Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Making real marks in fake places

On Sunday night, my brother and his wife welcomed Madison Jane into our crazy world, making me an uncle for the first time. We all knew she was coming, so I headed into Lafayette that afternoon. En route, the casting agency called to tell me to be ready at 7 a.m. Monday for my first call on “Treme.” While I hung around the waiting room doing McGibboney family things, an e-mail notification pushed that time up to 6:30. It would be a marathon couple of days, but I do like excitement. Madison debuted in time for me to see and hold her before I had to hit the road back to Baton Rouge and catch four winks.

I thought the parents were supposed to be the ones getting two hours of sleep.

The next morning, it took me an hour and 15 minutes to drive from Baton Rouge to New Orleans. I then spent the next 45 trying to find the designated parking spot. Here’s why: one-ways are Kryptonite to my sense of spatial reasoning. I can navigate the French Quarter on foot perfectly fine — but put me behind the wheel there, and I am a blithering idiot. I eventually found my destination street, only to find that I needed to be on the other, wrong end. I talked to one convenience store clerk, a sheriff’s deputy and two police officers before finding my way. That left me nearly half an hour late for the casting call, but the buses hadn’t yet left yet. After all my sleep-deprived stress and boiling frustration — exacerbated by my lack of sleep — all I missed was a long wait.

Originally, I was cast to be an “upscale dining patron.” But they bumped me to “Bourbon Street crowd” which, after seeing a crowd of suit-and-jacket-clad background players stand in the Bourbon Street sun for much of the afternoon, seemed like a relief.

The first scene we shot takes place in 2008, on the Friday before Mardi Gras, and depicts the Greasing of the Pole at the Royal Sonesta Hotel. We were asked to wear Mardi Gras apparel if we had it, which I did. No shorts or short sleeves, because it’s February and it would obviously be freezing in the Big Easy then. I wore a long-sleeved shirt adorned with Mardi Gras stripes and jeans; I brought beads in my gym bag but in the chaos forgot to adorn them. Nevertheless, the costume designer (who was making nearly everybody change) glanced at me and immediately said, “You look fabulous.”

Walking to the set was like entering a confined Mardi Gras time warp, where the Saints had not yet won the Super Bowl and my blog was an occasionally updated mess based in a far-flung apartment in Missouri. Quite a different time.

Once I made it to Bourbon Street, a crew member placed me directly behind series stars David Morse and Wendell Pierce, who exchange some lines of dialogue. Flanking me were a young guy on my right and two party women on my left. All around us were fake NOLA police officers, including my pal Clay from “The Hot Flashes.” Once we were set in our places, Morse turned around and asked us how we were doing.

Our job was to ogle the burlesque dancers and be party people in general. I tend to be animated in real life, and nearly hammy when it comes to physical acting, so I tried my best to dial it back. I decided the guy next to me was a travel buddy, and we mocked a conversation about how sexy this was, which dancer was our favorite, how we needed to visit more often, etc. I spent much of the first take craning my head around Morse, checking out the revelry with great interest. We also interacted with the women on our left, one of whom kept talking about being paddled.

After the first few takes, the director said to us guys, “You’re acting like you’re studying for a math test! Feed off her energy,” he said, pointing to the woman next to me, who was trying to pinch our nipples. A math test?!! What a perfect motivator, I told the director. If he only knew. He seemed satisfied with us on subsequent takes. The resultant overcompensation will be apparent when you see the show. (When I got on the bus at the end of the day, I heard a girl behind me refer to the guys who “were taking a math test.” Fame!)

Afterward, they sent us back to the holding area, where they asked us to form a line to process out. By then the second and third wave of extras had crowded the place, and they wanted the first wave (us) to clear out quickly to ease confusion. I found myself at the back of a serpentine line that ran the entire diameter of the room. About a minute later, a guy counted off the farthest people and had us head out for a second scene.

We were to shoot an establishing shot of Bourbon between the Hustler Club and Galatoire’s. My job was to cross the street on cue and keep walking. Because I was on the edge of the shot, and standing on the side of the street not caught on camera, I found myself surrounded by real tourists. On my left, a Japanese family marveled at the action; a family from Brazil stood to my right. I know they’re from Brazil because at first I mistook them for locals and asked them a question about Bourbon. So much for my local cred.

The next (and for me, final) shot had me walking from the Hustler Club to Galatoire’s. This required me to spend a lot of time in front of Hustler magazine covers, and feel the shaving cream-scented cool air seeping through the folding doors. Believe me when I say this made for some difficult downtime.

Before that shot began, a sheriff’s deputy walked up to me and asked if I was a stand-in for one of the actors. “A man can dream,” I replied. I asked if he was a real deputy or an actor playing a deputy. He said he was acting as a deputy. Then he laughed and said that he really was one, which may or may not have been him acting like a deputy. No, he really was.

In between takes, an older couple wandered near me and asked what was going on. I said we were shooting “Treme” for HBO. They probably thought I was important. I didn’t correct them.

After the crew dismissed me for the afternoon, I ran into nipple-pincher, who I’d been talking with on and off all day. We went to Yo Mama’s and ate hamburgers. She told me she worked as Brooke Shields’ stand-in on “The Hot Flashes” and is a yoga instructor. Her driver’s license said she was born in 1961, which can only mean it’s fake. We talked a lot about life in New Orleans and she showed me around some galleries where she knew (and introduced me to) local personalities. 

Afterward, I came home and slept until a few minutes ago.

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