By Terry Dean
Being named after Marlon Brando might not be a bad thing for a budding actor.
Brando Crawford knows that firsthand. The Oak Park and River Forest High School senior says you can thank his dad for naming him after the celebrated, Oscar-winning actor.
"You know how much my name comes in handy; it's the icebreaker at all my auditions," he said.
Crawford, in fact, is starring as a young Ernest Hemingway in the short film, Runaway Hemingway, which is currently in production. Set in 1914, the film follows a young Hemingway who sets out on an adventure in the wilderness, learning as much about himself as the wild along the way.
The film, written and directed by Jake Alfaro, began production this fall. The cast and crew have filmed in Michigan, Indiana and Ohio for the period piece. Crawford auditioned for and landed the role despite being 17 though the production called for kids as young as 11. He wore 1920s garb for the audition.
His background likely helped him snag the role.
Like Hemingway, Crawford, 18, is an Oak Park native. He was also a member of BRAVO at Brooks Middle School.
Crawford's acting experience began in preschool at Oak Park's Language and Music School, which his mother, Maria, co-founded in 1990. He's performed with the Young Americans, a national performing arts troupe, and the Junior Theater Festival though BRAVO.
Crawford is currently in the musical Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer at the Goodman Theater in Chicago, playing an elf, and he is also a puppeteer in the show, which he landed through a referral from Goodman's casting company.
Performing, he says, runs in the family.
"My mom is from Argentina. My grandfather and her dad toured Europe singing tango. She grew up in the music scene, going to a conservatory in Argentina and always had a lot of ambition, which has taken her to sing with top choirs internationally," Crawford said of his mother, who moved to Chicago from Argentina in her early 20s, later acting in national TV commercials.
Crawford has mostly been involved in OPRF's film program. He also hosts his own show on OPRF's Newscene broadcast, Staying Classy with Brando Crawford, a comical interview show with students and adults.
The Hemingway movie will resume filming next spring when the weather improves. Crawford spent his first shooting day on a steam-engine train.
"On the second day I got to drive a model T Ford through an early 20th-century town that was completely our set for the day," he said.
And while his namesake was known for his method acting, Crawford doesn't describe himself entirely that way.
"I wouldn't call what I do 'method,' but I spend so much time with my roles that it's almost on the border. I died my hair and gained some weight, and read some of Ernest Hemingway's letters as a teenager to prepare for this role," he said. "The most important thing I knew about Ernest Hemingway going into the audition is that he grew up in the same place as I did, breathed the same air, walked the same paths. Although, of course, in a different time period. Looking back, that was a bit 'methody.'"