In the film, those neighborhoods are symbolized by the “Maple Avenue towers,” the real-life apartments near the Takoma Park Town Hall. That is where the filmmakers did a lot of their sidewalk casting. Soulie Kondeh, a 22-year-old Blair grad who lives six floors below Vilche in the Essex House, found himself playing one of the basketball players. They often shot at Peter’s Sub Shop, which is a hub of Maple Avenue action in both the movie and real life.
“I had to wear these baggy ’90s clothes, huge jeans and stuff,” said Kondeh, a rapper and Starbucks barista. “My friends were coming by and clowning me for that.”
The producers brought in professional actors, too, but asked them to stay with volunteer families. Ellie Hamburger (who is married to Washington Post reporter Tom Hamburger) said a Silver Spring neighbor asked whether they could put up two young performers. Over evening meals they learned that one, Shareeka Epps, had won an Independent Spirit Award for her role in “Half Nelson.” The other, Georgia Ford, turned out to be Hollywood aristocracy.
“She said her mother was a screenwriter,” Hamburger recalled. “I said, ‘Oh, anything I might have seen?’ And she said, ‘Well, ‘E.T.’ was one.’ ”
Ford’s mother is screenwriter Melissa Mathison. And her father? Actor Harrison Ford.
Epps, a Brooklyn resident, said she was so taken with the town that she put Takoma Park on her list of “places I could live.” She was surprised by the number of mixed-race families she saw. (Epps plays the black daughter of white parents in the film.)
She did notice a lot of speed humps, and lot of talk about speed humps in the city council and among residents. “You guys really go hard on the speed humps, don’t you?” she said with a laugh. “First of all, in Brooklyn we call them speed bumps, and we don’t talk about them so much.”
To cast other roles, Andalman and Munro called local high school drama departments and community theaters. The father of Andalman’s boyhood best friend played the hero’s father in the movie.
“I have lots of experience with being a father of children in the ’90s,” said Richard Lorr, a retired government lawyer.
Lorr has already seen the finished film, having traveled with about 20 friends and neighbors to see the Sundance premiere. Beholding his own face in billboard dimensions was a shock, he said.
“There’s a bit of cognitive dissonance seeing yourself from the outside,” he said. “It’s like seeing yourself in the mirror without expecting to be there.”