Spielberg discovered Disney's young Han Solo at a bat mitzvah

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Young Han Solo Movie Casts Lead

When actor Alden Ehrenreich was emerging as a finalist in the hunt for Han Solo this year, the 26-year-old sent an email to his close friends. He asked them to change their email addresses, especially if their handles included their names, because what he potentially was doing would bring them undue scrutiny.

That proved a prophetic move after Lucasfilm and Disney indeed settled on Ehrenreich (CAA, Brillstein, Felker Toczek) to play one of cinema's most iconic characters in their stand-alone Star Wars movie about the roguish space smuggler, set for a May 25, 2018, release.

It was one of the widest casting calls to date, according to sources, beginning in the fall and culminating in more than 2,500 actors meeting in person or putting themselves on tape. Producers narrowed the search during the winter, with the still-untitled film's directors, Phil Lord and Chris Miller, meeting such actors as Miles Teller, Ansel Elgort and Emory Cohen (Saoirse Ronan's love interest in Brooklyn). Ehrenreich was one of three finalists alongside Jack Reynor, best known for his work in Transformers: Age of Extinction, and Taron Egerton, star of Kingsman: The Secret Service and Eddie the Eagle.

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Spielberg discovered Disney's young Han Solo at a bat mitzvah
WESTWOOD, CA - FEBRUARY 01: Actor Alden Ehrenreich arrives at the premiere of Universal Pictures' 'Hail, Caesar!' at Regency Village Theatre on February 1, 2016 in Westwood, California. (Photo by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic)
UNSPECIFIED - AUGUST 11: Medium shot of Jared Padalecki as Sam, Jensen Ackles as Dean, Gina Holden as Haley and Alden Ehrenreich as Ben. (Photo by Michael Courtney/Warner Bros./Getty Images)
CANNES, FRANCE - MAY 13: Actress Maribel Verdu, writer/director Francis Ford Coppola and actor Alden Ehrenreich attend the Tetro Photocall at the Palais des Festivals during the 62nd Annual Cannes Film Festival on May 13, 2009 in Cannes, France. (Photo by John Shearer/WireImage)
NEW YORK - JUNE 06: Actor Alden Ehrenreich visits the Apple Store in Soho on June 6, 2009 in New York City. (Photo by Will Ragozzino/Getty Images)
NEW YORK - JUNE 06: Actor Alden Ehrenreich visits the Apple Store in Soho on June 6, 2009 in New York City. (Photo by Gary Gershoff/WireImage)
LOS ANGELES, CALIF. - FEB. 2, 2013. Alice Englert and Alden Ehrenreich star in the teen supernatural romance 'Beautiful Creatures.' The film, based on a bestselling novel, is set for release this month. The young actors sat for a portrait with the Los Angeles Times at the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills. (Photo by Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
MIAMI, FL - NOVEMBER 17: Alden Ehrenreich attends Warner Bros. 'Beautiful Creatures' Authors And Cast At Miami Book Fair on November 17, 2012 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Aaron Davidson/WireImage)
WESTWOOD, CA - FEBRUARY 01: Alden Ehrenreich arrives at the Premiere Of Universal Pictures' 'Hail, Caesar!' at Regency Village Theatre on February 1, 2016 in Westwood, California. (Photo by Steve Granitz/WireImage)
Actor Alden Ehrenreich arrives for the Los Angeles premiere of Warner Bros. Pictures' 'Beautiful Creatures' at TCL Chinese Theatre on February 6, 2013 in Hollywood, California.AFP PHOTO/JOE KLAMAR (Photo credit should read JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images)
WESTWOOD, CA - FEBRUARY 01: Actor Alden Ehrenreich attends Universal Pictures' 'Hail, Caesar!' premiere at Regency Village Theatre on February 1, 2016 in Westwood, California. (Photo by Todd Williamson/Getty Images)
(L to R) British actress Tilda Swinton, US actor George Clooney, US actor Alden Ehrenreich, US actor Josh Brolin and US actor Channing Tatum pose during the photo call for the film 'Hail, Caesar!' screened as opening film of the 66th Berlinale Film Festival in Berlin on February 11, 2016. The 66th Berlin film festival starts on February 11, 2016 with a spotlight on Europe's refugee crisis. / AFP / TOBIAS SCHWARZ (Photo credit should read TOBIAS SCHWARZ/AFP/Getty Images)
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Read More Alden Ehrenreich: Meet the New Han Solo

Ehrenreich had to go in for multiple tests, but he had a couple of factors in his favor, not including propulsive momentum from his buzzy breakthrough in Joel and Ethan Coen's Hail, Caesar!, which had the impeccable timing of being released in the middle of the search.

The Los Angeles native had the fortune of having been discovered at age 14 by Steven Spielberg in a bat mitzvah video, and his first two movies were for The Godfather filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola. He also worked with Woody Allen in Blue Jasmine and nabbed a key role in Warren Beatty's untitled Howard Hughes movie, which finally will be released this year. (Ehrenreich plays the film's leading man, the assistant to Beatty's Hughes.)

