Wanted: actor. “19 years old. Self-determined, extremely intelligent and forthright. Should resemble Jake Lloyd at 19 years old.”
So read the hush-hush directive dispatched to Hollywood agents last fall from the far reaches of Skywalker Ranch. And thus began the biggest, most frenzied casting search in this galaxy or any other: the quest for the next Anakin Skywalker in ”Star Wars: Episode II.” In an extraordinarily wide-ranging manhunt, George Lucas and Co. have been looking at everyone from A-list actors to unknown Midwest stockbrokers, sparking out-the- wazoo rumors and a virtual geek meltdown on the Internet. ”They want to see everybody,” says an industry source. ”And unlike other casting calls, everybody gets a shot.”
Tight-lipped Lucasfilm, based in Marin County, Calif., is being stingy with details. Spokeswoman Lynne Hale will say only that casting director Robin Gurland has seen no fewer than 700 tapes and met with 300 potential Anakins (the flawed Jedi Knight and future Darth Vader, played by then-8-year-old Lloyd in last year’s ”The Phantom Menace”). Hale’s not naming names. But EW has confirmed these teen-friendly actors are under consideration: Leonardo DiCaprio, natch; ”Dawson’s Creek”ers James Van Der Beek and Joshua Jackson; Eric Christian Olsen (Fox’s ”Get Real”); Erik von Detten (ABC’s ”Odd Man Out”); Ryan Phillippe (”Cruel Intentions”); and Chris Klein (”Election”).
But you won’t catch the would-be Anakins jabbering about their chances of landing in ”Episode II,” set to start filming this summer. Media exposure doesn’t sit well with Lord Lucas, who has made at least some auditioners sign confidentiality agreements. Consider poor Jonathan Jackson. In December, Newsweek jumped the laser gun and wrote that the ”General Hospital” actor had a virtual lock on the role. ”The article actually hurt him,” sighs his agent, CAA’s Jane Berliner. ”You know how George Lucas is; they don’t like that kind of publicity.”
Likewise, teen hunk Paul Walker (”She’s All That”) probably won’t be rubbing elbows with our old friend Jar Jar Binks, despite a breathless ”He’s the No. 1 Choice!” story last month on some websites, including Coming Attractions. An inside source says the 26-year-old looks too old for the part; the next Anakin has to appear younger than Natalie Portman, 18, who’ll return in the sequel as a 25-year-old Queen Amidala.
But our favorite rumor by a light-year: Internet gossip Harry Knowles’ recent dispatch about a 26-year-old Indiana stockbroker named Jeff Garner, who supposedly has the Force on his side. According to Knowles’ Ain’t It Cool News site, Ray Park (”The Phantom Menace”’s Darth Maul) touted Garner to Lucasfilm after sparring with him at a Midwest karate tournament. A startled Garner says the story is a tad overblown. All he’ll confirm is that he was asked to send his photo to Lucasfilm and that he’s seen a page of a script. ”If something comes through, this is a dream come true,” Garner says. ”But even if not, I’m not a fool; I can attempt to ride this wave of publicity.”
Whether or not Garner inherits the saber, ”Star” watchers say casting an unknown isn’t the worst idea in the universe. It worked, a long, long time ago, for that ”Star Wars” flick. ”I don’t think that Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor helped on [”Phantom Menace”],” says Irvin Kershner, director of 1980’s ”The Empire Strikes Back.” ”They did a great job, but ‘Star Wars” mythic quality supersedes the star. You don’t need a star. You need exciting young actors, which means you have to really look and test them.” Likewise, some fans aren’t impressed by the boldface names being tossed around. ”They’re all pretty boys, which is concerning a lot of us,” complains ”Star Wars” website junkie Carl Cunningham. ”If Leonardo DiCaprio is cast, you’re going to see a huge outcry from the fans.”
(Additional reporting by Daniel Fierman)