HURRY UP & WAIT (or How Not to get Into the Movies)
I was recently cast — or maybe miscast — as a Persian official in Oliver Stone’s multi-million dollar extravaganza Alexander, which was partly filmed in Thailand. In my backpacking days, sporting a deep tan, I could be mistaken for either an Arab or an Israeli. Nevertheless, being cast as a Persian official, when all the other Persian officials were Iraqi refugees, seemed unlikely. I mean, I’m a WASP; I look like one and I sound like one.
But I thought going into this project, which was shot in Saraburi and Ubon Ratchatani, it would be a simple procedure. After all, I was only an extra. But you know that old saying: “If ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ were cherries and nuts, every day would be Christmas.”
My problems began when my moustache, which wasn’t properly glued on, kept falling off. And it would do so every time I Iooked down, which happened quite often, since the costume department had given me size six-and-a-half shoes (my actual shoe size is 11), and these munchkin slippers kept sticking in the mud as we traipsed through muddy trials. So when the assistant director (AD) yelled, “Roll film!” I’d be fumbling around in the mud looking for my footwear and moustache while ox-cart drivers, slaves and Macedonian soldiers would all be bumping into me muttering obscenities in a variety of languages. I could see the headline: “Multi-million-dollar production stalled due to lost moustache.”
Anyway, I never retrieved the moustache and, at the end of the day’s shooting, my feet were bloodied, bruised and blistered. Heading into the make-up tent, I explained what happened and the make-up lady freaked.
“I don’t care about your shoes!” she told me. “You owe me a moustache— it will be deducted from your pay.”
“That’ll be fine,” I yelled back, feebly, as I limped from the make-up tent. “Supposing I ever get paid, that is.”
The problem was that now I had to get all this glue off my face. It had been plastered on to keep the moustache and beard in place, and I was high as a kite, afraid I might end up sleeping in a cardboard box under a bridge somewhere. So I mustered my courage and declared, in a stoned sort of Persian-official way, “Make-up, please forgive me for I have sinned; I have dropped my moustache in the mud trying to put on my thong, and I realize I should be stoned to death.” What the hell; I was halfway there anyway.
Some poor lass eventually took pity on me and sneaked me into a corner of the make-up tent and, using some sort of miracle concoction, stripped away the glue. I felt human again, maybe even in rehab.
So I somewhat survived my first day of shooting without angering anyone else. Things could only get better, right? First thing next morning the bus left without me. And since the shoot is in a national park about 80 kilometres away from Ubon centre overlooking the Mekong River into Laos, I couldn’t just jump on a motorcycle taxi and tell the driver, “Bai Alexander,” or “Go to Alexander.” So I had to call casting and tell them their Persian official had been left behind at his hotel. You just know that I was already being labelled that troublesome extra. So they had to send a van to collect me, this guy who was perennially losing his shoes and moustache and was now missing his 3.15am wake-up calls. Thank God, the make-up lady didn’t arrive in the van to take me to the set. I’m sure she would have impaled me personally.
Then, just as Disaster Two was becoming a distant memory, Alexander’s stunt double started lashing out at the cast of thousands with his sword and everybody start backing away. Except for me, of course. As a naïve (maybe dumb is a better word) ice-hockey player, I saw this as a personal challenge, and determined to stand my ground. I clenched my Persian-official fists and muttered to myself, “Bring it on, Alexander.” But then one of the ADs yelled at me, and I was forced to beat a hasty retreat. Meanwhile, the make-up lady was hollering in the background somewhere, “Smite that Persian rogue.”
I must admit I was at times in awe of two-time Oscar winner Oliver Stone. In his pink golf shirt, white slacks and Indiana Jones hat, he never seemed to lose his cool, maintaining good rapport with his stars through thick and thin. And as for getting thrown in next to Collin Farrell and Val Kilmer … Well, let’s just say my sheltered existence didn’t have me hanging out with this type of people every day.
