Being Charlie Bartlett
With CHARLIE BARTLETT now kicking into high gear, the filmmakers began what would be the most vital task of all: finding Charlie. It wouldn't be an easy bill to fill because Charlie is by no means your standard, stereotypical school rebel or nerd, but a distinctive mix-mastering of buoyant idealism and savvy scheming.
Jon Poll began asking around for recommendations for an actor on the cusp of a breakthrough. Those recommendations led him to Anton Yelchin, the son of two Russian figure skaters who first came to the fore in David Duchovny's "House of D" and went on to star as Hank Azaria's son on Showtime's acclaimed series "Huff" and to play a kidnapping victim in Nick Cassavetes' "Alpha Dog."
Although hundreds of hopefuls auditioned for the role, Yelchin essentially sealed the deal in his first meeting with Poll. "He blew me away," recalls Poll. "I just felt like here's Charlie Bartlett. He was incredibly empathetic and really funny. And what made me realize he was perfect is that he said it was the honesty and optimism of Charlie that drew him to it. If anyone was ever destined to play a part, I think it was Anton as Charlie Bartlett."
Right away, Poll and Yelchin started having intense conversations about who Charlie is as the film begins and what he experiences as he becomes the school version of a prescription-peddling Sigmund Freud. After experiencing his own moment of "Ritalin euphoria," Charlie wants to spread some happiness - which leads to entirely unexpected results. "Like Charlie, Anton's very smart and he came prepared with a million ideas," Poll recalls.
One of the ideas Yelchin came in with was that Charlie's confidence and optimism are borne out of his tough upbringing without a father and with an overwhelmed mother who seems to need more mothering than he does. "I really wanted to show what drives Charlie to be this person who acts in such comical ways," Yelchin says. "I wanted to show that he has kind of had to parent himself, and that he is someone who responds to his own sadness with humor."
For Yelchin, the challenge was in constantly straddling the film's comedy and depth. "The role calls on everything from slapstick to drama," he notes, "and it left a lot of room for experimentation so I just had a lot of fun with it. It was a thrill being able to come up with so many ideas because that's what I love to do."
As for Charlie's controversial "occupation" as psychiatric drug dealer, Yelchin says: "In all honesty, it's one of those subjects that people have to deal with and I think this story is a great way to start the conversation."
Jon Poll's main advice to Yelchin was to keep taking risks, and he watched in awe as it repeatedly paid off. "Anton started off in such a strong place and his instincts are so right, that I really didn't have to do much," Poll says. "There's not a single scene where Anton didn't nail it from the start; he delivered huge animated physical comedy and completely captured the subtlest of moments."
Anton appreciated Poll's approach: "Jon's been so generous in giving me the freedom to explore Charlie and try different things with the character; I think I've learned a lot about myself through the process."
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