Of all my creative projects, I find that the ones that turn out the best are the ones that I feel a personal connection to.
‘East Valley Rhinos’ is a sweet tale about some rugby players who go to rescue an injured teammate from hospital. Having played rugby myself, it instantly grabbed me … and I knew I had to make it.
More than any sport that I’ve ever played, rugby has by far the strongest team bonding; that sense of camaraderie, of ‘brotherhood’.
A rugby match is war: you put your body on the line, you pile yourself into men twice your size, and you limp off afterwards, bruised and battered. There’s no better feeling than scoring a match-clinching try, or getting back-slapped by your comrades for putting in a huge tackle. And then there’s the social side, which can be best summed up by a t-shirt I once saw: “My drinking club has a rugby problem”.
Therefore the notion that the World might be about to end, yet a bunch of rugby lads go to fetch their injured teammate from hospital – with a bag of beers – is entirely plausible to me.
As I was reading the script, I envisaged a few of the guys I’ve played with - their banter, their mannerisms – and believed I could bring that to life. In every team there’s nearly always a Fly Half who’s a little bit cocky, a massive guy who’s the gentlest of giants, and a Prop who’s last to the ball but first to the bar. So finding the right guys to fill those roles was very important to me.
That didn’t prove too difficult, though, since I had a good idea of what I was after, and could tell almost immediately if the applicants were right. The tricky part, however, was casting the girl with cerebral palsy. That’s not an area I can say I’m very familiar with, and merely asking an actor to play disabled made me feel a little uncomfortable. But, of course, it’s not at all uncommon for actors to perform those kind of roles, and many then go on to win awards; so, naturally, actors are always looking out for parts like these to really get their teeth into.
And that’s exactly what my leading lady did. I’d auditioned several women by Skype, and whilst most of them were good, I just didn’t get that feeling of ‘She’s the one’. And then along came Kayleigh.
Despite only being 20, there was a real maturity to her acting, and I could just tell she was going to nail it. After confirming her, I sent her a few YouTube links to research the role – and she didn’t disappoint. On the day of filming, she had to wait around most of the day while we shot other scenes, but she was in character all the while, permanently in The Zone. And when her turn finally came, she delivered in spades.
It was a delight to watch, and I’ve no doubt she’ll steal the show... plus a few hearts as well. Now we enter the latter stages of post-production – the music, the final touches – and hope that when it all comes together we have a film worthy of the end of the World.
Paul W Franklin