Wanted: anti-Christ, five. Must have angelic looks, demonic presence and sinister smile
By Colin Freeman
Is your little boy the five-year-old from hell with the looks of an angel but a dark presence behind that cherubic face? If so, he could be heading for a starring Hollywood role because, nearly 30 years after he terrorised filmgoers as the son of Satan, the hunt is on for a child to play Damien in a remake of The Omen.
Twentieth Century Fox is looking for a boy to step into the shoes of the world's scariest child for a new version to be released on June 6, 2006 - the date's numerals coinciding with the "666" birthmark on Damien's scalp.
The new version of the horror classic, which is being shot with a $40 million (£22.7 million) budget, is expected to incorporate the post-September 11 war on terror as the background to its apocalyptic struggle between good and evil.
But otherwise it will remain almost entirely faithful to the original: set mainly in London, and with Damien as the raven-haired, pale-skinned child with the sinister, enigmatic smile.
To find a boy with the required blend of both angelic looks and demonic screen presence, the Irish-born director John Moore has enlisted the leading British child casting agent Susie Figgis, who waded through tens of thousands of applications for the lead roles in the first Harry Potter film and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
"The casting process for a new Damien will be under way soon," Mr Moore told The Sunday Telegraph. "The role is wide open to all young mothers who want their sons as the sons of Satan."
With its sinister references to the Bible's Book of Revelations, and a latter-day attempt by Satan to seize power on Earth, the original film became a huge box office hit when first released in 1976.
It featured Gregory Peck as Robert Thorne, a US Ambassador to London who unwittingly adopts Damien as his son after his wife, played by Lee Remick, gives birth to a stillborn child.
Negotiations are already under way to find a couple to play the adult roles, with the American actors Peter Sarsgaard and Julia Stiles among those whom Mr Moore has talked to. However, the film's sheer notoriety - not to mention the rumoured curse that befell its cast members - means that the search for a child actor whose parents will let him play Damien may be a little harder. Nor is the role likely to require the typical qualities of a young actor - happy and beaming children need not apply.
"It is not exactly a run-of-the-mill role," said Jackie Patten, head of casting at the London-based Young Uns Agency, which regularly supplies child actors for film roles including occasional horror roles.
"They won't want a gregarious child of the sort who might play Harry Potter - they will be looking for someone a bit more introverted.
"They will probably have to cast their net completely wide and even have open auditions with non-actors, possibly by advertising nationally. It is very much a look and a feel that has to be absolutely right."
Whoever lands the role will be involved in recreating cinema scenes judged to be among the most disturbing in horror film history.
Most notorious is one in which Damien's nanny, played in the original movie by the British actress Billie Whitelaw, hangs herself from a window in front of a children's party at Damien's home.
To protect against childhood nightmares, the actor chosen to play Damien will probably be kept partly in the dark as to exactly what role he is playing, said Ms Patten, and not be allowed to see the finished work until he is legally old enough.
Exactly how the film will be updated to reflect contemporary political developments is still under wraps. Given that Damien's adopted father plays the part of US ambassador to London, there is scope to feature events such as the recent terrorist bombings in London and the war in Iraq.
However, while the film's script has religious themes, the remake seems unlikely to refer explicitly to al-Qaeda or tensions between the Christian and Muslim worlds.
"I don't think we will feature any terrorist activities, but do I think there is an excellent opportunity to remark upon the notion of evil in the world today, which everybody is certainly talking about," said Mr Moore, whose previous credits include Behind Enemy Lines and Flight of the Phoenix.
Cast and crew alike will also have to contend with the "Curse of the Omen", a string of macabre coincidences that are said to have wreaked havoc during and after the making of the original film.
A plane for scriptwriter David Seltzer was struck by lightning, while Richard Donner's hotel was bombed by the IRA. On the first day of shooting, the principal members of the crew were involved in a head-on car crash.
Parents with children keen to audition can perhaps take comfort from the fact that the curse - like the dark forces in the film itself - never seems to have touched the film's central character. Harvey Stephens, 34, the British actor who played the part of Damien in the first version, is now a happily married property developer living in Kent.