Insiders say Spielberg and Coppola were among those who reached out to producer (and their longtime friend) Kathleen Kennedy to vouch for Ehrenreich. Disney declined comment on the process.

Narrowing the field further was Egerton dropping out, according to insiders. The British actor already has a franchise with Fox's Kingsman series, which he is now shooting, and another potential one with Lionsgate's Robin Hood: Origins, set to shoot this year. Lucasfilm did not want to find itself in third position with its Solo film, a vital franchise starter.

This story first appeared in the May 20 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

RELATED: See Harrison Ford through the years

47 PHOTOS
Harrison Ford through the years
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Spielberg discovered Disney's young Han Solo at a bat mitzvah
WITNESS -1985 HARRISON FORD
WORKING GIRL (1988) HARRISON FORD
THE MOSQUITO COAST - 1986 Saul Zaentz film with Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren
FOR USE WITH FEATURE PACKAGE FOR DEC. 17--US HARRISON FORD--Actor Harrison Ford poses following an interview in New York Nov. 18, 1995. Ford is talking up his latest film, the romantic comedy remake "Sabrina," an update of the 1954 Billy Wilder romp starring Humphrey Bogart, William Holden and Audrey Hepburn. Ford follows in Bogey's footsteps, playing a millionaire businessman smitten by the chauffeur's daughter, with Julia Ormond tackling the Hepburn role. (AP Photo/Wyatt Counts)
THE FUGITIVE - 1993 Warner film with Harrison Ford
Harrison Ford running from a burning car and bullet shots in a scene from the film 'Clear and Present Danger', 1994. (Photo by Paramount Pictures/Getty Images)
A scene from well-known Billy Wilder's Sabrina: out of a luxurious dwelling, where a big, dark car is parked by, well-dressed Harrison Ford, wearing a black suit and a bowler, pulls out the antenna of a pocket radio; the American actor plays Linus Larrabee, a role originally played by unforgettable Humphrey Bogart. USA, 1995. (Photo by Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images)
U.S. movie star Harrison Ford, left, and the German movie producer Wolfgang Petersen, show their "Bambi" statuettes to the photographers after have been awarded with the German counterpart to the "Oscar" in Cologne Saturday night, October 25, 1997. Petersen produced the movie "Air Force One" in which Harrison Ford plays the U.S. President. (AP PHOTO/Fritz Reiss)
American actor Harrison Ford wearing mechanic's coverall smiles while keeping a spanner in his hands, in front of an airplane's reactor, in a scene from the comedy Six Days Seven Nights. Kaua'i (Hawaii), USA, 1998. (Photo by Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images)
When an airplane carrying Dutch Van Den Broeck's (Harrison Ford) wife crashes into the Chesapeake Bay, it marks just the beginning of a mystery that will lead him not only to disturbing information about his spouse, but to an unlikely romance in the Columbia Pictures presentation, 'Random Hearts.' Photo credit: David James Columbia/TriStar.
PASADENA, : US actors Hayley Joel Osment(L) and Harrison Ford(R) congratulate each other backstage after winning awards at the 26th People's Choice Awards in Pasadena, CA, 09 January 2000. Osment's film 'The Sixth Sense' won Favorite Motion Picture and Harrison Ford won an award for Favorite Motion Picture Actor. (ELECTRONIC IMAGE) AFP PHOTO/Lucy NICHOLSON (Photo credit should read LUCY NICHOLSON/AFP/Getty Images)
391827 01: (U.S. Tabs Out) Actor Harrison Ford Flies His Helicopter July 10, 2001 Near Jackson, Wy. Ford Located And Rescued Missing 13-Year-Old Boy Scout Cody Clawson. (Photo By Getty Images)
368218 Norman(Harrison Ford)And Clair Spencer(Michelle Pfeiffer) Try To Learn The Origin Of Mysterious Events That Have Threatened Their Idylic Life In Dream Works Pictures' And Twentieth Century Fox's Thriller 'What Lies Beneath' Directed By Robert Zemeckis. (Photo By Getty Images)
Actor Harrison Ford at The Concert for New York City to benefit the victims of the World Trade Center disaster at Madison Square Garden in New York City. October 20, 2001 (Photo: Scott Gries/ImageDirect)
399817 147: Actor Harrison Ford poses backstage with his award during the 59th Annual Golden Globe Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel January 20, 2002 in Beverly Hills, CA. (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)
Actor Harrison Ford visits Denver and gives some kids an airplane ride from Centennial Airport. Sean Keeney, 8, of Littleton gets his photo taken with Ford after his plane ride. For Bill Husted column. Kathryn Scott Osler, The Denver Post (Photo By Kathryn Scott Osler/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
Harrison Ford and Calista Flockhart at the premiere of 'K-19: The Widowmaker' at the Village Theatre in Westwood, Ca. Monday, July 15, 2002. Photo by Kevin Winter/ImageDirect.
DEAUVILLE, FRANCE - SEPTEMBER 3: Actor Harrison Ford attends the 28th Annual Deauville Film Festival on September 3, 2002 in Deauville, France. (Photo by Stuart Atkins/Getty Images)
NEW YORK - APRIL 29: (U.S. TABS AND HOLLYWOOD REPORTER OUT) Actors Harrison Ford attends City Harvest's 9th Annual Practical Magic Ball Benefit at The Pierre Hotel April 29, 2003 in New York City. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Getty Images)
