Friday, November 23, 2007

Getting older and wiser!!!

Yesterday it got cold and I in the late afternoon I went to a set to visit with some of my friends. It was out at the Brick Works in the Don Valley that cuts through the center of Toronto. Once a real open pit with kilns, it is now mostly abandoned although it is turning into a mid-city art installation. Now, before all the factory space is altered film crews go there to get seedy wrecked buildings to film in. Well, it was cold and my hands quickly felt the chill. The rewards of years of smoking have taken the toll of my circulation system and the chill sets in fast and deep. Undaunted I chatted with friends and sold my little Pocket Pack to those who know my Hollywood Survival Kit and could recognize the value of the good things in the Pocket Pack. Nothing against cold alas but lots against the sprained ankles that the slippery muddy half frozen ground would bring in the darkness.
I think often about age for I belie my years and can still hotfoot it around a set with the best of them. I look at those younger who do not move as well as I do and feel sad for them. I also look at those my age and older for role models as the years mount. Eli Wallach has to rate as an all time role model. I worked with him only once. In Halifax on a film called The Book Fair Murders. It was about a man who had stolen millions in paintings from a Jewish family in the second world war and at last was being caught for his crimes although they seemed somewhat justified. Eli Wallach was to play the old man. He was born in 1915 and we were going to film with him in 2000. He was 85. It was hard to arrange for him to come to us from New York as he was rehearsing a new play and his day off was Monday so we could fly him up on Sunday, film with him on Monday and he would fly home on Tuesday early in the morning so he could be at rehearsals that day. He did not miss work for any reason it would seem. He had two scenes to play supposedly by the sea where he had a sumptuous house. Robert Joy who I first worked with on Atlantic City was to play opposite him in both scenes. They were pivotal to the plot for Roberts character was the man who discovered the theft and one scene was an interview and the other reminiscences of his life as a young man in the employment of the rich and kind Jewish mogul. Both scenes were long and had very long speeches in them. I mean more that one page of Eli just talking about his past. He was arriving at 9 on Sunday evening and he asked that the final script be left at his hotel so he could check it against the script he was given to make sure he had the changes if there were any. He also asked to have a limo take him to set the next morning for he would polish his lines during the drive.
So this 85 year old man was going to fly to us on Sunday evening, although in the midst of play rehearsals which are not easy for there is script to learn and changes to be made in words and feelings and new people to deal with: a full time job and difficult time for any actor.
We were lucky for Monday was a sunny day although the temperature was around freezing. We had decided to go to Peggy's Cove, the famous tourist attraction that is on a rocky point that juts into the Atlantic ocean. With clever placement of the camera we could see just the roof and chimneys of the large pavilion there and it played as the rich man's house. We laid a dolly track in front of the bench where the two men were going to be seated. Wolfgang Panzer who was our director and a wonderful man as well as a great director could shoot the whole scene just moving up and down the track. A dolly back and forth while the scene played and then close ups. Wolfgang started with the close up of Ely's whole speech. We are talking about three minutes of straight monologue with the odd question thrown in. We had everything set up and lots of blankets and hot shots to keep Ely as warm as possible. He strode out and only his carefulness about where he was walking told us of his age. He was chipper, happy, friendly and met everyone with a handshake. He sat down with Robert and first discussed a couple of the changes that had been made in the script with Wolfgang. This only took a few minutes and all was ready. He rehearsed once with the camera so we could get our moves. He never missed a line or word in any of the speech. It was awesome as we went through shot after shot in one or two takes and always with excellent results. After we finished with Robert Joy's close up which was our last shot of the scene Eli called me over. He leaned forward and whispered to me. "Do you think we could do another take of my close up. I think I can do it better." I was awestruck that after three hours of sitting in the cold repeating this speech over and over he knew the nuances so well and remembered how he had delivered his first attempts in such detail that he could know this and that he wasn't tired or bored with it all. I went to Wolfgang who immediately said yes and we did one more take of the close up.
It was worth the effort. We did the next scene in the afternoon and finished the day with flying colours.
That evening Eli Wallach took the director, the actors the producder and me too out to dinner at a fine restaurant; about a dozen people. He regaled us with stories and talked quite a bit to Samantha Bond one of the more memorable Miss Moneypennys from the James Bond films. Eli I think had worked with her father who was a well known British actor. He could recall events clearly. He was a wonderful host and it was an honour to be at his table and to meet and be with such a gracious young old man. To this day no one of his age has matched him in my eyes. A very special person to me and a role model in every way.
By the way he made two films this year that are now in post production. Lets see now, he is 92 and I am sure still all here.

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