Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Celebrity Encounters, Part Two

Watching "Michael Clayton" the other night reminded me of my Sydney Pollack story, and since Michael's already heard it (a lot), it y'all's turn.

While I was living in NYC being a waitress actress, I booked a nice, 6-day gig as an extra in "Bright Lights, Big City". It was a club scene, and I had a red mini-skirt, a black mesh top, and spike heels, and apparently that's all you needed to book at $90 a day plus all the bagels you could eat from the craft services table. It was a pretty sweet deal at the time (ah, youth).

Day One of the shoot was a mob scene -- we were shooting at Tunnel Club and they had the place packed with sweaty extras. By Day Three the crowd had thinned out, as they were shooting in sequence, from peak clubbing hours into the very wee hours of the morning. On Day Four, they turned on the fog machines, to fill out the atmosphere around the few dozen of us extras still working (and by working, I of course mean acting like drunken club-goers).

Now, this was a troubled shoot. The director we were working for was eventually fired and the movie started over from scratch with a new director, so don't rent the movie and crawl through the club scenes looking for me -- I'm not there. There was tension on the set, though, and Michael J. Fox did lose his cool once that I witnessed, when a day-player who had a few lines with him missed her mark for the fourth time in a row (dumbass).

Sydney Pollack was producing the flick, and showed up on the set around Day Three, to babysit the director, I'm sure. He pretty much sat in his chair quietly and didn't interact with anyone, and after the initial flurry of recognition, we all ignored him.

So, Day Four. Fog machines. We had been working long days -- about 10 hours, mostly on our feet -- and I'd been out late drinking the night before with one of the PAs (oh hush). Midway through the day, the combination of fog + fatigue got to me, and I started getting a little woozly. Then suddenly I was very woozly. I managed to make my way to an exit and sat outside on the curb near the trailers, sucking what passed at the time for fresh air. One of the drivers saw me and must have ratted me out, because in a few moments a PA was by my side, making sure I wasn't about to screw up the film's insurance die. By this time I was fine, and he accompanied me back into the club.

Back inside, while passing from the shooting area back to the extras area, Sydney Pollack stopped me. He was full of concern and truly sweet, asking several times whether I was sure I was okay, and offering me his director's chair (!!) so I could sit down. Of course, I didn't take his chair -- Sydney Pollack! -- I wobbled back to the extras area and sat my tushy down on a hard metal folding chair, like the rest of them/us.

But I never forgot what a complete gentleman he was. While sitting watching his project circling the drain, he still took time out to check on a $90-a-day non-union extra. That's class.


Anonymous said...

That's so cool about Sydney Pollack -- the whole story is cool. It's wonderful that you ran away and joined a circus, so to speak, in your youth.


Lauren D. McKinney said...

Nice to meet you last night, Ruth! And the cookies were great.

nutmeg said...

I'm sad to hear that MJF lost his cool. Bubble burst!

Those were the best lemon cookies I ever ate.

Anonymous said...

Great meeting you and thanks for the cookies!

So fun. Let's do it again soon.