During one scene, the four Persian officials were supposed to advise the Thai King, but, since the other Persians were really Pers ian an d only spoke Farsi, they had a hard time understanding the AD’s directions about how to properly extend this advice. This brought Stone down from his perch to ask the closest official, “Can you understand English?”
The mute response caused him to turn to me and ask the same question.
Now, I admit I was somewhat star-struck, Platoon, Born on the 4 th of July and JFK being three of my favourite movies, and I was awe-struck that Stone was actually speaking to me. So I merely stammered incoherently.
“Oh,” he said. “You don’t speak English either?”
To which I replied, “Salvador, Platoon, Born on the 4 th of July, JFK, Natural Born Killers, Nixon.”
He wandered away muttering something like, “Great, he doesn’t speak English, but he knows the names of all my films.”
In another scene, Alexander rode in, lying wounded on his horse and, somehow, he ended up in right front of me where I stood with my Persian nobleman staff. (I’d been upgraded by then.) Anyway, the horse stopped, the camera zoomed in, the crowd yelled, “Alexander!” and I was tempted to say in a Monty Pythonesque way, “He’s not dead yet.” Given my track record, however, I decided it was better to converse with the horse, though this did somewhat perplex Alexander.
The thing that struck me most about the whole experience was all the waiting around. As someone yelled during the shooting: “Extras! Hurry up and wait!” You grow up thinking that moviemaking is this one long glamorous ride of excitement. Wrong, it’s boring as hell, and, unless you’re a star, most of your time on set is confined to sitting around waiting for your 15 seconds of fame.
Next time casting calls, I think I’ll tell them to hurry up and wait.
Notes on Alexander
Alexander , which purportedly cost US$270 million to film, was predominately filmed in Morocco and is scheduled for a November release. Alexander was really quite a guy. Born in 356 BC, he was taught by his tutor Aristotle to believe that the Greeks were the most advanced people in the world. He conquered 90 percent of the known world, an area stretching from the Balkans to the Himalayas, and including what is now Macedonia, Greece, Turkey, Afghanistan, Syria, Iran, Iraq and Pakistan. He led his armies against the mighty Persian Empire, drove west to Egypt and then eastward to India, completing 22,000 miles of sieges and conquests in just eight years before dying due to fever at the tender age of 33.
The film focuses on his battles, as well as his relationship with his boyhood friend, lover and battle mate, Hephaistion (played by Jared Leto). Alexander's conquests paved the way for the spread of Greek culture facilitating the spread of Christianity centuries later, and removed many of the obstacles that might have prevented the expansion of the Roman Empire.
He was greatly admired by his troops for his leadership and courage. Alexander proudly led his troops into battle on his mighty horse Bucephalus. After conquering Egypt, he was declared a Pharaoh and a god. The Egyptians hailed him as their liberator, and he was crowned with the traditional double crown of the pharaohs of Egypt. He founded two cities, Alexandria in Egypt and Bucephala, in India, during his travels.
Stone, who not only directed the film but wrote the screenplay, worked on the project for eight years. He’s quoted as saying, “When I read the Random House classic book of the 1950s, he took my imagination. The beauty of the man, combined with his dashing exploits and his strong parents — he's fascinating material. He had an idealism I find very rare. He truly believed in the myths and executed them. He outshone Achilles and practically matched the myths of Hercules, in his way. It's an astounding story: a boy who followed his dreams. People don't do that often in life, and when you find them, you want to know about them.”
*MAJOR FILMS SHOT IN THAILAND*
Man with the Golden Gun, The (1974)
Deer Hunter, The (1978)
Killing Fields, The (1984)
Good Morning Vietnam (1987)
Off Limits (1988/I) ...aka Saigon (1988)
Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
Air America (1990)
Heaven & Earth (1993)
Cutthroat Island (1995)
Mortal Kombat (1995)
Mortal Kombat: Annihilation (1997)...aka Mortal Kombat 2 (1997)
Bright Shining Lie, A (1998)
Breakdown Palace (1997)
The Beach (1999)
Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
Bridget Jones Diary II (2003)
Bill Paxton on set in Bangkok
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