US actor Harrison Ford poses during a ceremony unveiling his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame 30 May 2003 in Hollywood. One of Hollywood's most popular leading men, Ford appeared in 35 feature films, including the 'Star Wars' and 'Indiana Jones' series. AFP PHOTO/Lee CELANO (Photo credit should read LEE CELANO/AFP/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD - JUNE 09: Director George Lucas and actor Harrison Ford react in the audience during the 33rd AFI Life Achievement Award tribute to George Lucas at the Kodak Theatre on June 9, 2005 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Vince Bucci/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD - JUNE 09: Actor Harrison Ford speaks onstage during the 33rd AFI Life Achievement Award tribute to George Lucas at the Kodak Theatre on June 9, 2005 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Vince Bucci/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 16: Actor Harrison Ford poses backstage during 63rd Annual Golden Globe Awards at the Beverly Hilton on January 16, 2006 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - OCTOBER 6: Actor Harrison Ford attends the 'Jules Verne Adventure Film Festival' on October 6, 2006 at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Mark Mainz/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS - MAY 29: Actor Harrison Ford's Han Solo character from 'Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi' is shown on screen while musicians perform during 'Star Wars: In Concert' at the Orleans Arena May 29, 2010 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The traveling production features a full symphony orchestra and choir playing music from all six of John Williams' Star Wars scores synchronized with footage from the films displayed on a three-story-tall, HD LED screen. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - OCTOBER 18: Actor Harrison Ford onstage at ELLE's 17th Annual Women in Hollywood Tribute at The Four Seasons Hotel on October 18, 2010 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Todd Williamson/Getty Images For Elle Magazine)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 11: Actor Harrison Ford attends the 'Morning Glory' UK premiere at the Empire Leicester Square on January 11, 2011 in London, England. (Photo by Ian Gavan/Getty Images)
SANTA BARBARA, CA - NOVEMBER 19: Actor Harrison Ford (L) and actress Calista Flockhart arrive at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival's 5th Annual Kirk Douglas' Excellence In Film Awards at the The Four Seasons Biltmore on November 19, 2010 in Santa Barbara, California. (Photo by Michael Buckner/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 11: Actors Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig attend the 'Cowboys and Aliens' UK film premiere at the 02 Arena on August 11, 2011 in London, England. (Photo by Ian Gavan/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - APRIL 18: Actor Harrison Ford speaks during a Lionsgate Motion Picture Group presentation to promote the upcoming film 'Ender's Game' at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace during CinemaCon, the official convention of the National Association of Theatre Owners, on April 18, 2013 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO, CA - JULY 18: Actor Harrison Ford speaks onstage at the 'Ender's Game' press conference during Comic-Con International 2013 at San Diego Convention Center on July 18, 2013 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Joe Scarnici/Getty Images for Summit Entertainment)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - NOVEMBER 16: Actors Harrison Ford and Emma Thompson arrive at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Governors Awards at The Ray Dolby Ballroom at Hollywood & Highland Center on November 16, 2013 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)
US actor Harrison Ford and US actress Maria Menounos walk on the beach under an umbrella during the 61st Cannes International Film Festival on May 16, 2008 in Cannes, southern France. The Cannes film festival on May 14, 2008 officially unrolled its red carpet with a star-studded ceremony kicking off the 12-day frenzy of movies, parties and deals. AFP PHOTO / Fred DUFOUR (Photo credit should read FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images)
CANNES, FRANCE - MAY 18: Actor Harrison Ford and partner Calista Flockhart arrives at the Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of The Crystal Skull Premiere at the Palais des Festivals during the 61st International Cannes Film Festival on May 18 , 2008 in Cannes, France. (Photo by Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images)
NEW YORK - MAY 20: (U.S. TABS OUT) Actors Harrison Ford (L) and Shia LeBeouf appear onstage during MTV's Total Request Live at the MTV Times Square Studios May 20, 2008 in New York City. (Photo by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - OCTOBER 21: Actor Harrison Ford attends the 17th annual Hollywood Film Awards at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on October 21, 2013 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - NOVEMBER 16: Harrison Ford arrives at the The Board Of Governors Of The Academy Of Motion Picture Arts And Sciences' Governor Awards at Dolby Theatre on November 16, 2013 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Steve Granitz/WireImage)
MADRID, SPAIN - NOVEMBER 07: Actor Harrison Ford attends 'El Hormiguero' TV Show at Vertice 360 Studio on November 7, 2013 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images)
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HOLLYWOOD, CA - MARCH 02: Actor Harrison Ford (L) and actress Calista Flockhart attend the Oscars held at Hollywood & Highland Center on March 2, 2014 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Ethan Miller/WireImage)
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