Film sets and theatres are great places to hang out as a child. Everyone is basically playing the same games you play at home, but with better props. And since most of the people working on a film or play become a version of a family, children are easily absorbed into the mix. I have worked on plays with babies asleep under the stage and children doing their homework in the wardrobe department. My parents tell me I sat in a wastepaper basket in their dressing room as a baby while they were both on stage. When I thought about having my own children, I imagined we would travel around together and things would work out somehow. There is a tradition of the travelling troupe and in many ways, we did become an itinerant family. “Still loading the children on to the back of the cart?” asked Leonard Kavanagh when we were rehearsing ‘Venice Preserved’.
When I was pregnant with my first child, and before I discovered some of the difficulties of locations and children, I was asked to do a film in Italy. My filming would take place after the baby was born. Six weeks after, actually, and in my enthusiasm to get back to work, I accepted the part(s). I was to be playing twins in a fantastical recreation of the life of Benvenuto Cellini, a sixteenth century Italian sculptor and goldsmith. The costumes were to be elaborate but they couldn't be made for me until after the birth as, hopefully, my figure was going to change a bit. Once the baby was born the Italian designer, Nana Cecchi, would fly over and get the necessary measurements and then we would go to Rome for the month I was shooting.
In retrospect I can see that this wasn't altogether a foolproof plan, but I was so blithely confident that I must have infected everyone else. The due date grew closer, filming started in Italy, phone calls to my agent from the production office became a weekly, then a daily event as Christmas and my due date passed. Still, I wasn't worried. First babies are famously tardy, I felt fine, all would be well. Reassured, the production company stopped calling until after New Year. By the time my son was born, on the 11th January, the poor costume designer was on the verge of a breakdown. With only 3 weeks until I was due on set, she raced over to London, got the measurements and constructed the costumes. And constructions they were. All hand stitched, embroidered, corseted and petticoated, each costume was a work of art. By the time filming started, I had an entire wardrobe and was settled into the location with my baby, ready to work.
I was breastfeeding on demand, so in between scenes I would go back to my caravan, to feed and play with the baby, and if I looked a little different every time; new wig, strange make-up, he didn't seem to mind too much. Even the costume department was happy with my embonpoint.
The day came in which I was to film a seduction scene with Wadek Stanczak, who was playing Cellini. It was to be fairly raw and emotional and the twin I was playing needed to have her shirt torn. After rehearsal I was duly sewn in to the shirt so that the stitching would rip in an aesthetically pleasing manner and we waited to film the first set up. It was a complicated piece, and like most love scenes, it required some choreography. The lighting took time to adjust and an hour or so passed. The shirt grew tighter. Finally, we were ready to shoot. I strode into the room and Wadek pushed me against the wall. We kissed, he reached down and ripped open my shirt. And with the cameras still rolling, my breast milk shot across the set. It soaked Wadek and myself and poured all over the floor. I hadn't done many love scenes but I knew that exploding breasts weren't usually part of the deal. Wadek looked pained and I flushed redder than my scarlet jacket. But the Italian crew were amazing. "Mama!" they cried and got the mops out.
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