Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Gentlemen prefer Megan Hilty

My wife and I went to see Gentlemen Prefer Blondes at Town Hall in NYC.  It was a limited engagement and since it was Mother's Day... and since we both like the TV show SMASH... well, I got my order in time to catch the next to last show.  Apparently this was quite a feat because my wife's friend, who goes to see just about every Broadway show, was unable to scoop a ticket for herself -and was flabbergasted when we exercised our bragging rights.  That too, is showbiz!  The show was EXCELLENT! Megan Hilty definitely deserves the part of Marilyn!!!

The week after Mother's Day was pretty busy for my backgrounding "career".  I did another stint in Boardwalk Empire, this time as a handcuffed prisoner in NYC's Surrogate Court (which doubled as a Washington D.C. court for BE) behind City Hall.  Steve Buscemi was also handcuffed along with the rest of us for violating the Volstead Act (Prohibition).  He, and everyone else, was fined $5 by Babcock the judge, and released -all to the chagrin of the prosecuting female attorney.

From what I could note during my vantage of him, Steve Buscemi is rather low-key and easy going.  Nothing seemed to ruffle his feathers -in fact he whistled to himself while waiting for the next take and occasionally sat in the chairs in front of me.  He would give us a sideward glance every now and then but no chit-chat was initiated... although at times I kind of felt like he wanted to.  Neither side broke the unspoken barrier that exists between extras and the principal actors:  "Don't speak unless the principal speaks to you first!". Such are the components of loneliness (and, I might add, job-security).

A day later I was back as an extra on the set of Muhammad Ali's Greatest Fight... reluctantly.  Somehow I felt that this wasn't going to be anything like the last time.  After all, they were winding it up, so this must be "filler shots".  Still, the lure of filming it in the NY Public Library (simulating the great hall of the Supreme Court) got to me and I relented. 

The scene was hippies and veterans being removed by cops from the Supreme Court's hallway. So what about the advocates -where do they come in? Could their scene be on the cutting floor of the editing room?

Preparing the entrance hall of the NY Public Library to double for the Supreme Court entrance

Holding call time was for 5:15 PM... we were released at 5:15 AM the followng morning. Me... and a number of us, never being used!  But for some reason I didn't mind it as much as I usually do.  I guess it was because I got to be in close proximity of Christopher Plummer.  He was walking with his handlers on 40th Street when I arrived -and I was very tempted to ask "where the holding area was", but thought better of it when he looked away (probably thinking that a tourist was going to bug him for an autograph).  Later in the evening, he was going up the freight elevator that we all used for getting to our floor (with his handlers again).  I stepped in and he gave me a once-over look.  I had this urge to tell him that I worked with his daughter Amanda in a horror movie... but chickened out.  I'm such a chicken at times!? Maybe if he was alone...???

Then, near midnight, the lights went out in the holding area. Wasn't Ghostbusters filmed here?  And didn't they say that the library was haunted??  Kewl!  Unfortunately, the lights came back on (albeit without an  explanation as to why they went out in the first place).  Hmmmm... if  I remember right, there was also some paranormal activity at the mansion where I was an extra in the filming of Satan's Little Helper with Amanda Plummer.  Hmmm...what's the connection -I wonder?  Are the Plummers haunted -or is it just way too late in the evening for my brain to accept the simple explanation of a circuit breaker gone bad?
So I got home at 7 in the morning and took a well-needed shower... later on we got together with friends and saw an inspiring movie entitled Follow Me. Who needs sleep anyway when showbiz keeps you active and awake?!

Monday, May 07, 2012

Still walking the Boardwalk Empire

No scarf this time!?
The parking logistics got better for us extras... we didn't have to search for any parking -they had a huge lot ready for us with a large parking sign: BE CREW.  One less thing to worry about at 6:00 AM on this Monday morning in Brooklyn!

Makeup, hair and wardrobe were quickly attended to by the army of production assistants and we were made camera ready in a very short time -so that we could concentrate on the most important part of an extra's arrival: BREAKFAST.  This time I went to the juicer and had a healthy mix of apples, beets, ginger, celery and carrots. Great waker-upper!

Soon we were herded out to the lot where we were told to wait while the black curtains were pulled over the enormous blue screen backing up the set.  We entertained ourselves by taking photos of each other before being placed on our marks.

Steve Buscemi and Kelly McDonald were on the set, but I only caught a quick glance of Steve as he was greeting some friends who were visiting him.  They were a middle aged couple dressed in jeans, who were taking photos of us extras while they took in the BE experience. For the most part, Steve was inside a parlor of sorts and only the "fancy-shmancy" dressed extras were used to do "passerby" roles in that scene.

