By: Sherry Williams Kidd | Twitter: @DinwiddieMonitr
Posted: August 5, 2019 | 1:45 p.m.
Filming partially in Petersburg, movie to showcase life of Harriet Tubman
DINWIDDIE – The Commonwealth and nation are abuzz after a trailer of the locally produced film “Harriet” was shown last week, garnering attention across social media from those excited to see the story of Harriet Tubman come to the big screen this fall. Among those who will be on screen for the film starring the likes of Cynthia Erivo and Leslie Odom, Jr. is a young Dinwiddie boy who served as a background actor in the production and can be seen in the film’s first trailer.
Nine-year-old Roger Franzyshen is among a group of people seen walking through the first scenes of the “Harriet” trailer released last week, playing the role of a “pedestrian child” and earning some time in the spotlight as the trailer has been shared hundreds of times on social media and viewed over four million times on Focus Features’ official YouTube channel, the production company behind the highly anticipated film.
“Harriet” follows the life of Harriet Tubman and her escape from slavery through the dangerous missions she led to liberate hundreds of slaves through the Underground Railroad. The story of this heroic abolitionist is like no other as the danger, the harrowing risks, and the absolute courage and resolve of this American hero will have audience members sitting on the edge of their seats.
In what has become a recurring theme for Petersburg and the Tri-Cities, production trucks, lighting rigs, and actors adorned in period-accurate clothing took over Old Towne Petersburg during the film’s production in 2018, with many scenes set in front of the historic farmer’s market building and the Petersburg Area Art League next door along Old Street. Crews also filmed on nearby Bank Street at the Siege Museum, while also utilizing the interiors of some nearby homes and other locations, such as the Berkeley Plantation in Charles City County.
Young Roger’s journey to being part of the “Harriet” cast began in September of last year when his parents Andrew and Elizabeth Franzyshen took him to a background actor casting call for the movie at the Siege Museum in Downtown Petersburg. After completing the required paperwork and going through the proper procedures, they received a call back that their son had been selected to be a background actor in the movie, something that left them overjoyed. Weeks later, Roger was fitted for a costume and, in November, the Franzyshen’s let Roger miss a day of school so he could be in Petersburg to film that day.
“When we went to the casting call, there were hundreds of people in line with us,” Andrew Franzyshen recounted. “Roger must have had something they were looking for. Who knows, maybe this experience will lead to other opportunities.”
Roger Franzyshen is seen running in the marketplace as leading actress Cynthia Erivo, who is portraying Harriet Tubman in the biopic, walks in the background. (Focus Features)
In a scene filmed in Old Town Petersburg, which was made to appear as a Philadelphia market, Roger carries a wooden sword while chasing another boy as they both gleefully run through the market as Erivro, who’s portraying Tubman in the film, walks through the streets just behind them. Roger’s mom said she’s watched trailer repeatedly, likely adding to the millions of views it already has online after premiering just last week.
“I watch the movie trailer over and over,” Elizabeth Franzyshen shared. “It makes me smile to see my son run across the screen. Our family loves history, and it thrills me that Roger got to be a part of this production.”
When not making appearances in hotly anticipated films, Roger is a straight-A student at Dinwiddie’s Midway Elementary School who also takes part in a theatre class named “Theatre with Children for Children,” hosted by the Petersburg Area Art League with Una Harrison serving as the instructor.
“It was a great experience working on a movie set,” Roger shared last week.
“Harriet” will be in theaters nationwide on November 1. The trailer can be seen on Focus Features’ YouTube channel and their website, http://focusfeatures.com.