ate, slept in a parking garage and woke up at 8:30 a.m. to get in line. There were 30-40 people already in line, they said, and hundreds more gathered as they waited in line for six hours.

“It was so cold,” Zurcher said. “I would go on a limb and call Chicago ‘the’ Windy City.”

In line, the group swapped out to use the bathroom at an abandoned Porta Potty and eat lunch at a local Subway. Finally, doors opened at 2:30 p.m. and the casting directors for “Star Wars VII” were there to meet the fans.

“They asked us a couple questions to make sure we fit the look,” Whitney said. “I think they thought I was too old to fit the part. I had to explain I was only 21.”

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The original 1977 poster for ‘Star Wars’ (Photo provided by movieposterdb.com)

According to a Twitter post by @UKOpenCall, an account created to answer questions about auditions in London, the casting agents are looking to fill two roles for “Rachel,” an 18-year-old, beautiful, smart and athletic woman and “Thomas,” an 18-year-old, handsome, smart and athletic man.

“We saw three people ahead of us get called out of the crowd,” Whitney said. “Not many people got chosen.”

The casting directors asked Kaufman how long her hair was and asked Murray if his hair was natural.

“The casting directors were really sweet,” Kaufman said. “I waited in the wind and cold for seven hours but still had the time of my life.”

The group did not have resumes or contact information with them because the website did not specify to bring them. Had they done so, they would have received a call Nov. 15 if they were accepted or rejected for future casting calls. They have until Dec. 3 to turn in head shots and resumes online if they want a response.

“I just like the idea of trying, and if you succeed, it’s ‘Yeah! I’m in ‘Star Wars,’” Flores said. “If not, you can always tell your friends you tried out for ‘Star Wars.’”

The group believes they secretly met Abrams at the casting call.

“There’s a theory that J.J. Abrams was there hiding,” Whitney said. “There was a janitor that looked just like him. He kept giving things to the casting directors. I secretly hope I met J.J. Abrams.”

Smith asked the janitor if he could use a bathroom in the theatre.

“I secretely asked non-J.J. Abrams if I could use the non-public bathroom,” he said. “He said, ‘Yep.’”

The group left the hour-long casting call with plenty of memories to reflect on until ‘Star Wars VII’ comes out in 2015.

“Although we probably didn’t make the cut,” Bush said, “it was an experience I’m grateful to have with me for the rest of my life.”

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