Mary Ellen Hunthrop of White Hall, a sophomore at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, took a week off from classes recently to work as Reese Witherspoon's stunt double and stand-in during filming of Little Rock native Jeff Nichols' Mud in Dumas and Stuttgart, which wrapped over the weekend.
The film, with a planned theatrical release in 2012, also stars Matthew McConaughey, Michael Shannon, Sam Shepard, Sarah Paulson, and Ray McKinnon.
It's a drama about two 14-year old boys (Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland of Yell County in his first acting role) who encounter a mysterious fugitive named Mud (McConaughey) on an island in the Mississippi River whom they find intriguing enough to try to help him evade capture and reconnect with the love of his life (Witherspoon).
Hunthrop, a sophomore majoring in communications with a minor in dance, got the role in a roundabout way. "My friend had auditioned for a role and told me about it," she says. "I missed the casting call and didn't think they were having another. So one day my mom and I were eating in White Hall and heard about another audition that was about to start about an hour away. So we jumped in the car and headed there.
"I thought I'd be an extra (there were 400 in the film) if anything," says Hunthrop, who was a cheerleader at Ouachita Baptist University before transferring to UALR. "When I walked in, the auditions had already started and I was the only one in the room. They took me right into the room and introduced me to the director."
They talked it over, she says, "then the stunt coordinator asked me if I wanted to do the role. I was cast a week before filming started."
Her first day on the set was "really exciting," she says. "I had no idea what to expect; I'd never been on a movie set before, seeing how many times they have to film something. It was neat meeting people from so many different places. I truly made a lot of friends that I'm keeping up with."
Her first meeting with Witherspoon was at a rehearsal. "I was really excited," Hunthrop says. "She's always been my favorite actress since i was little. I'm a big fan of Legally Blonde and her other movies. She just walked up and introduced herself and it was like we were friends. It was very surreal."
She also spent some time with Jacob Lofland, a 15-year old from Yell County who was cast as Neckbone, one of the two boys (the other is played by Tye Sheridan) who encounter Mud. "I worked some with him," she says. "He was a really nice boy, and what an opportunity" -- as Nichols had searched in Los Angeles and Austin as well as in Arkansas for the right person to play Neckbone.
Although she's performed in theatrical productions since she was little, "This was completely different," she says. "There's lot of waiting around, that's one thing I definitely learned. But it gave me a chance to keep up with my school work" since she was away from her classes for a week.
"I have a lot of dance classes and some core curriculum classes this semester, and my professors let me off for a week. They all said that this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. And I've always been good at keeping up with school."
Is there more film work in her future? "I hope to do something else -- commercials, something like that," Hunthrop says. "I guess I got the acting bug."
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