Monday, December 23, 2013

Having a riot of a time in 1900 on The Knick

The Knick
Snuggled up in my car during the wee hours on a cold Autumn day a few months ago, I was nodding off after our "picture cars" were not going to be used in the Person Of Interest scene.  But my cell phone was a bit more active in the texting mode and I awoke to the admonitions of my casting agency that I would be late to my next gig... which was starting "an hour ago"!!!  The agent on the other side of the phone was accusing me of "double booking".  So I argued about it.

"I didn't double book..."
   "Yes you did... you double booked and you won't be able to get to your next gig on time!!!"
"What do you mean I double booked... What's 'double booked' mean anyway?"

And she continued to explain the definition of the "bad deed" in an exasperated tone as I listened "innocently" to the new concept.  
But there was nothing I could do about it.  Apparently I had booked POI thinking it was going to be wrapped after midnight and followed it by booking another show for the following day.  Unfortunately POI went very late with the single scene of the night (an ambulance careening around a corner at high speed). We were wrapped after the sun came up (and never paid for the use of our cars).  I was too tired to argue for the bump in pay and wanted desperately to get to my next gig, which was only a couple of miles away in Bedford Corners.
Resting between riots on The Knick
As I got close to the set area, I was taken aback by the seemingly white powder on the brownstoned streets, lined with hundreds of extras dressed up in 1900 period wardrobe. I was an hour late and worried that I would be sent home and miss out on this fantastic opportunity.  As I went over to the check in table, they already knew my name (thanks to my texting agent) and began to rib me about the late arrival.  But luckily there were others who were scheduled for this gig and were also stuck on the POI set with me.  I actually got special attention to get me through wardrobe, make-up (ruddy complexion with dirty hands) and hair (goopy slicked) as quickly as possible -just so I could stand on the line for another 30 minutes with the other extras in the frigid morning air!  But I didn't mind -I made it to The Knick.
Our excellent director
When I learned that Steven Soderbergh was the director and Clive Owen was the principal actor, I nearly added some more ruddy-brown tones to my woolen britches! How lucky can you get?  
Clive  was always "in character"
I was eventually placed on one side of the street and given direction to run toward what was now the set of a courtyard to the old Knickerbocker Hospital in Harlem, NY (except that we were in Bedford Corners of Brooklyn).  The set designers did an amazing job.  When you walked on the streets covered in white gravel, you were transported back to the year 1900.  Complete with horses and carriages, turn-of-the -century signage, remodeled store fronts, complete with fruit, vegetable and newspaper stands.  It felt absolutely real... especially to me, who loves to read about specific characters in the early 1900's. I had always dreamed about living in that time (similar to the Woody Allen movie, Midnight in Paris).  I had done gigs of the 1890's period in the upcoming Winter's Tale, as well as several episodes in the 1920's of Boardwalk Empire.  But this, THIS multi-block retro-conversion of Bedford Corners felt real (much like the holodeck concept in the Star Trek series). No matter where you walked or looked... it was 1900.
Morning sunrise on the set
I was part of a core group of extras designated as "rioters".  Later on I learned that this hospital was the first in NYC to care for black people.  They were also implementing new medical techniques to contend with the pre-antibiotic period of medical history.  However, there were political instabilities and one of these were in the form or "race riots".  In the next two days, our core group would be caught up in one of these riots and we would be flailing all sorts of threatening gestures along with pick axes, bats and bricks.  Stunt men were used to beat people up and break through the hospital's front door -all with way-too-real exuberance. We rioters would follow in their footsteps. The stunt coordinator would hold safety-meetings and reassert with strict seriousness the importance of the "safety first" mantra. 

Subsequent locations during my nine days on this project took me to Chinatown, Williamsburg and the Lower East Side.  LES was exciting and had the most paparazzi (I love those guys because I always find myself on their websites).
One of the best paparazzi shots I've ever had!

On the second day of the LES shoot I was paired with an older rioter and told to carry a bail of hay while walking in between a speeding horse-drawn ambulance on one side and Soderbergh's camera dolly speeding down on the other side.  Three takes later we were still alive! Soderbergh is an interesting director (for the most part he's quiet and lets his trusted guys, Greg and Jody do the verbalisms...he's also a great cameraman (he does all the camera work)... as well as an editor.  And from what I understand, he honors his parents by using their names for the credits on being the cameraman and editor.

But that 2nd day on LES was cloudy and rainy.  I developed a bad cold and a nasty cough that kept me from doing the following day's Fulton Fish Market scene. I should have crawled out of bed to get there!!!