Early last year, when Lori Lewis ran into Leverage producer Paul Bernard at a Hollywood Theater event, “He flat-out asked,” recalls Lewis, “Are you back yet?” The erstwhile casting director had to admit to her urge to return to the work she adores, promising, “Next year, after knee surgery.” This week, Oregon’s film industry welcomes Lori Lewis, plus one new knee, back into the casting scene. Lewis says, “I’m super excited to be back, and so overwhelmed by everyone’s warm embrace that I feel incredibly blessed and fortunate.”
True to her form, Lewis launched her new full-service agency, Free Spirit Casting, attending the annual PATA actor auditions last month, then running her own general auditions last week at Stage 13. “As work allows,” offers Lewis, who strives to consistently scout for new talent, “My goal is to hold generals once a month.” Enthusing on her first day back in the casting trenches, Lewis says, “I’m excited to be working with actors again. So many of them mentioned they’d missed me. It was so much fun today to see that look on an actor’s face when something you’ve said has made such a positive impact. One reminded me of something I’d done with her in the past, saying it had truly freed her performance. That is so rewarding.”
With Free Spirit Casting, Lewis is “Doing my best to come back with the experience I bring, but with fresh eyes,” noting that, “The industry has changed,” during her two-year hiatus, “I’m coming back in focused on what I know well, independent films, and asking, ‘What can I do to help this town grow? What can I do to help this industry grow?'” Complementing a healthy talent pool, Lewis touches on Oregon’s diverse filming locations, saying, “In the southeast, we have a desert region, and then there’s the Medford valley, and the coast… from southern redwoods to the rugged northern coast. This State has been used as different parts of the world… it’s all right here. Add in our tax incentives, and it’s a no-brainer,” Lewis adds, trumpeting the natural and fiscal advantages of film production in Oregon.
Free Spirit begins casting an independent film by Michael Medaglia (The Hole Diaries, Kitty Kitty) next week. Produced by Medaglia’s Pretty Pictures and by Todd Freeman (Wake Before I Die, Two-Fisted), Jason Freeman (Wake Before I Die, The Heater), and Lara Cuddy (The Weather Outside, Cell Count) of Polluted Pictures, “It’s is in the horror genre,” Lewis reveals, “When I read the script for Deep Dark, it made me laugh and cringe all at the same time.” Lewis adds that,”There’s a lot of good, independent films being made in Oregon.”
Cringing anew at current events, Lewis wraps the discussion with a comment on the imminent closing of SAG-AFTRA’s offices, pointing out that, “They already tried that once here, and it didn’t work.” Just as many in the industry dearly missed the deft casting direction of Lori Lewis, many in the film community will soon pine for the return of their Portland local.