A casting team will visit Missoula, Polson and Browning early next month seeking to fill the lead role of Sacajawea in the upcoming six-hour HBO miniseries “Lewis and Clark,” based on Stephen Ambrose’s book “Undaunted Courage.”
The series is executive produced by Brad Pitt's, Tom Hanks' and Ed Norton's production companies. Casey Affleck has signed on to play Meriwether Lewis, and John Curran (“Stone,” “The Painted Veil”) is attached as director.
Leading the team on its Northwest-wide search is casting director Rene Haynes, a Great Falls native.
She's "the pre-eminent Native American casting director in the industry," said Denny Staggs, film commissioner of the Montana Film Office.
Her previous casting credits include "Dances with Wolves," “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee,” “Twilight Saga: New Moon” and “Eclipse," which featured Native actors in the roles of the werewolves.
Staggs said there have been no decisions announced on locations for the shoot. The filmmakers have scouted in Montana, Oregon, Washington, Georgia and Canada.
Location aside, he said the filmmakers are seeking Natives who accurately represent the people here during the time period.
"This show particularly will require Natives that are from this specific area whether they shoot here or not," Staggs said.
For the lead role of Sacajawea, they’re looking for Native or First Nations women age 17 to early 20s.
In addition, they’re seeking Native/First Nations actors, age 18 to elder, who speak Native/First Nations languages.
They're calling for individuals familiar with Shoshone, Nez Perce, Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara, Blackfeet, Chinook, Clatsop, Walla Walla, Sioux and Shawnee, "but all Native speakers are welcome.”
In the news release, Haynes said “these are the languages of some of the peoples whom Lewis and Clark encountered on their journey and who were important to the expedition’s success. We will make every effort to find as many authentic speakers as we can to be respectful to everyone’s contribution to this important story.”
Staggs said that extends not only to language but to dialect.
"The average person may not be able to pick up a dialect, but there is a dialect difference," he said.
They’re also looking for Native and First Nations men age 18 and older who are "lean, fit and skilled horseback riders."
The Montana Film Office falls under the Department of Commerce and works to promote the state to the film industry. It has been working with HBO on the production for six to seven years now. Hanks' company, Playtone, produced "Band of Brothers," also based on a book by Ambrose.
Staggs said Norton is a "rabid Lewis and Clark fanatic," who's visited Montana with his father to float the Lewis and Clark river trail.
He said productions balance creative and business decisions when choosing locations, although more often financial considerations carry more weight. The office uses the $1 million Big Sky Film Grant and the Big Sky on the Big Screen Act tax incentives to try to woo film companies.
It also promotes the state's diverse shooting locations, which include both mountain ranges and prairies.
He said the right locations for river shoots will play a factor in a production like "Lewis and Clark."
"They want to be able to have the rivers and the water at the right heights," Staggs said, and be able to control as many variables as possible during an action sequence.
Here are the dates and times for the Montana casting calls:
• Missoula: Wednesday, Nov. 5, noon to 6 p.m., Holiday Inn Missoula Downtown, Jefferson Room, 200 S. Pattee St.
• Polson: Saturday, Nov. 8, noon to 6 p.m., KwaTaqNuk Resort, Alexander Room, U.S. Highway 93 East.
• Browning: Monday, Nov. 10, noon to 6 p.m., Holiday Inn Express and Suites, Two Medicine River Room, 50 Museum Loop.
Those unable to attend the casting calls can submit a taped interview. More information is available at rhcsearch.com.