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May the Force (and an Agent) Be With You

Casting call for next Star Wars film draws thousands of hopefuls.

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The line snaking through the gravel parking lot of England’s top rugby stadium is long. Thousands of people long.

At 8 a.m. Saturday there are people who have been in this line since before the sun rose, in ear-biting, toe-numbing cold. They are waiting for a very gruff man with a megaphone and a high-visibility vest to pull aside the barrier so that they can join another line just as long inside the concrete behemoth of Twickenham Stadium, on the southwest outskirts of London.

At the end of that line is a woman whose eyes will flicker over them for seconds, looking for something these young hopefuls don’t even know if they possess.

But maybe — just maybe — she’ll find what she’s looking for. And that’s what’s brought thousands of hopeful actors to this open casting call for the leading roles in the next installment of the Star Wars franchise.

“Never tell me the odds,” Han Solo said. Auditionees seemed to feel the same.

For all their enthusiasm, most were well aware that these cold hours spent in the service of their dream would likely end, as Salvatore Finelli, 20, put it, “very quick, very blunt, and [with someone] shutting down your hopes and dreams pretty quick.”

But “anything that’s worth having, you’ve got to take a bit of knocks, haven’t you?” the model and aspiring actor said. “If it was easy, there’d be queue 10 times this long.”

Star Wars Episode VII will be directed by J.J. Abrams, creator of the “Lost” television series. The premiere date is set for Dec. 18, 2015.

Disney announced the new trilogy in October 2012, when it bought Lucasfilm for $4 billion. It will be the seventh installment of the intergalactic saga of heroics, special effects, fantastical creatures and earnest dialogue.

Filmmakers are hosting a global talent search for the two leading roles. Auditions began this month in the US, Australia and Europe, each attracting thousands.

Some 2,500 people lined up in the rain earlier this month for the first UK auditions in Bristol.

The original films were cast in open auditions as well, albeit in the pre-internet days when word likely only reached people already in the business. Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher both stood in lines like this one.

Security staff blocked all access to the audition’s inner workings. Carl Blades, 25, had an idea of what to expect, having attended a similar call a few years ago for the part of the young Lord Voldemort in the Harry Potter films.

Producers would accept headshots, then dismiss the vast majority of hopefuls for not matching the elusive “look” they are seeking for the role.

“These first rounds are all about looks,” he said. “Ability probably comes later.”

The casting call, posted online, sought a woman who looked 17 or 18 and a man to play 19 to 23.

A few notes are offered on the characters, identified in the notice as “Rachel” and “Thomas.”

Rachel is “always a survivor, never a victim,” who is “able to take care of herself using humor and guts.” Orphaned Thomas “shows courage when needed,” but “understands you can’t take life too seriously.”

Thomas’ description was four sentences long, which did not deter a film student in the line named Yan from earnestly calling the part “more emotionally complex than Hamlet or Macbeth. It’s an interesting character in an age where everything is two-dimensional.”

He got that from four sentences?

“If you think beyond that, you know, it just helps,” he said.

The call attracted a few Star Wars fans. “I grew up with the original trilogy,” 19-year-old Cody Gaffney said, before correcting himself.

“Well, not the original trilogy,” he said, laughing. “I’m not that old.”

Only a few people came in costume, including two people in full Storm Trooper suits.

The majority of people in line were serious actors, who came equipped with headshots, resumes and resignation toward the industry’s less glamorous side.

“We keep hoping we’re going to like doing something else, but we don’t,” cracked Lucy Byrne, 23.

The audition was scheduled for 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The first people started lining up around 11 p.m. the night before. Producers started auditions two hours early to get people out of the near-freezing temperatures, and by noon security guards announced that they were cutting off the line.

A second day of auditions is scheduled for Sunday. Producers are also accepting applications online.

The first auditionees began to stumble out of the stadium around 9 a.m., looking dazed by the experience. By noon, dejected actors were streaming out as fast as they’d scurried in a few hours earlier. All said the “audition” consisted of no more than handing over their photograph and being thanked for their time.

“I feel abused,” one woman told a friend.

“What an utter waste of time,” a young man said. One woman wept into a young man’s chest as he stroked her hair.

Jacqueline Du’ven looked stunned. The 22-year-old acting student arrived at the stadium at midnight and stood, without sleeping, until the gates opened at 6 a.m. Three hours later, a casting agent waved her on her way.

“It was like, hello, no,” she said. “I feel a bit delirious now.”

Despite the cold, the lack of sleep and the disappointment, she was undeterred.

“I just know that I’m going to do it one day, and that keeps me going,” she said of acting. “I can’t see myself doing anything else.”

Do, or do not, a wise Jedi once counseled. There is no try.