Benjamin Hartley // Actor // Executive Producer
Luckily for us, one of our main actors, Benjamin Hartley, replied to a shout out on Shooting People for the part of Brian (Kevin Duke). It turned out that Ben could not only act, but also owned a casting agency called MFS Casting, not to mention years in the film industry in a variety of areas.
He grew up in Morocco, Kenya, Mexico, the UK and Turkey and attended university in both England and the USA before becoming a Helicopter Pilot in the Royal Navy. After leaving, he set up MFS Casting, an agency providing military, police, and action personnel as supporting artists and advisors to the film and television industry.
Benjamin brought his aviation experience to Rogue One, portraying an X-Wing Pilot named Harb Binli (callsign 'Red Seven'), and also carried out the role of aviation advisor to the cast and production team. He was also aviation advisor to the cast and crew on Solo: A Star Wars Story.
Ben became involved in Sylvia from the early stages and sourced nearly all of our incredible cast. Organising castings
for the leading lady and lining up some great options for the other cast, he made the casting process seamlessly successful.
Ben and business partner Andy Buckley, who also run production company Buckhart Productions also became investors in Sylvia offering both financial and producing guidance. The pair have been a wealth of knowledge and support to Richard and myself.
Jolie Lennon // Lead Actress
When Ben first put Jolie forward for the role of Mandy in Sylvia, she was one of several women in discussion. In fact, Richard attended the casting with his mind set on someone else, but just minutes after her casting, Richard called and said he had no doubt she was the one. Ben had pushed for her from the beginning and to this day I am grateful for this, as the film would not have been what it was without her sensational performance!
Jolie was an accomplished actress and action performer before working with us. She is also known for her lead role in Codename Venus, as a special action performer in Wonder Woman and Justice League, and in lead roles in various well funded short films. We were incredibly lucky that Jolie was available for Sylvia. Benjamin and Richard both saw talent in her subtle yet powerful performance which lifts the film to a different level.
She also happens to be an incredibly hard working and versatile actress, her performance on set of Sylvia was mind blowing and yet she slipped so easily from playing a broken and ghost like character to cheering up young actresses Maisie and Evie. She was an asset to the team.
You can find Jolie creating hilarious comedy sketches whilst not acting and we hope to see some of her amazing comedy writing on screen in the near future!
Jolie can be followed on Instagram @jolie.lennon
Gaynor Fraser // Actress
Gaynor was also put forward by the great MFS casting agency, thanks to Ben! Having trained at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama, Gaynor began her professional career at the Young Vic, London. She was a company member at the Mermaid Theatre under Bernard Miles’s direction, appearing in ‘Eastward Ho!’ and ‘Shakespeare’s Rome’, before embarking on the national and international tour of ‘Oliver!’, (UK, Canada & West End).
Over the following years other productions of note in musical theatre include ‘Carousel’ at The Royal Exchange Manchester, ‘The Gondoliers’, The Bristol Old Vic, ‘Bless the Bride’, Sadlers Wells, London, and ‘The Scarlet Pimpernel’, Her Majestey’s Theatre, London.
As well as corporate video work Gaynor’s TV drama includes ‘Mr Selfridge’, ‘Call the Midwife’, and ‘Endeavour’. And then Gaynor came onset as Mandy's Mum and Grandmother, Linda.
Gaynor arrived at our house the night before filming looking glamourous and sophisticated and sadly, within minutes, we had turned her into someone from 'Shameless'! But like Jolie, Gaynor embraced her role and character so thoroughly and became an integral part of Sylvia and the Sylvia family both on and off set.
Maisie & Evie Prendergast // Actress's
As you can guess from the name, Maisie & Evie are the daughters of Richard and I. It seemed obvious to cast our own children in the film for two reasons, firstly, budget - like most short films this film was self-funded by ourselves so any way to save money was taken. Secondly, we have no idea how the film will perform once finished and if it turns out that it is nothing but an awesome family project, then we would have achieved that!
The girls loved the entire experience and surprised us immensely with their patience and understanding of what was expected of them. It was also incredibly helpful that Jolie and Gaynor spent a lot of time making them feel comfortable and as a result created their own little family unit on set. Evie repeatedly calls Jolie Mum, which for the sake of the film, I have come to terms with!
On one occasion, Richard approached me onset and mentioned that the next shot to be done would require Evie to cry, at just 2.5 years old, no-one really wants to encourage tears onset but we had to give it a go. I advised Jolie she would have to lose her temper with Evie to get the real
reaction we needed. Sure enough, it worked and Evie sobbed! (As did I, in a
bush out of sight while I struggled with the guilt of being such a horrific Mother!) I asked Rich, "Great, did you get it?", only to be told no, it wasn't quite right. We retook the shot another 4 or 5 times and each time Evie cried on demand and stopped on demand. Laughing after each take, knowing she had to cry and stop crying again - it had become a game to her! We were all completely surprised at such a young age her level of understanding of the process, but utterly grateful to her for it!!
Both girls received a huge Lolli pop as "payment" for their acting in Sylvia, which was, safe to say, the best day of their lives!!
Mick Fryer-Kelsey // Actor
Mick has been doing film work since 1999 and has appeared in many films, TV shows and commercials in that time including 3 Harry Potter movies and also portrayed the Maz's Castle pirate 'Oskus Stoorat' in The Force Awakens which is Episode VII of the Star Wars saga.
Again, found by MFS Casting, Mick fitted the bill for the rather odd character in Sylvia, who is just titled the 'Ice Cream Man'. This part of the script throws people off a little, with those having read the script quizzing the reason for this part of the film. But Rich wanted this oddly placed character, who is really quite eerie, to add an element of suspense and unknown to the narrative. Mick was great and has so much experience onset. It was an honour to have him on board!
Willow Major // Actress
The part of Jada, Brians daughter was added in rather last minute as a suggestion from Ben, as an uplift to a tragic story. Although a small part, it really was integral to the storyline and Willow, who we found at the Norwich School studying drama, fitted the role beautifully and delivered her part with such ease and professionalism.
Her scene was pushed later and later, until we hit the early hours of the morning. Luckily we had a warm house to hibernate in, fuelled with coffee, food and our amazing cast and crew who all keep each other going.
Willow was so accurate in her delivery that although she waited hours, she nailed her scene within minutes. We are all excited to see what this young and exciting actress has lined up in the future, and so utterly pleased to have had her part of this film. to to mention her supportive and encouraging family, who put so much trust in us 'borrowing' their daughter!
We could not have been more grateful and excited to have worked with such a talented and wonderful cast. We never thought we would create a new daily as part of this film, and we cannot wait to take these people on this journey with us!!