Freshman’s acting dream becomes reality


There are more than 300 million people in the U.S… Among them, roughly 70,000 people in the U.S work exclusively as actors. Most people have dreamed of being an actor or actress, but only a handful of those dreams actually come true.

For freshman Philip Zhao, that dream became a reality when he landed a role as “Shoto” in the upcoming Steven Spielberg movie, “Ready Player One.” The movie is based on the book “Ready Player One” by Ernest Cline.

It is the year 2045, and technological advances are at their peak, but the earth is becoming overpopulated. People want to escape their grim lives by delving into the virtual world of the “OASIS.” The plot of the movie revolves around an Easter egg. When the creator of the “OASIS” dies, he releases a video where he challenges all “OASIS” users to find his Easter egg, and the finder will receive his fortune. Characters race against time to get the egg first.

The majority of the scenes take place in the world of virtual reality so most of the actors and actresses themselves are not shown until the end. “We wore motion capture suits that represented our avatars in the virtual reality world,” Zhao said.

The movie has a total of 96 characters putting emphasis on the human population issue. Zhao booked the role of Shoto after being chosen from a world-wide talent search in the beginning 2016. He also signed with Abrams Artists Agency, which will represent him in all theatrical areas, including TV, film and stage for potential future roles.

Zhao first learned about the audition opportunity in December 2015 from his dad. His dad saw the notice on the Chinese social media app Wechat. “When my dad asked me, I thought it would be a unique learning experience so I thought, why not?” Zhao said. “The thought of actually landing the role never crossed my mind.”

Zhao auditioned for the role Shoto because he thought the character fit him the most. Around 3,000-5,000 boys auditioned to be Shoto yet Zhao came out on top. Shoto is a little Asian boy around the age of 11 who has an older brother in the movie named Daito. “Shoto” and “Daito” are two Japanese words that when put together, mean “long sword.” They are the dynamic duo of the movie, so they had to look good together. The producers chose Daito played by a famous J-Pop star Win Morisaki first and chose Zhao as Shoto after.

There were four parts of the audition. The producers narrowed down the number of candidates who moved forward to each part. For auditions one through three, the process was solely online. It was recorded at home and uploaded. “I did not really take the video auditions that seriously, when I got called back to do the fourth and final step however, that was when I realized that I could actually get the part,” Zhao said.

For the parts one through three, the producers primarily used the videos to see the actor’s personality. “They don’t care about the recorded scenes as much as the character’s personality itself. The first audition required me to film an introduction of myself. The second video was to act out one selected scene from the actual movie script. The third video audition was to act out two scenes from the script,” Zhao said. “The producers were pleased with my first three videos so they requested to see me in person for the fourth and final audition in New York City, all expenses paid.”

For the fourth part of the audition, Zhao was driven to New York to act out an impromptu scene from the movie in front of the casting directors. This was the most important audition. It provided the producers insight to see if Zhao would withstand pressure. The fourth audition also required improv and Zhao was put in hypothetical situations when fellow actors forget their lines. Zhao was tested to see if he could “save the scene.” “The essential aspect was to act natural. You were allowed to change words here or there, as long as the overall meaning remained consistent,” Zhao said.

The producers narrowed down the final candidates from the fourth audition and sent all their audition tapes to director Spielberg who decided Zhao was the ideal person to play Shoto. Zhao found out a week after the fourth audition in March 2016. He was not allowed to tell anyone about his new role until the movie was announced. “I was super surprised and excited when I learned I will actually be playing Shoto,” Zhao said.

Although the movie was based on the popular book “Ready Player One,” Zhao landed the role as Shoto prior to reading the book. He knew the main idea of the book already from his sister who was a huge fan of the book. “I really liked the book after I read it. There are a lot of ‘80s pop culture references placed perfectly. It is a lot different than the movie is going to be though,” Zhao said.
Being an actor comes with multiple responsibilities including memorizing lines. “It wasn’t really hard to memorize lines. It typically took 30 to 45 minutes a night to memorize the lines the next day,” Zhao said.

The chemistry between the entire cast was amazing. Daito, played by Morisaki, was Zhao’s closest cast mate and they still remain in constant communication. Even the directors got along well with everybody. “Steven Spielberg walked around set talking to all the families and he was really patient with all the cast members,” Zhao said.

Zhao’s friend, freshman Jonathan Li is excited for the movie’s release. “I am so happy for Philip and I can’t wait to see him in the movie when I watch it,” Li said.

Filming of the actual movie took three and a half months (mid-June to late September) in Watford, England. There was even a night club rented out especially for the cast.

Since the movie was still filming after summer was over, Zhao skipped the first month of eighth grade. Consequently, MCPS kicked him out of the system due to the two-week maximum absent policy. He had to reenroll when filming was officially over.
There was a huge end of shooting party and the entire cast, producers, directors, and even the extras were there. Zhao was sad when the filming ended. He said he felt thankful and spoiled with all the room service and free goodies he received. “I still keep all the contacts, which is good and the cast is looking forward to meeting up at the movie premier, which will either be in London or Los Angeles,” Zhao said.


Hannah Ho

Back Page Editor