Saturday, July 17, 2010

Me at the Mental

The room is about 8x8 which is to say SMALL. There is the suggestion that this is the good room because there is an air conditioner here and the rest of the facility is HOT. There's a cold fog outside but by afternoon it will be gone - and this is July so the entire rest of the facility is HOT. Our small room is the only one air-conditioned.

The facility is a mental hospital.

In this small room are seven people, six women and me. Five of these women will play residents. One of the five is Michelle with whom I've done a play and played golf, but we hadn't seen each other in years. It's a nice little reunion. The other, a young girl named Cathy) is a nurse and I've just learned from the director, Thom Fitzgerald, I'm supposed to flirt with her while we watch a horror flick. Hallowe'en 2, he tells us. As the day goes by I wonder if maybe he was just fucking with us.

The name of the movie is "Cloudburst". I'd seen lots of background calls for it from Erin Hennessey's Facebook messages as well as a piece in the paper just the day before yesterday which suggested they were almost finished shooting it. I felt a regret over never having got a chance to play from ALL those opportunities, but here I am today! The call sheet says it's day 33 of 34. So I feel very lucky.

Craft arrives. I debate putting a banana in my pocket. The whole flirting thing, you know.

I travel to wardrobe and I'm fitted into a set of industrial green scrubs. Between our little room and the wardrobe cubby, the crew is setting up the shot and I discover that it will take some self discipline today to keep from gawking. The two principle actors in today's scene are the stars of the movie. Both have both won Academy Awards. I've racked my little brain and I cannot ever recall EVER having worked with someone who's won an Oscar. And here I am today (day 33 of 34) and there are two! Olympia Dukakis (Moonstruck) and Brenda Fricker (My Left Foot).

A new addition arrives to our tiny room. Her name is Doreen and she tells Michelle that she's the grandmother of David Carol of Sons of Maxwell who famously has written "United Breaks Guitars". Doreen doesn't want to be here but her grandson David coerced her into being here and I, sitting across from her, appreciate the great irony of her being forced to be here in the rest home. I tell her this and she laughs. I like Doreen and I will spend a lot of the rest of the day making her laugh. She calls me naughty.

Ruth is another in our tiny room and she tells me she's 90 years old. The wardrobe mistress comes by and Ruth balks at having to wear a hairnet that's in the script. I say to her it's because she grills burgers for the group and health regulations would require the hairnet. She believes me utterly and is pleased to have a role to play. Flipping burgers!

I have no shame. I let her believe the lie for longer than I should have. Long enough for the director to have come over and hear it. Whoops.

I reflect on the difference between last time with the provocative French maids and this time with all these lovely old dolls. I think of this but politely say nothing.

There is a very happy vibe on this set.

Given the extremely long days that so many people have to work together putting one of these things together, it's understandable how the mood can get generally surly. But not here. I noted it when I arrived, felt lost (as usual) and carefully asked someone how to get to Extras Holding and the girl I spoke to brightened and said to me, "Oh, you're Ken!" She introduced herself as we got in the elevator. The guy carrying all the sound equipment did likewise.

The sign outside the door to our little room (now populated with four ladies made up to look very geriatric, one nurse and me) says, in fact, "People Holding- now with more cool A.C. than ever before".

Just outside and around the corner from our cooled room, Ms. Fricker runs lines with Ms. Dukakis which is even cooler. Surreptitiously, I watch from another room. I think how neat it is I get to watch this mini-performance for free.

Presently they shoot it for real and following the director's call of "Cut!", I overhear Ms. Dukakis bellowing belligerently about wondering what fucking side of the fucking frame she's supposed to be on. But it's all in jest. Nicole, the nice lady from the elevator and the 2nd a.d. informs me that Ms. Dukakis' character is very gruff and the actress had confessed on an earlier day that she was impressed with how her character swore ALL the FUCKING TIME.

Time began to pile up as it often does. Ennui follows. Doreen confessed a wish to me and then the director that she wished not to be here. The director was ready to let her go, it would be okay if she left, he said (kindly) and I said gently that I hoped she would stay with us. In an example of art imitating life, Doreen and I walked slowly through the hospital, eventually to stand outside on the front steps to get some fresh air, her with her cane and dressed in a nightgown and robe, me in my orderly scrubs.

We talked. She told me a story about her husband who's now dead. "I didn't kill him," she added quickly.

"Because that's the first thing I thought," I said. "You said your husband was dead and I immediately wondered if it was you that killed him."

Doreen laughed, delighted.

For a while, like Noah's ark, they brought ladies to the set two by two, Doreen first with another of the ladies. For the time we'd been waiting, there time in front of the camera was over almost in an instant. Shoot two women in their room, wrap them, shoot two more. Then wrap THEM. After these two scenes, lunch (at 4pm) and the plan was then two shoot the two old men, a mysterious duo who had arrived on set some time ago but on whom we had never laid eyes. I was starting to suspect they might me saving me for last, which in terms of personal revenue was a good thing.

6:46 and the nurse has had a scene, but not me. I've finished the book I was reading (80 Million Eyes), reviewed this here little transcript and threatened to open the second book I brought with me. I arrived at 10am and now the first hint of darkening dusk has crept into the sky.

Ruth is wrapped and she and I (gently) shake hands and say goodbye as she gets set to leave, pushing her walker ahead of her. On the way past, she shares another goodbye with Ms. Dukakis who places her hand over the other woman's and says that it was a pleasure working with her. Olympia says. With an honest smile. It's been a long day and one of the wardrobe gals is massaging a knot from Ms. Dukakis's shoulder. She makes appreciative noises. Later, she's finished a take and is sitting talking to members of the crew about how she used to do a jigsaw puzzle every summer and apologising for having been too tires to come out with them last night. I stand eavesdropping behind her and remembering what I wrote years ago about Tom Selleck and how remarkable was his voice that first preceded him into the room. Olympia Dukakis has the same remarkableness to her voice, at once authoritative yet friendly, vibrant yet weary. That weary, New England accent an aural trademark. She's wonderful just to listen to and I wonder how much is it - that quality and distinctiveness of voice - that makes an actor something beyond regular, that makes an actor great. It not something that's put on for the cameras, I realize, standing behind her, listening to her.

It's just her voice.

My son called at 8:30. I only note this because at 9:00 we were wrapped and on the way home. In that in-between time Cathy and I did one rehearsals and two takes of the two of us coming around the corner, flirting and then me walking off back where I came from around the corner and out of frame. Sitting there looking up at me after every take was a 78 year old lady in a pink bed-robe - Olympia Dukakis.

Looking me right in the eyes with a little smile.

You might think that I would have felt intimidated, but no.

Only inadequate.

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