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Casting Call for GOP Campaign Ad: Actors to Play 'Hicky' Blue-Collar West Virginians

Politico reported this morning that a West Virginia Senate campaign ad, criticizing Democratic West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin, was cast from a call seeking actors to portray "a ‘Hicky’ Blue Collar look. These characters are from West Virginia so think coal miner/trucker looks."  The 30-second "Stop Obama" ad was funded by the National Republican Senatorial Committee and was reportedly shot in Philadelphia, with paid actors reading from a script.

While it is not uncommon for actors to be hired for campaign ads, it was the language used in the casting call that Democrats found offensive. In addition to referring to West Virginians as "hicky,"  clothing suggestions in the breakdown included jeans, work boots, flannel shirt, denim shirt, "Dickie’s type jacket with t-shirt underneath," down-filled vest, "John Deer [sic] hats (not brand new, preferably beat up)," and "trucker hats (not brand new, preferably beat up)."

The ad began airing this week, but has now been pulled from West Virginia television stations due to the controversy. Republican Senate candidate John Raese has tried to distance himself from the debate.

"The ad is ridiculous and I am happy to say that no one with the Raese campaign had anything to do with it," said Raese's spokesman Kevin McLaughlin. "As a matter of fact, we asked that it be taken down long before it went public."

Below is the actual casting call:

Call Time: 2pm
Location: The Oregon Diner
3rd & Oregon Sts
Phila PA 19148

- We are going for a ‘Hicky’ Blue Collar look. These characters are from West Virginia so think coal miner/trucker looks

- Each character should bring a several options and stay away from all black or all white or thin stripes (thicker stripes and plaid are good)

- Clothing Suggestions:
• Jeans
• Work boots
• Flannel shirt
• Denim shirt
• Dickie's type jacket with t-shirt underneath
• Down filled vest
• John Deer hats (not brand new, preferably beat up)
• Trucker hats (not brand new, preferably beat up)
• No Thin Stripes

- As far as the script goes, the dialect should be very plain – no accent, but animated actions. These guys are upset about these politics.

- SCRIPT is confidential, but please make sure everyone is willing to read it before agreeing to the part.

From Politico:

A Democratic official said the wardrobe advice played right into the case against Manchin’s opponent. “Our whole frame on Raese is that he doesn’t understand working people,” this official said.

In a statement Thursday morning, Manchin said: “John Raese and his special interest friends have insulted the people of West Virginia and need to immediately apologize. Not only have they been spending millions to try and buy this election with lies and distortions, we can now see once and for all what he and his friends really think of West Virginia and our people. It’s offensive and it only proves that John Raese has spent too much time in the state of Florida, living in his Palm Beach mansion and doesn’t know, understand or respect the great people of this state, and what we stand for.”

However, Politico also notes that the language used in the above casting call did not originate from the NRSC. It was written by a talent agency hired by Jamestown Consulting, the Republican ad firm in charge of producing the spot. An email from an NRSC rep to a subcontractor apparently stated:

"So here’s what we need for casting ... 2 featured characters that will be talking to each other at a diner, conversation back and forth. ... One male- Age about 55.- Looking for someone to represent the middle of the country… Ohio, Pittsburgh, West Virginia area- Middle class ... One male- Age about 45- Middle class- Again, should represent the Ohio, Pittsburgh, West Virginia area of the country."

And NRSC spokesman Brian Walsh said, "No one at the NRSC, or associated with the NRSC, had anything to do with the language used in this casting call. We do not support it, and suffice to say, we would encourage our contractors to never work with this outside agency again."

But if the offensive casting call and ensuing controversy were the fault of the casting director (making all of the political hullabaloo a moot point), it wouldn't be the first time. In 2008, Pittsburgh-based background casting director Donna Belajac was fired from the feature film Shelter after a casting call seeking "inbred types" and "deformed" or "unsual" people got public attention. (At the time, Gov. Manchin also spoke out against that casting call, which told "regular-looking" people not to apply.)

Casting directore Winsome Sinclair, who has cast several of Spike Lee's films, told Back Stage at the time:

"There is political correctness involved, because there are things you just can't say. You have to use some sort of censorship. When we have a delicate description, it has become common practice to work with the producers and the Screen Actors Guild, and we come together to a collective agreement. How do we get across what we need so our needs are met?"

And in a 2008 Back Stage "Ask a Casting Director" column about finding atypical talent while avoiding using sterotypical or offensive language, background casting director Jennifer Bender said:

"You have to choose your words carefully. You don’t want to offend people, but you still have to fulfill the needs of a director. I think providing information is the key – and being respectful. Everyone wants to know how they’re going to be portrayed, and it’s their choice whether they want to be involved with the film or not."

Click here for a copy of the confidential "Stop Obama" script.

Update: The "casting call" in question was apparently not a casting breakdown at all, but rather the booking sheet provided to actors who had already been hired for the commercial. Actor Damian Muziani sets the record straight on ABC News.

-- Daniel Lehman

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