Thursday, October 09, 2003

Why I Hate Harrison Ford.

There are two important things to know up-front.

First of all, I don't think I look like him. Ask me to pick an actor I most resemble, I don't think Harrison Ford makes the list.

Second of all, okay, I don't really hate him. But maybe at the end of the story you'll understand why the mention of his name gets my blood pressure up.

Cast your minds back. It's a couple of years ago, a year and a half, maybe. A call comes out of the blue from my agent saying that Harrison Ford is coming to our fair town to do a movie. The local casting agent has called to say that she thinks I would be great as a stand-in for Harrison Ford during the shoot. This would be good work. A whole lot of days on a movie shoot making some pretty good money. PLUS, (added bonus) you'd be standing in for Harrison Ford whom you'd undoubtedly meet. Han Solo himself. The venerable Indiana Jones. Holy crow.

In case you don't know, a stand-in is a schmoe who stands around on the actor's mark while the set crew spends hours lighting, moving cameras and generally setting up the shot. Only when everything is good and ready do actors (sometimes called "the Real-ies") finally show up and ... ACTION! So the cool thing about being a stand-in is essentially they pay you for doing nothing but standing around and keeping your mouth shut. The other cool thing about being a stand-in is that you've crossed over, just barely, some mystical and barely perceived dividing line that separates cast and crew. You, the stand-in, are part of the crew. Not cast. Especially not the lowly herd of extras. The crew.

At the time, my wife was still working shifts, going to work around lunch time, coming back home late in the evenings. Our son was two-and-a-half years old and in daycare. The Harrison Ford shoot was going to last three or four weeks. It was going to be impossible to get all of that time covered, but I'd been able to arrange things with work and my wife and my mom so that I'd be free to do a whole week on the shoot, which, my agent tells me, will be starting on a Thursday, some weeks hence.

So the time, she passes, and suddenly it's some weeks later and I haven't heard anything else about the film shoot. It's a Wednesday, the day before the stand-in work was supposed to start, and I'm doing this office curling tournament; I've been away from my cubicle all morning. At the lunch break I check my messages and whoops! there's a call from my agent. If I still want to be Harrison Ford's stand-in, be at such-and-such a place at noon.

Noon, she said. And the time is now 1:30pm. AAAAUGGHHH!!!!!!!!

Still in my curling gear, I scramble to get to "base camp" which fortunately is only a couple blocks away. I arrive huffing and enter a horde, a mob, a throng of people. There are Russian soldiers and sailors, shipyard workers, officers, women in peasant clothes, about a hundred or so extras dressed in costume, sitting, standing and wandering about, all of them ready and waiting to be bussed down to the set. Some of them are speaking Russian, showing off. Like they're going to get a speaking roll or something.

I push my way through the Russian crowds until I find a PA (production assistant) and ask, gee, if I'm not too late, who do I see about the stand-in role? The lady says, nope, not too late. There have been delays. She points me to a room. Go there.

In the room are about 10 other guys hoping to be Harrison Ford's stand-in.

Well, wait a minute now, I thought this was my job by acclamation.

Apparently not. And there's me, in curling pants.

After waiting an hour or so, the busses finally arrive and extras and stand-in wannabes alike are "travelled" down to the set. The stand-ins mill together in an uncomfortable gaggle, the competition among us is intense and silent and barely observable.

In a while, an assistant director (AD) comes around, gives us all the once over and says, "You and you." Wouldn't you know it, one of the "you"s was me. Turns out I'm not to be Harrison Ford after all; I'm to be Liam Neeson. The AD beckons us onward and we're drawn deeper into the set. The Russian sub, K-19 itself, looms large above with its shiny metal bow. A technical consultant is running military drill moves with some background folk, teaching them to salute like proper Russian sailors. The director, Katheryn Bigelow, comes over briefly to give final approval. She asks if we have any experience. I say background and acting, but not as a stand-in. She regards me for a second and then nods consent. We'll start blocking in about 30 minutes, she says, then turns and heads off.

Well, wait a minute. We start today? Not tomorrow? As in TOMORROW: the day I have all the arrangements in place? As opposed to TODAY, where there's nothing? TODAY where my wife is already at work and my son already in daycare and there's no one to pick him up if it's not me? That TODAY?

Today, says the AD.

"I can't do it," I said. The AD looks at me. "I need a driver to take me back to base camp please," I said.

On the way out (outwardly calm but jets of red-hot steam shooting into the brain-side of my eardrums ... I can't begin to desribe how pissed I was) the radio crackles and somebody says, "Harrison Ford just arrived if anyone cares" and I sure didn't. Mere minutes later radio conversations start to buzz about a satellite dish that was supposed to be on Harrison Ford's trailer but wasn't. Minutes after that: "Can we get a time estimate on when that satellite dish is going to get here?"

It was a lonely ride back to base camp, me and the driver. Me thinking all the way, "Somebody only has to tell me the right date. That's all. Just tell me the right date."

Were it just this one incident, the residual anguish and exaggerated hurt feelings wouldn't be so bad. For you see, as with Peter and Jesus, I denied Mr. Ford three times.

A few weeks later the casting agent calls me late in the afternoon to tell me the regular stand-in was unavailable tomorrow and could I stand-in for Harrison Ford (these calls always come in at the last minute). I said, Sure!

So I went out that evening and commented (read: boasted) to all my friends that I was going to be Harrison Ford's stand-in. It was going to be great. "Can you get a picture? Can you get an autograph?" Ha ha, we'll see (meaning: No).

I get home and there's a phone message. It's the casting agent again. The regular stand-in is available afterall. I would not be required. Thanks anyway.

I am Joe's cautionary tale. Pride before the fall.

More pages blow from the calendar. The sun inches ever higher in the sky. The temperature warms. Curling season and golfing season overlap. It's a glorious, warm spring day and I'm standing on the golf course out by point where the ocean first meets the harbour. From where I stand, leaning on a golf club, waiting for my shot, I can look out past the mouth of the harbour and watch as they film the Russian submarine supposedly at sea, a Sikorsky helicopter buzzing overhead.

I think of what might have been.

Late at night comes the third call from the casting agent. Am I available tomorrow? I check the calendar. It's a day off for my wife, but I can see that she has written in an appointment for something. I'm not sure what the appointment is for. And since it's night and since it's late (theses calls always, always, always come late) and since my wife is in bed asleep, I go back to the casting agent and tell her, No, I'm sorry, I'm not available. I hang up the phone gently.

Alone in the darkened house, I think a very quiet thought to myself and that thought is, "Strike three".

Turns out my wife's appointment was for a leg-waxing.

Still To Come

  • Leslie Neisen and His Brother Eric
  • Valerie Bertenilli, Sela Ward and Rick Mercer (although not all at the same time).
  • Future Escapades

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