A life time ago as a child I often wondered what I would be when I grew up. So now I am grown up and I am still wondering what I have become?
Fame and fortune and celebrity might have been on my teenage wish list but as the years moved they did not appear. I wanted to show jump for Ireland. I wanted to be a marine biologist, a vet, an artist like Picasso. Yet I have never lost the wanderlust, and have a childlike promise to go for anything that might interest, enhance my life skills, amuse me or interest me. So this post is about two contrasting experiences in the film world I had this Spring/Summer.
As an artist I have dabbled with video art, short film creations and performance to Video, a genre I still hold dear but technology and an aging form is holding me back somewhat. I got a call up from Movie Extras to work in Ripper Street, a BBC production, which I think will be aired next September. I was to be a toff, one of twelve extras picked to walk through the streets of London at night – among the then poor, mixed rabble of 19th century England and a City where Jack The Ripper was the notorious killer at large.
The set was very large and realistic. I was fooled into thinking the police station was real, but on touching the bricks they felt like fibre glass. There were about 150 extras working a full 11 hour day/night. I was put into a very tight corset and numerous underskirts, over skirts, dress, jacket and a wig which was nearly as painful as the corset. The wig was real hair and of real value, several thousands of euros, and was treated with care but not my head where the sharp pins went in. I was so restrained by the corset I could hardly breathe and the skirts and hoops surrounding them made going to the loo a bit of a gymnastics event. I can see why the ladies in those times had a fit of the vapours and fainted frequently.
The costume lady was adamant it was to be put on as tight as possible so you had the correct look, which was extreme straightness in the back and a huge bustle in the back which made the waist vanish. But so uncomfortable, even in between takes you could not relax the whole body, my spine pained afterwards. I was an ‘special extra’ in that my part would be featured in the opening of the film – a screaming woman who finds the body as the tour proceeds through the gas lit night streets. I was told in advance so I felt a need to practice my scream, so on my way to golf up in Glencullen I decided I would practice some long spin chilling screams in the privacy of my little Opel Corsa.
I am not sure if any heard them?
When my moment of truth arrived the director gave me all my instructions which were quite detailed, follow the guide, walk to a point, hold still, pause and scream, I did it about 15 times, not because my scream was not good it was, really good, it was other factors, lighting, props, etc being moved and tried and re done, it’s a slow process this film making. Then after the scream we all turn and run away down the dark street as the ‘peelers’, police run the other way. That was difficult too as my long skirt was hard to pick up and run, at one spot someone stood on my train as I ran so I nearly went headfirst down on the cobbles. This scene was filmed at the back of Dublin Castle so the cobbles were real.
The previous scene was on a false set but still very atmospheric. There were horses involved as an old horse drawn prison wagon was used and we all (crowd scene) were moving back and forth, it was dangerous as the horses were big and very close to us moving around a lot, but with care and good directing we were all safe. For this scene I was an old Jewish woman with very torn and shabby clothes, having being the wealthy lady in Black before a bit of a come down?
No, just another notch on my movie extra experience. So that was two very hard, full days working and then I was straight into another film .
This was ECHO, a film made by a film Graduate student Ela Gasiorowska who is Polish. Her tutor found my work on Mart we site and recommended me as my art theme is about facing ones mortality.
Ela met up with me and we had some real interesting engaging conversations and practice sessions together. Her film work is very mature and influenced by film makers I would not have known. She organised a practice session with the young other person who would act opposite me; Alison Barry a lively fifteen year old from Cork with film acting experience. Oh! I better mention I was asked to play a lead role!! This was a first for me and I was anxious about my ability never having done any ‘real’ acting before.
The film crew were all her other class mates from the film school in IADT. I was very impressed having spent a few days with the BBC crew that these youngsters were every bit as skilled, professional and their equipment seemed to be as good too. I was really well looked after, although the old disused farmhouse house we filmed in was stony cold. The house had a particular vibe that suited the mood of this work. It became, as Ela said it would, a ‘character’ in its own right.
It was five days of work which was very intense as you are in most scenes and a lot of takes and re takes are needed. The story line was about a grandchild and her grandmother and the relationship between the two, the realisation in the child of her grandmothers physical deterioration and the older woman’s understanding of the Childs misunderstanding of life.
The character (mine) dies and that was a very profound experience for me. It was a shock to see the dead me after makeup was applied, also the fact that I had to control my breathing when the camera was near me on my death bed. It was good to ‘go under’ as it were, to concentrate on, to be so still and almost die for those few moments. When the camera was off I would come up panting like a bad swimmer and make the crew laugh.
There was a wonderful cohesion in that film, the crew and director and all the ‘gaffers’ or whatever all the names are, were so focused but in between was relaxed and enjoyable.
On my last day I had to do a particularly difficult scene, for me anyway, I was semi nude and was not sure how that would be seen as it were, but I trusted them, but on the premiere night in IFI it all was good, all was wonderful. I did hold my breath again when I saw this woman on full screen close up, even with make up all those lines, wrinkles, grey hair and life’s strains were all etched for real on my own real face. But as it proceeded I did see the drama unfold and the audiences reaction which was very good.
It was a really satisfying experience to have strangers say your work made them cry. It was another notch on my performance bow but I do not think I would be able for it in the long term. The dialogue was not too complicated and the directing was so empathetic it seemed doable but another one? Who knows?
There is a part of me that would love to be a film maker but an actor is another thing. So another birthday has trundled by and I still go for the mad adventures.
208 total views, 1 today