Grace Tarnow

grace-tarnow-vertOscar-nominated director John Hancock didn’t have to look far when he cast a young actress to appear alongside his wife, actress/screenwriter Dorothy Tristan, in his latest film.

Hancock, Tristan and New York Casting Director Susan Willett were so impressed by Grace Tarnow, they cast the La Porte girl just minutes after her callback audition ended on Sunday, Feb. 3, at La Porte County Library. The 13-year-old seventh-grader at La Porte’s Kesling Middle School earns the highest praise from Hancock.

“I had the same feeling as when I read Robert De Niro (for ‘Bang the Drum Slowly’),” Hancock said. “I thought, ‘This person really has it’.”

Hearing that remark, and the fact that this is her first movie, leaves Tarnow overwhelmed.

“I knew I wanted to do it, but you can never tell when you audition. I didn’t want to get overexcited, because if it doesn’t happen, you don’t want to get upset,” she said. “But I was so excited. I just wanted to scream.”

Hancock, who has shot three films in La Porte County, including the Christmas classic “Prancer” (1989), “A Piece of Eden” (1999) and “Suspended Animation” (2001), is working on the untitled project with his wife and intends to shoot the film in La Porte County and Southwest Michigan from June 19 through Aug. 19. It centers on a grandmother who may be experiencing the earliest stages of Alzheimer’s disease, and whose granddaughter comes to live with her. The two clash … until the grandmother discovers her granddaughter can sing and gets her into a local production of “Alice in Wonderland.”

More than 550 people from four states tried out for the movie. In addition to Tarnow, some roles have been offered to people; others will be cast soon. Hancock and Tristan are working on rewrites for the script. Once that version is completed, Hancock will consider talent witnessed during auditions for remaining roles in the movie. Additional auditions may be held.

In the film, Tristan will play the grandmother and Tarnow the granddaughter.

Tarnow, a quiet, humble teen with a powerful singing voice, won the youth division title in Hoosier Star 2012, an “American Idol”-type competition to benefit La Porte County Symphony Orchestra. She’s also appeared in a few theater productions. Her relative inexperience, however, did not show during the auditions, Hancock said.

“She could really act,” he said. “My wife improvised with her, and Grace was so courageous and so present during the scene.”

Tarnow, who also dances and plays violin, said she tried to connect with the role of the granddaughter during the audition.

“I tried to find a state of mind … of how this could be for me,” she said.

Hancock couldn’t believe the talent he was witnessing.

“How thrilling that she is here, right here in La Porte,” Hancock said of his thoughts at the time.

Just weeks after accepting the role, Tarnow admits she’s still taking it all in.

“I just thought this would be a good way to put all of my strengths together and just put it all out there,” she said. “I thought, it’s in my hometown, and it would be so comfortable to do something I love in my own hometown.”

Click here to see highlights from Grace’s audition, including a beautiful rendition of God Bless America.