Starstruck: Local youngsters on big screen in ‘Rumble Through the Dark’ 

Published 11:00 am Saturday, November 25, 2023

NATCHEZ — A Cathedral High School 9th-grader starring in “Rumble Through the Dark” had one of his greatest dreams fulfilled when he got to portray the child version of a well-known actor and then see himself on the big screen of a movie theater.

“I was starstruck,” said Michael Waycaster, who portrayed young Jack Boucher, of meeting Aaron Eckhart on set.

Waycaster knew Eckhart, who played the adult version of the lead character, from other movies such as “The Dark Night” and is a fan, he said.

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“I had seen him in a lot of great films that I really liked and got to talk to him for like a minute. He’s a very nice person.”

Waycaster was 12 when he auditioned for the film two years ago at Natchez Little Theatre.

It was himself and just a few other boys he knew auditioning for the same role.

Waycaster, who is not new to acting but new to movie making, said the theater is familiar to him. He has past experience in various plays there. He started by playing a “random hyena” in The Lion King and graduated to a lead role as Michael Banks in Mary Poppins, he said.

His first adult play there was “This Bard’s for You: A Collection of Shakespeare’s Best” and included several different characters.

After auditioning, Waycaster got a call to come read again at Crooked Letter Picture Company and from there received the part.

“It was fun and it was a very controlled environment,” Waycaster said of being on set. “Everyone had a job and knew what they were doing.”

In the movie, Waycaster has a good acting mix in both a fight scene and a crying scene.

“An interesting fact about the fight scene is that it was filmed in different locations at different times,” he said. “I’d forgotten about that until I watched it in theaters and remembered, ‘Oh yeah, that part was filmed at this lady’s house and this part was at the other place.’”

Waycaster said filming the fight scene also required stunt trainers who taught him about falling down a certain way so that his head wouldn’t hit the ground first and risk serious injury.

Filming the crying scene seemed to take longer, he said.

“It seemed longer than it was. It felt like two hours but really only took an hour to film it.”

Waycaster and his family went all the way to Dallas, Texas, to watch the movie in IMAX as soon as it was released in theaters. They later traveled to Oxford for the screening event.

Michael Waycaster and author Michael Farris Smith together at a screening in Oxford. (submitted)

There, he got his picture taken with Michael Farris Smith who wrote the screenplay for the film — his first as an author — and the novel that inspired it.

Smith, who lives in Oxford, quickly recognized greeted him when he arrived at the screening, Waycaster said.

“He said ‘Hey, little Mark!’” Waycaster recalled.

There was a public Q&A at the screening at the Oxford Powerhouse with the author and some of the cast.

“My best experience watching the moving was at the screening in Oxford,” Waycaster said. “The way the sound hit my ears, there was just something about it.”

Seeing his own face on the big screen enlarged to cover the wall was surreal, he said.

Cullen Aldridge, who is from Vidalia, played baby Jack, but was too young to distinguish being on set from reality, said his mother Courtney Layne Wagoner.

“Later he asked me, ‘Mama, why did you leave me when I was a baby?’” Wagoner said.

Aldridge was two years old when he made his acting debut. He had dirt smeared on his face and wore a cloth diaper while his mother portrayed Jack’s mother leaving her child at a shelter.

“The object was to set him down and walk off,” Wagoner said. “He said, ‘Mama, don’t leave me!’ and you can hear him saying ‘Mama’ in the movie and it wasn’t scripted at all.”

Unlike his older counterpart, Aldridge didn’t go to a formal audition to get the part.

“Leigh Ann Mason recruited us. She asked me to send in pictures of him and said he’d be perfect for it,” Wagoner said. “It’s crazy how much they really do look like different aged versions of each other.”

His first time watching the movie was at another screening event in Natchez at Elk’s Lodge.

More acting could be in Waycaster’s future. He aspires to become a stunt double or actor in action movies and a musician, he said.

“A play guitar and would like to start up a band,” he said.

Aldridge, who is now four, dreams of being a racecar driver.

Rumble Through the Dark is available to stream now on Amazon Prime, Apple TV and Vudu.