Lise Akoka and Romane Gueret on Inspiration and Casting Nonprofessional Actors in The Worst Ones

Mar 21, 2023

Filmmakers Lise Akoka and Romane Gueret have pulled from their personal experience to create a movie, The Worst Ones, about the implications of street casting in the film industry, especially when it comes to children. The movie, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, took home the Un Certain Regard award, establishing it as a movie to keep an eye on. Acquired by Kino Lorber, the film will have its release in North America in March 2023. The Worst Ones is a must-see in spring 2023, establishing its relevant themes in a broader conversation about the entertainment industry.

MovieWeb was joined by the directors and writers of The Worst Ones, Akoka and Gueret, to discuss the movie.

A Continuation of an Earlier Project

Les Films Velvet

MW: The Worst Ones is a film within a film. Why was this framework decided upon when making the movie?

Romane Gueret: It’s not like we decided at the outset it was going to be a film within a film. My partner and I met while we were working as casting agents. We were street-casting nonprofessional actors. While doing that, we were casting kids for a feature film, and we had an opportunity to meet many young children that inspired us. That made us want to write a script for a short on street casting, and we did that in the north of France. After making the short, there was enough material for us to continue and turn it into a feature film because we had become filmmakers ourselves while we made the short. Making the feature film the logical continuation of going more in-depth with the questions we wondered ourselves. We wanted to talk about what it meant to make a movie about children when you do street casting.

MW: Did either of you have extensive experience being a writer or director before doing this movie?

Lise Akoka: The experience we had together was that we made a short film, a web series, and then a documentary.

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MW: There’s quite a bit of sensitivity and empathy for navigating these kinds of situations depicted in The Worst Ones. How did you find the balance to pull this off in a way that seems right?

Akoka: This comes from writing a lot, the kind of work where you’re fully immersed in the environment where you’re going to film, spending time with the kids who become the characters in your films. So we’ve found a lot of inspiration from real life and the actual lives of children we met when we started writing. It starts with that, then you start with storytelling, character development, scriptwriting, and dialogue.

MW: How long did it take to make this into a feature film?

Gueret: [There were] three years of writing. As I mentioned it was a continuation of a short we had made, the title was “Chasse Royale,” which translates to “Royal Hunt.” We’d already worked on that for several years, but in terms of writing, it was three years.

Akoka: We spent a year looking for financing. In that year, we did a lot of street casting, which had a lot of significance for the film. A year for a film like this is a long time. We worked on that quite a bit, and towards the end of it, that kind of work became as if it was a rehearsal for the last few roles. Then, when we got to the actual shooting part, it was all done in six weeks. That’s all it took us.

Working with Nonprofessional Actors

Les Films Velvet

MW: What were some of the biggest difficulties when making the movie?

Gueret: Well, the biggest challenge is what is the movie’s heart, what the story is about: working with nonprofessional young actors that come from complicated environments. That was what was most complicated for us.

MW: Was there anything unexpected that came out of that?

Akoka: You need a long time in rehearsal, so we rehearsed full-time for an entire month every single day with all of the kids. Throughout the year in which we were casting, we also rehearsed, starting when a kid was attached to a role. You need to be able to adjust and change on the fly when something unexpected comes up. That’s what you do when you work with nonprofessional actors like this. You need to be able to tackle unexpected obstacles, and having said that, there are a lot of moments of grace that come up.

Related: The Worst Ones Review: A French Movie Digging Deep On Child Actors, Class, and Exploitation in Film

MW: What are you two hoping are the biggest takeaways for viewers of The Worst Ones?

Akoka: Everything is in the title. It’s a fact that there is a sleeping artist within a lot of children, and kids can think of themselves as the worst ones in certain environments. But in another world, they can become the best–this is the world of cinema, the world of art. So it’s a sort of tribute that we are paying to these kids and their talent.

MW: What have been your favorite moments working on The Worst Ones?

Gueret: There’s a particular scene for both of us that had a deep impression. It’s the very last scene in the movie, so I don’t want to go into detail–that’s a spoiler. But when we were watching it, it was at the very end of our shooting time, and we witnessed something completely magical. We saw the young kids who were working with us, the two lead characters, who truly became actors, monsters in that they were able to transform their acting into something freeing, something so beautiful that they weren’t looking at what they were doing anymore. They were becoming that, using their emotions and putting them at the service of the movie. It was something that touched us very dearly.

MW: Do either of you have any new projects in the works?

Akoka: We are writing our next feature film, which is a continuation, or an extension, of the series we already made.

The Worst Ones opens on March 24, 2023, in New York City, with expanded distribution in additional cities coming after that.

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