The Movie: Still Life – Al the Pro

The final day of shooting for Still Life, the fabulous film I’m in, was fast approaching.

You may recall that Uberto (Pasolini, the director) had wanted me to bring crumble, so I’d got a batch of mangos and chopped them up for the fruity base, added raisins, and all that was left to prepare was the crumble itself. I’d had my call (by text actually) the night before, telling me I didn’t need to be on set until nearly midday, so that morning I’d prepared myself and my kit, then made the crumble, and put it over the top of the fruit base. Into the oven it went, with plenty of time after it was cooked to cool down and allow me to take it with me. Or so I thought.

Half way through the cooking I received a call from Joe (Hornsey, the assistant director). I’m wanted on set as soon as is possible. Apparently I was needed in extra scenes. Ah, great news, but also – damn it. I knew Uberto was expecting the crumble, this was no mere flight of fancy by me. So I created a cradle of newspaper and grabbed my kit together. As I was needed earlier, that messed with my travel plans, so I reassessed and decided I’d have to drive. I grabbed the steaming hot crumble, put it into the car, and drove.

It is at times like this that I wish I had satnav, because getting to Honour Oak is no easy journey, and the map on the iPhone is very definitely lacking. However, using a little common sense and a fair amount of backtracking from the blind alleyways it had directed me, I got to the set in what I considered to be bloody good time.

This time there were many more people there as the scenes being shot had plenty of cast (rather than just me – I almost no longer felt special!). I got into my kit, no particular makeup and not even a haircut, and was sent up through the cemetery. It was another gloriously hot day, remarkable given that it had been an horrendous month for the weather, and in my vicar kit it was just plain hot and sweaty.

The scene was being shot on a wooded hill in the cemetery, a wild place with a pretty view over the graves and trees and on east and south over London. Apparently this hill is historically significant, the place of one of Queen Bodicea’s great battles, although back in her day there wouldn’t have been planes were flying over every few seconds. However, I got the impression that the rapidly changing cloud cover was more of an issue, with several of the crew looking at the sky though weird tinted monocles and making knowledgeable sounding proclamations.

After a whole load of back and forth, multiple takes of the scenes and me just watching, it was then my turn. My role, now, was to walk in front of the hearse whilst another funeral was happening. I had the very briefest of chats to Uberto – he was incredibly busy today, so in reality is was “Hi Al, good to see you, the crumble? Excellent!” and then to work. Or to walk, more precisely. I did a damn fine job of it of course (nothing to be massively arrogant of, I’ve been walking all my life)

Once that was done, for me, lunchtime. So that is where I headed. Uberto was too busy to come to lunch it turned out, and during lunch Eddie (Marsan, the lead actor) arrived. This time though, because there were so many people around, Eddie was friendly to those he saw, but kept more to himself in his car. Not wanting to bother him, I didn’t think now was the time to go and say hi.

However, after lunch (I had the breaded haddock and banana crumble, delicious, but I do do a mean crumble myself!), and when we had headed to where the next scene was being shot, I had a chance to say hi. And being me, of course I did. He was chatting to another actor he knew, and was his usual friendly and approachable self. I would imagine it must be quite tough to be as popular as he clearly is. While I may be an ignorant, and have little knowledge of the acting world, whenever I’ve mentioned that he’s the lead actor in this film to any friends who are more aware, they are all in awe of him, he his very highly regarded. I suppose, therefore, that he he must get a certain amount of hassle unless he controls it, hence why he spent much of the day that he was there in his car.

I mentioned to Eddie that I’d seen an interview he’d done in the Metro, and he started to say how his wife told him off because he always mentions class in these interviews and how he has a chip about it. I didn’t remember that he’d mentioned class in that interview, and I suddenly felt very awkward, as if he were talking about me. I almost got the feeling that, from what he was saying, he found my accent offensive, and I found myself trying to drop it and imitate him as much as possible, but it is tricky as I can only be me; my background is not my choice and it’s not something I can change.

In fact, while researching my last blog entry on Still Life, I found another interview with Eddie that he recently did in the Scotsman, where he does mention class. He talks in the interview about how he didn’t have the privileged upbringing of other actors and had to work for everything himself. I can understand that, however, I’ve not been through acting school. I am a comedian, and in comedy my accent is a hindrance not an asset; in my world, the advantage would be Eddie’s background, not mine. As for contacts in the comedy world, I’ve had to work damned hard for everything I’ve got. That is the thing about comedy, if you work hard, you get somewhere, if you don’t, you don’t, and there are very few “legs up”.

This may, of course, just have been me being hypersensitive, and it is a subject about which I am that. I feel that addressing it is one of my greatest challenges, and that when I can do so I will have had a real breakthrough. The problem is that it is something that I am defensive and vulnerable about, and showing that on stage is a phenomenally scary thing. At the same time, I know that without showing that vulnerability, bearing myself and my soul naked like that, I won’t find my true voice. Or get arrested by the police for gross indecency.

Anyway, Eddie was friendly, and was probably not even aware of how awkward he’d made me feel, and I genuinely get the impression that he is a really nice bloke. He spoke about some of the actors who he admires and it was fascinating to hear some insight into his process. By that day, he’d been shooting the film pretty solidly for a month, a very different sensation than just the odd day here and there, so his good humour after that amount of time of day in, day out on set is a testament to the man.

As I wasn’t in the next scene, I sat out of the way, and had a great chat to Tracy Granger, the film editor. She’s been in the business for a while, starting out with old style film of physically cutting it out, all the way through to this modern digital film, fascinating technological changes. She then said one of the nicest things to me, that she had recently edited the previous scenes I’d been in, and how very moving my acting had been. This was a particularly sweet thing to have said as she had no need to say anything to me about it at all and I certainly hadn’t asked her about it. It did make me feel that, hey, maybe I did an ok job. What a lovely conversation to have had.

It then turned out that, for continuity reasons, it was easier if I wasn’t in the next scene. Disappointing, but actually I’d already been in several more scenes than I’d expected, and, if they don’t end up “on the cutting room floor”, there will be many seconds of me on film… I said my goodbyes to everyone, and headed home, earlier than expected, after a long, hot day of filming, leaving behind a cemetery full of the living and a mango and raisin crumble for the charming and friendly director. I hope he enjoyed it!

P.s. He did enjoy it, sending me a lovely note thanking me for that and for “the even better acting”; you may be reading about the start of a career…

Still Life – How I got the role

Still Life – The first day of shooting

Interview with Eddie Marsan in the Scotsman


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