Alexander Libby simply loves putting on a show. Always has. It doesn’t matter what the show is or what he’s got to do to help get it done.
The Freeport native and Cheverus High School graduate certainly proved his passion for show biz during the filming of the new Tom Hanks/Sandra Bullock film “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close,” opening nationwide on Friday.
As the assistant to director Stephen Daldry (Daldry says Libby was more like a co-producer), Libby’s chores ranged from listening to every available phone message left by people trapped in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, to cutting out hand puppets and teaching Hanks how to use them.
“His job was helping me be organized and organizing the film around me. He had huge responsibilities, from all the research to helping cast actors and keeping actors happy, just moving the whole thing forward,” said Daldry during a phone interview from San Francisco. “The whole organization comes down to our shoulders — mostly Alex’s shoulders.”
“Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” is already garnering serious critical buzz. Based on the novel by Jonathan Safran Foer, it tells the story of an inquisitive 9-year-old boy (newcomer Thomas Horn) who searches New York City for the lock that matches a key left behind by his father (Hanks), who was killed in the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.
One of Libby’s jobs on the film was researching the horrific events of Sept. 11. Part of that research included listening to every available phone message left behind by people trapped in the World Trade Center.
“It’s really tough listening to those. You hear the first one and you’re floored, then your realize there are a couple hundred more. You have to try to desensitize yourself,” said Libby, 28.
He also had to watch every available video of people jumping or falling out of the towers.
“A big part of the (film) is the kid’s imagination. He imagines his father falling through the sky. We tried to do it tastefully,” said Libby. “You really have to be as versed in the reality as possible. The only reason to do this movie is if you can give something back to the families.”
As Daldry’s assistant, Libby was involved in major decisions, including casting. He said Hanks and Bullock, who plays the father’s widow, were fairly easy picks, based on their acting skill and their reputations as being easy to work with.
But finding a 9- or 10-year-old child to play the central character was tougher. Casting people and others involved with the film probably looked at 3,000 boys, all across the country.
They sought out Horn for an audition only after producer Scott Rudin saw him compete, and win big, on a kid’s version of “Jeopardy!” But Horn had never acted. It came down to him and one other boy, with Horn eventually winning the part.
“After we saw Thomas, Stephen went out for a smoke — he smokes a lot — and I went with him,” Libby said. “He looked at me and said, ‘You think we’ve found him, don’t you?’ I said, ‘I know we’ve found him.’ “
During filming, mostly in New York, Libby was impressed with Hanks’ professionalism and “team player” attitude. In one case in particular, Libby remembers Daldry giving Hanks a new six-page monologue to memorize the night before the scene was to be shot.
“Some celebrities would say, ‘I’m not doing this, come back to me when I have the proper amount of time to learn it,’ ” said Libby. “But he (Hanks) never said anything. He just learned it and was ready the next day.”
For another scene, Daldry wanted Hanks’ character to tell a story using paper shadow puppets, and he gave the puppet-show development chore to Libby. So Libby found himself under a table with Hanks, showing the Oscar winner how to bring them to life.
Libby grew up in Freeport and was involved in theater early on. He started his own theater, the Carriage House Theater, as a teenager in a commercial building located next door to his father’s business, Houses and Barns by John Libby. He got a job around the same time at Maine State Music Theatre in Brunswick.
Then he went off to Messiah College in Grantham, Pa., to study theater. While there, he spent his off time “knocking on doors” of theater production offices in New York. During his sophomore year of college, he got a job as a production assistant for Steven Beckler, production supervisor for a version of “La Cage Aux Folles.”
From there, Libby kept getting other production and stage manager-type jobs, and never finished college. He worked on a touring production of “Wicked” and on several Broadway shows, including “The Woman in White” and “High Fidelity.” As a stage manager, he primarily oversaw people and things on stage — what and who needed to be where.
During his work on “The Woman in White,” Libby met producer Bob Boyett and started working periodically in his office. One day, Boyett had a fateful conversation with his friend Daldry, who is primarily a theater director despite having directed major films including “Billy Elliot,” “The Hours” and “The Reader.”
Daldry told him that with all his projects and the Tony Awards coming up, he really needed someone to help him be more organized, to be his assistant. Without hesitation, Boyett said Libby would be the right man for the job.
After working with Libby for more than two years and seeing his range of skills on “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close,” Daldry agrees.
“What makes him so good at it? He has impeccable taste, an unbelievably strong work ethic, and enough charm to get through what can be some very difficult situations,” said Daldry.
As for dreams of becoming a director himself, Libby says he doesn’t really have them. He is working on some software that sprang out of an idea he got during the filming of “Extremely Loud” that would basically take a script and create a visual representation of it for the cast and crew to follow. Libby says he’s lining up financing and hopes to market it.
But for now, he’s getting ready to go to London to work on the Summer Olympics with Daldry, who will produce. After that, he’ll go back to his life in New York and continue to look for ways to put on a show.
“I just like making shows,” he said, “whatever I can do, however I fit in.”
Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at: