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Acting hopefuls flood Stevenson for 'House of Cards' casting call

Talitha Simeona-Stewart flicked her pen across a student's paper as she stood in the line of people in dark suits.

She didn't look it, but the eighth-grade English teacher from Millersville was nervous because she had never even tried out for a play, much less a TV series starring Kevin Spacey. She was just a Shakespeare lover hoping to show her students the value of reaching for new experiences.

A few feet away, Dude Walker (yes, that's his professional name) cracked jokes about the actor's life. If a director asks whether you can ride a horse, the Lutherville resident said, reply with a yes — even if you can't.

But the truth is that after 34 years of mostly voice-over work, Walker is still seeking his big break, the moment when he might catch the right eye at the right time and land a killer on-camera role.

"There's always that hope," he said.

Different as they could be, Simeona-Stewart and Walker were both among the horde that descended upon Stevenson University's Inscape Theater on Saturday for an open casting call for the Netflix political series "House of Cards." The show is set to begin production in Harford County and other parts of the Baltimore area next month.

Washington-based Central Casting sought anyone who could pass for a D.C. staffer, aide or reporter between the ages of 21 and 34, or for a politician, lobbyist, reporter or "elegant Washington type" between the ages of 40 and 60.

The aspirants sat patiently in auditorium seats and plodded through long lines as they waited for the 30 seconds when they would stand in front of an assistant director and have a few pictures snapped.

There would be no performing, but they seemed perfectly happy to trade a weekend morning for a shot at becoming human scenery in a production fronted by Spacey and directed by David Fincher. Producers expect to use 2,000 extras during 150 days of shooting for the 13-episode first season.

The scale and length of the production, along with the $100 million Netflix committed to the first two seasons, has local actors excited. Maryland's film industry endured a fallow period after "The Wire"ceased production in 2007, but new tax credits have spurred a renaissance, with "House of Cards" following the HBO productions "Game Change" and "VEEP."

"Oh yeah, actors are buzzing about it," Walker said. "Since 'The Wire' left town, people have been looking for the next long-term job that they might be able to put on a resume."

If the Screen Actors Guild members showed up at Stevenson with practical hopes, many others just wanted to check out a real, live casting call.

"I know Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright are involved, so what could it hurt?" said Simeona-Stewart. "I'm always encouraging my students to try things they've never done."

Others approached the day with a sense of humor.

"I'm a senior, so I'm just looking for any kind of job," said Edward Sovago-Royal, a student filmmaker at Stevenson.

"I'm doing this because I love the limelight," said his classmate, Mitch Monin, who joked that Fincher might spot him and decide, "That's a beautiful man over there."

The newbies were surprised at the cattle-call feel of the whole enterprise. "It's just herd 'em in, take out the branding iron and stamp 'Extra,'" Sovago-Royal observed. Then he mooed.

childs.walker@baltsun.com

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