I had an interesting experience -which was most likely an extra's-phantasy.  I decided to go outside after sitting for some time inside the holding house.  I saw a nearby platform with a wooden top and a young lady in period clothing sitting on it.  The sun started to come out and I heaved myself up on the platform also... to warm up.  A short conversation ensued about the number of episodeds we had done on BE.   I mentioned that this was my third stint, to which the young lady under the wide-brimmed hat answered that she had done "twenty or so... episodes"!  Wow... " must be a pretty good extra..." I said, as we were called back to set.  Later at home, when I was checking out the web's photo collection of Kelly McDonald, I noted the striking resemblence to the young lady I had the conversation with.  Hmmmmm.... I honestly don't know for sure if that was her or not!?!  Serves me right for not doing my IMDB-homework before coming to set this morning. (Hmmmm.... "20 or so... episodes".  Last 2 seasons' total was 24, plus 5 this season... equals "20 or so"!!!) DANG! I still can't remember her hat-shaded face clearly enough to say whether it was her or not... I mean... really... what would a principal be doing hanging out with the extras -they usually sequester themselves in their private trailers... STILL, she did relate an interesting story to me.  As I mentioned the incredulous ending of last season where one of the biggest "heart-throbs" (Jimmy Darmody, played by Michael Pitt) was killed off... and I ranted about "How could they do that... he was a major draw to the show?" She told me that she saw Michael Pitt being a "difficult actor" who had arguments with Steve Buscemi and was late to set, and various other tempermental situations with him, and that it was most likely because of that for which they "killed him off". WOW - I hadn't heard that before!  She must have been someone close to the "inside"... so....more Hmmmmm's.

Later on, the rest of us mixed-class extras were called to set.  There were over 100.  A couple of us were put inside an ice cream parlor, where we chatted it up until "Background Action" was called -at which time we exited and walked back and forth on the boardwalk (once in "winter clothes" and once in "spring clothes").  At least we got to sit on the parlor's stools between takes and discuss "giving up meat"!  All in all a fun day at "work" for the "unemployed" -like me.  Last week, I had a pretty good interview for a real-life paying job, but so far no call-backs. Like the inside of this ice-cream parlor, the prospects are pretty dim.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Promoting Muhammad Ali's Greatest Fight

Mockup of Supreme Court chamber in Brooklyn
There are times when you feel that your background role is really a part of something very big, and this was definitely one of those times. HBO is definitely getting better and better by tackling sensitive issues that were part of recent history's major events. Like when the champion boxer Cassius Clay converted to Islam and became Muhammad Ali, a conscientious objector to fighting in the Viet Nam War -the case went all the way to the top in 1971. And here we are, 40 years later, recreating the event -with me as one of the advocates. (Seems like I've been typecast for lawyer types in the past few months i.e. Damages, Blue Bloods -"trials and tribulations" not withstanding through the inadvertent preoccupation with Acting Strange.)

I was cast as one of Ali's advocates

You would never think that a studio existed in the middle of one of Brooklyn's major Jewish orthodox neighborhoods, but there it was, off of Avenue M, looking just like any other building in the old neighborhood. It seems that the sunset TV serial, As The World Turns, was taped here... back in the day. The studio had history and a lot of clunky equipment all over the place -as we soon discovered. As you walked through the fire doors you entered a football field sized hall with high ceilings and lots of hanging chains and struts for setting up just about any kind of set.

Holding area
Half of it was used as our holding area, where the PA's had to stand on chairs to make themselves heard. And the other half was utilized as the movie set for the Supreme Court chamber, where most of the action took place with a star-studded cast. The Supreme Court judges were played by the likes of Ed Bagley Jr., Frank Langella, Christopher Plummer, Barry Levinson, Harris Yulin, Fritz Weaver...(Danny Glover as Justice Thurgood Marshall, recused himself and I didn't get to see him at this shoot). The major lawyers arguing the case were played by Peter McRobbie and Tony winner Chuck Cooper (who bantered generously with us extras in between takes).

Chuck Cooper Peter McRobbie
Chuck even sang a song (acapella) for the entire cast in the "courtroom" while we waited for the director, Stephen Frears, wearing an orange scarf, to set up the camera angles. Now THAT singing performance was an unexpected treat!!!
Stephen Frears
I loved watching the court scene go down with the eloquent voices of Chris Plummer and Frank Langella. Frank was constantly joking around. At one point when the bare-necked preoccupied director tried to tell him something, Frank complained that he didn't know if he should listen to him without his ever-present orange scarf.
Christopher Plummer and Frank Langella
Stephen naturally went to get his scarf before continuing with Frank. An instance of a dialogue change was needed when a document was referred to as " 6 inches...". Somehow it didn't sound gramatically correct and I mentioned it to the guy next to me. It seems that the "judges" felt the same way because after a number of tongue-in-cheek side-comments and retakes, one of them raised his hand and asked the script writer for a correction. The guy next to me and I just looked at each other and nodded in satisfaction as the words "6 inches THICK (with a hand gesture)" was now part of the script's liturgy.

I have to say that this was one of the most professionally run sets I've been on for a long time. Besides the adequate food selections, we were constantly treated with updates of everything that was going on -from every scene description to the reasons for the lighting adjustments. Wardrobe and makeup went smoothly and the voucher sheets were adjusted without any recriminating admonishments of how the I-9 was missing a "1" in the appropriate field. At wrap-up we all shook hands with some of the principals and came away with a sense of... equality. Great crew!