Well, with just a quick declaration I was made privy to the results of a make-believe paternity test. Just like that I'd become "insta-Dad" with the added perk of completely avoiding the teething/diapers/"terrible twos" phase.
I took no time in introducing myself to my long-lost daughter and we seemed to hit it off right away. Not long after the set decorator/props dude came by and tagged her with a fake patient wristband with the generic name "M. Jones" printed on it. We speculated at great length as to what the "M" stood for but eventually settled on the whitebread but non-threatening moniker of "Mary". Or "Matilda".
Well, I'm gonna go with "Mary" 'cuz it's less to type.
Mary was well cast in her role as a patient in a kid's hospital ward. She was bean-pole slim and pale to the point of translucency. Her fair medium-length hair was tucked up inside a quilted cap, completing the illusion perfectly, despite the fact that occasionally she'd have to pause and jam it back into place.
At one point in time later in the shoot, she'd obviously become tired of cramming her loose hair back under the cap, so she tied it up in a stubby pony tail and squished the hat back on. It pooked out the back of the cap so dramatically I thought surely someone would notice it and call us on it. I figured if anyone challenged us we could probably convince them that it was actually the reason she was there in the first place.
"Yeah, it's not a pony tail under there. Makeup gave her a fake tumor. Or a goiter. They didn't say which. It could be both. A 'tuter' maybe? Or a 'goimer'?"
People who say "you shouldn't work in movies with kids or animals" are dickheads. They're obviously just people that can't talk to or relate to kids at all. Now I'm not saying there can't be some difficult child actors but I could see it in practice all around the set: some paired-up fictional kids and parents were barely talking to one another between takes.
I just couldn't do that. Partnered up with my diminutive co-star I thought it as my responsibility to try and develop a rapport and keep her amused. I bent my completely puerile sense of "humor" to the task and endeavored to keep her in stitches.
Hah, hah! "Stitches"! Geddit!?! A little medical ward humor for ya there, folks. I tell ya, every one's a Maserati!
I've been told that my own brand of funny is especially appealing to kids. It's probably because it's 33% "pop cultury", 33% arrested mental development gross-outs, and 33% physical comedy (with the last 1% composed of "What the f#@$ are you talking about?"). Still there were times when I'm sure Mary was thinking:
"Eeeeeesh. What a dork!"
That's right folks, my sense of humor is not sophisticated enough for a ten year old.
Actually that's not true. Mary was more than game for an exchange of the goofy. Her appearance certainly belied her boundless energy. She was bright, whip-smart and I could barely keep up with her half the time.
She was also quite the little chiseler. When she saw another kid relegated to a wheelchair she was instantly in "self-agent mode" and lobbying for a prop of some sort. The wheelchair idea was immediately nixed but at two different times she had the prop guy attach her to an IV drip and when that didn't work out she was given a heart-shaped balloon to tote around.
She had the dude jumping though hoops like a diminutive diva. It was awesome. At some point I thought she was going to make a crazy J-Lo type rider request for an apricot floating in petrol in a man's fedora hat just to see if they'd do it for her.
Just prior to our first scene a sound guy (who bore an uncanny resemblance to actor Ned Wertimer http://www.phigam.org/NetCommunity/Page.aspx?pid=603) came by to get us all to do a walking test. Anyone deemed too "scuffy" or "clonky" instantly got the bottom of their shoes re-soled with padding so as not to be so noisy over the on-set audio captures. After taking a quick foot pad around the hall I was given the all-clear and asked to sit down again.
Mercifully our first scene was pretty simple. We were asked to keep our places in the same squishy padded bench at the end of a long hallway. The other background extras walked (or wheeled) by as the principal actors played out at scene at the opposite end of the corridor.
I was given the direction to mime a consoling conversation, pat Mary's back in a comforting gesture and turn together to look out the big picture window. The view of Halifax harbor was spectacular and there was no shortage of interesting things to play off of.
We ran the scene several times and nailed it after a few tries. Between takes I continued to get acquainted with my young co-star and soon found myself envious of her experience. When she told me that she'd already shared screen time in a Cisco Teleconferencing commercial with Ellen Page I was suitably impressed.
It got me thinking about how awesome it would have been to grow up in a place like Halifax where opportunities existed like this for a ten-year-old kid. To appear in a movie or a commercial at such a young age would be so amazing. Some parents kinda "volun-tell" kids to do stuff like this but I would definitely have been one of those kids who would have wanted to get involved with it.
And with that, our "winter scene" was done. We were dispatched down to the holding area to switch into our second winter outfit, which was a tremendous relief for me. I felt fortunate that I was sitting down in the last scene and my crappy, baggy sweater couldn't be seen hanging off of me like Mary Kate and/or Ashley Olsen.
Now in blue dress shirt, dark gray pants, blazer and dress shoes I felt infinitely more comfortable. The A.D. must have liked the look of Mary and I (or recognized me from the "Hobo" shoot) but he came to us again with another cool assignment.
