Young Actresses Fake Being Deaf to Audition for Todd Haynes Film

Wonderstruck - Cannes Publicity - H 2017
'Wonderstruck'/Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival

To cast the role of young, deaf Rose in Cannes competition film Wonderstruck, which received a long standing ovation after its May 18 premiere, director Todd Haynes conducted a nationwide search before finding the revelatory Millicent Simmonds, 14, from Utah.

But Haynes was surprised — and nearly duped — when sifting through the 100 or so tapes that were submitted, all by those whom he thought were deaf girls: "We even got a few girls who later admitted that they weren't deaf. It was pretty intense. It was a little bit of a shock." Wonderstruck's other young star, Oakes Fegley, 12, missed his big Cannes debut because he couldn't get out of shooting The War With Grandpa, with Robert De Niro.

Fegley is the anchor of the film, which tells the dual stories of Ben (Fegley) and Rose (Simmonds), two kids who grow up in different eras — Ben in 1977 in Minnesota, Rose in 1927 in New Jersey — as they each set out on a quest to discover what they're missing. Julianne Moore plays a silent film star that Simmonds is obsessed with, while Michelle Williams plays the mother of Fegley's character.

Early reviews have praised both of their performances in the Amazon Studios and Roadside Attractions project, with THR's David Rooney writing that "the young actors hold the screen with unselfconscious naturalism: Fegley balances pluck and determination with vulnerability."

The Hollywood Reporter reached out Fegley for a comment on how he feels to have missed a trip up the Palais steps, even if he's not exactly losing out with a prime role in a De Niro film, a fact that's not lost on the actor who is known for his work in Pete's Dragon and This is Where I Leave You. "For starters, I am very upset to be missing the festival. I'm jealous because I haven't got to see the film yet! But I am very excited to see it," Fegley tells THR. "On the bright side It's awesome to be working with a legend like Robert De Niro. I'm having a lot of fun with him, and there are lots of laughs."

A version of this story first appeared in the May 24 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.