Saturday, April 2, 2016

On set: Hand of God

We were standing at the edge of a windy bluff wearing in skimpy clothing, and we nearly froze to death. We were background extras for a memorial scene. That's all we knew. I was assigned to be part of Judge Pernell Harris's family. We practiced our familial grieving stance, as the drone hovered like "Nam. Zoomed in, invaded our space.  

A young woman repeatedly poured ashes over the edge of the cliff. The wind brought it back to us. Ashes in our eyes, in our mouths. Good thing it wasn't a real funeral. Dead man's ashes. Take One,  Take Two....Take Ten... Perhaps it was Portland cement. My eyes burned, the tears were real.

The assistant director, Mario Van Peebles called for a huddle rehearsal, we welcomed group warmth. Mario did an impromptu interstellar poetry rap as an intro to our scene, everyone paled, fell silent. So I juked some words right back at him. We laughed at the cosmic joke as he swung my hands, we were dancing on the edge of the cliff like mad hatters.

We were so in the dark, we didn't even know the name of the show. How cosmic: Hand of God...and it was godlike, all right. We saw whales spuming in the distance, and a curious sea otter came into the cove to see what all the fuss was about. Seagulls and terns below us, seeking right-of-way.

Slowly I learned the actors' names. They still meant nothing. I don't watch TV, I haven't had cable in 30 years. The man in the camelhair coat, Andre Royo, (Robert 'Bobo' Boston), and I joked around. Another co-star, Dana Delany, elegant in a a black cape, and six-inch heels, stumbled up and down the cliff, we caught our breath whenever she caught her heels. Someone said she's in Desperate Housewives of... as if I was supposed to know what show she was referring to. 

We were Ron Perlman's "family" on set, and my mates were floored that I didn't even know who he was—until I saw him.... I got to study the back of Ron's head for a few hours... and watch them turn and leave over and over. I can safely say it was my first up close and personal encounter with Ron. He didn't talk much, but when I lost my mind (easily done) when I saw a whale spout, screaming and jumping up and down like a pogo-stick. He turned around and laughed at me.

When the choreography was right, the stand-ins left us. Then the stars arrived for their close-ups. Why is she familiar? The woman in the trailer. No! Not Faye Dunaway sitting next to me in the hair trailer? Get out! 

Surprise guest star Faye Dunaway (as Valerie Harris) was frail. They kept her safe inside the hive. I kept singing Bonnie and Clyde to myself. And thinking of Chinatown. Looking for Jack. Thinking Mommie Dearist. Wow, an icon. My reaction is to keep away from the famous. Unless she fell on me, which was quite possible, several of us on that cliff together took turns spotting for her.

Dana (as Crystal Harris, Pernell's wife) kept leaving the memorial early. I don't know the story, the backstory, nor the future plot of Hand of God. Operating in the dark. Later I find the grieving widow (Alona Tal as Jocelyn Harris, married to PJ Harris, Jr.), was continuously dumping her husband's ashes at cliff's edge. Guess I'll need to watch the series now. Hope I got everybody's name and character right.

I talked a bit with Andre, and shot some photos of him on the cliffs...he was trying to take a selfie and it was a ways down to the sea. Whoopsie! What a way to lose a principal supporting actor wearing a great camelhair coat. I said, Let me do that. I was talking to everybody, I didn't realize he was part of the cast until later. As background, we're not supposed to talk to the cast. There's an invisible wall. A code of silence.

It's about the paycheck at the end of the day. Not the fame. Background (formerly known as extras) is hard work, and pay is little better than minimum wage for us non-union folks. The work can be gruelling. Standing for hours on end in uncomfortable clothes, then being seemingly carefree, and in character when the camera's rolling. 

Still, I got a vicarious thrill when Brian Cox shook my hand and chatted about my aching feet on the set of Etruscan Smile. Neither Fae nor Ron shook our hands, but Faye did say hello to us on set.

As the widow dumped ashes and sand again and again, another character (whose real name is Eric) read an eulogy poem over and over. They didn't give him a poem to read for the script, so he scribed something right on the spot, in iambic pentameter.  I made him read it to me during a break, as I couldn't hear him from afar. Poor man never got past the fourth line. Cut!  We read poetry to the sea. To the sea. Ah, poetry month. It's a wrap.


Faye Dunaway set to join Amazon's 'Hand Of God' season two
Hand of God (TV series) Created by Ben Watkins (Burn Notice)

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