He took us back upstairs where we were asked to do a corridor walk-by featuring all three of the film's principal actors.
They included Sarah Paulson, who you may recognize from the pre-nuts Mel Gibson's vehicle What Women Want as Nick's secretary Annie:
Or my own personal fave, as Reaver victim Dr. Caron in the Joss Whedon Firefly flick Serenity:
Um, we won't mention The Spirit, but she's also been seen in some other tremendous television roles such as Law & Order, Deadwood, Nip/Tuck, Desperate Housewives and the quirky American Gothic.
As for John Corbett, how you recognize him seems to be entirely based on age and gender. Women in their thirties seem to remember him mostly as Aiden Shaw from Sex in the City:
Or as Ian Miller in My Big Fat Greek Wedding:
But not me, dude. For me he'll always be the shadowy existential Cicelian D.J.Chris Stevens from Northern Exposure:
Chris was f#@$%^& hardcore. In his wild days he did more drugs than Keith Richards and stole more cars than Nic Cage but now he lives a simple, repentant life in his Airstream and reads Walt Whitman. He's badass, yo. Recognize an' respec'.
You'd also get bonus crusty points if you remember him as Karon Arnold's hippy boyfriend in T.V.'s The Wonder Years:
Hah-hah! Betcha forgot about that one, huh? You can thank me for the jarring flashback later, folks!
I just got a chuckle when Mary looked up to me and said: "My mom knows all three of those people!" I just thought it was awesome that this young soul had no friggin' clue who they were and I was standing there barely able to contain myself knowing I was about to shoot a scene with them!
Well, there we both were, at the end of a long corridor being asked to walk through a scene with these three industry veterans. Sam Elliott's director's chair was now just a few feet away from us and I could actually smell it. It smelled like the Marlboro Man was somewhere on set, like a combination of Old Spice, bullet residue, saddle leather and cigarette smoke. Somehow I wasn't surprised.
The A.D. came by and gave us our direction. We were asked to hug the left hand side of the corridor, drift slowly through the shot mid-way down the hall, move around John Corbett and head up the steps just behind him.
The scene itself looked pretty pivotal. A clearly distressed Sarah and John are talking about the dire condition of their child while Sam Elliott's character is doing his best to comfort them. The dialogue was something like this:
Sarah: (sounding anguished) "She's really bad."
John: "The drugs are really beating her up. They're thinking of sending us home."
Sam: *Mumble, mumble* "Something badass." *Mumble, mumble* "Something awesome". *Mumble, mumble.* "Something inspirational."
Sarah looked as if she'd worked herself into a terrible and bleak mental state. It looked as if she'd been crying for days and hadn't slept in a weeks. Part of me wondered if this was achieved through sheer force of will or by method acting. I wonder if she'd told the crew:
"Yeah, look guys, I need to ask you for a favor. Overnight I want you to just randomly scream obscenities outside my trailer door and throw rocks at it. Can you do that for me?"
"Um, okay, Ms. Paulson. How often do you want us to do this?"
"Oh, I dunno. What do you think? Say, thirty to forty times?"
With some of the actors clearly "in the zone" I didn't want to cock it up and get thrown off the set. Mary was goofing around with the balloon somewhat and I was terrified that she'd loose a grip on it and it would sail up into the atrium.
I joked with her saying: "Hey, kiddo. Don't lose that balloon, alright? It cost me thirty bucks!"
She laughed and responded by tying the string around every one of her little digits so it wouldn't float away.
We ran the scene several times, tweaking variations as we went. I thought it would be suitably parental to take Mary's hand as we went up the steps but I didn't want to overstep by boundaries. Color me suprised when on the third take the A.D. asked me to do just that as if he'd read my mind.
Next the balloon was nixed because the director declared it to be "too distracting". The shrewd negotiator that she was, Mary had it replaced within minutes with a Webkinz stuffed horse whom she instantly dubbed "Ney Ney". How sickeningly cute is that?
Problem was, as we were ordered to go back to first positions and sound began to roll the A.D. couldn't get the balloon off Mary's hand since the goofball had tied it to every one of her fingers! I chuckled a bit to myself as the props guy and the A.D. asked for a quick time reprieve to resolve a "balloon-related situation" as the cameramen gathered around chomped at the bit.
Each time we did our part, hit our marks and scooted up the steps. Sometimes it was a bit of a challenge to keep Mary quiet after we'd finished our pass and the cameras kept cranking on the dialogue below. She wanted to keep talking and goofing around so I mimed some silly facial expressions to keep her entertained and then blabbered at her as soon as "CUT!" was yelled.
Can't say I blame the kid since all I wanted to do the whole time was scream out:
"OMG! I JUST WALKED PAST DR. CARON, CHRIS STEVENS AND VIRGIL FRIGGIN' EARP!!!"
Ahem. Sorry 'bout that.
Tomorrow in the concluding segment, the shocks keep coming and I'm amazed by how even a movie set can take on the bitchy qualities of an office environment. One tear...