After a full-twenty four hours of solid investigation, I've managed to confirm that Nina Gold and Disney will be holding a series of new Star Wars open casting sessions in cities across the UK. These will be for the lead role and a key supporting role in Episode VII.
Disney really did want to keep any association with Star Wars out of this one but I've got it locked in that, actually, this is all definitely to do with Episode VII.
The first role, and which I understand is the movie's lead, is for a young girl aged 17 – though a 16, 18, 19, 20 year old could certainly play the role if they have the right look. She's going by the codename of Rachel, but there's some real character info attached, and with it, a little bit of plot:
Rachel was quite young when she lost her parents. With no other family, she was forced to make her way in a tough, dangerous town. Now 17 she has become street smart and strong. She is able to take care of herself using humor and guts to get by.
I hope Chloe Moretz, Saoirse Ronan, Rachel Hurd-Wood and "everybody else", as Ronan put it, aren't insulted by the filmmakers planning an open call. We may yet still see a name in the role, even after these sessions – and if we don't, it's certainly going to be a star maker.
Note in particular the comment on the character being an orphan. There's all sorts of ways this could go – secret parents still being alive, for one; the expiration of Han and Leia in an opening prologue is another.
The second character being cast is codenamed Thomas and described as:
smart, capable and shows courage when it is needed. He can appreciate the absurdities in life and understands you can't take life too seriously.
I'm guessing he'll get the funny lines. Again, he's a major role.
There were whispers – rooted more in speculation than anything else, I expect – that JJ Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan would be throwing out the plot that Michael Arndt had been working with. In cross-checking this casting call with my sources, I've confirmed that, actually, the same story – at least as much as it might boil down to a synopsis – will still be in play; the same characters are being sought as several months ago.
Abrams and Kasdan appear to be reworking the flow a little, and will do some dialogue and character work, for sure, but the building blocks of story are staying pretty much untouched. Well… that's a bit of a relief, I guess.
If you're intending to attend the casting calls, best of luck. This weekend, you can head to the Arnolfini Centre in Bristol; the weekend after to Wasp Studios in Glasgow or Progress Studios in Manchester; then on November 23rd and 24th to the Apiary Studios in London or Filmbase in Dublin. And let me know how it goes, and what they make you do…