Saturday, 10 May 2008

Kissing

Being paid to kiss. This requires two actors to have read the script and agreed to the job, often before they have met each other and sometimes before they know who has been cast. Since the actors are in character when they kiss, it could be said that they are not actually kissing each other. However, in the Real World, where one pair of lips is engaged with another, they are. The possible exchange of bodily fluids may be negotiated by the actors with one another but is only verified by highly trained crew members in what is known as the 'tongue' bet. There is no closed set for kissing scenes.
Kissing on film is rarely choreographed or even rehearsed. Etiquette maintains that actors will rehearse the scene right up to the kiss and then mime contact. The use of breath fresheners is a bit of a minefield, if used too obviously by another actor they might indicate either a) too much enthusiasm a la John Van Horn in 'Tootsie' or b) that your own breath is less than fresh.
There is an element of chance in the performance of a kiss that is unusual in what will be an important close-up. The chemistry between the actors and the atmosphere on set will influence the kiss as much as the writing and directing. Not that writers or directors are exactly shy when it comes to describing physical contact, even if they are they will overcome their hesitance when approaching more explicit scenes. It is more that everyone falls under the spell of the 'Hollywood' kiss, and wants to give that mythical creature a chance to happen of its own accord. Actors cannot help but be aware of this unspoken pressure and the vulnerability and expectation can be a lethal combination when added to the levels of neurosis, paranoia, ego and adrenalin already circulating through the actor's system. If a great kiss emerges from the debris then it is either the result of natural talent on the part of the actors, the camera operator and, most particularly, the focus puller, or the actors aren't acting.
Once the kiss has been established, if it is not a miracle of cinematic magic, the director will step in and start to fine tune the action. At this point, everyone will be aware that the kiss has to be staged and the crew ennui resumes.
After thirty years of professional kissing, I have a few notches on my perspective designed, artificially aged, hollow bed posts. It has never been very difficult, in the sense of unpleasant, kissing my co-stars as I am nearly always in temporary love with them. I start my crush when I read the script and it develops rapidly from that point. Actually meeting and working with the actor rarely interrupts my rosy view of their qualities. The scales don't begin to fall from my eyes until, roughly, the night of the wrap party. With my own rings back on my fingers, and the set packed for storage, it can be hard to see the man/woman/dinosaur who so captured my heart, across the tequila sodden dance floor. We all look the same with our own clothes on.
Yes, every kiss has been splendid. And if some were a little less than magnificent, I would never kiss-and-tell. We were only acting, after all.

Friday, 2 May 2008

Drivers

A unit driver's life is not unlike that of an actor. It involves frantic periods of activity at the beginning of the day, followed by much waiting around, during which time you must be ready to work at a moment's notice, and you can't leave the location. The hours of limbo are spent reading, chatting with colleagues and watching boxed sets of DVDs. The hours of activity are spent entertaining people. Unlike actors, however, drivers are often privy to inside information, officially gleaned from assistant directors and unofficially supplemented by hours of listening to producers in the back seat shouting into mobile phones and at each other.
The relationship between the driver and his passenger (I have never met a female unit driver though I am sure there must be some out there) is intimate. With all the pressure that accumulates on a film set, the director, producers and actors are frequently agitated when collected and deposited at their destination and may need careful handling. It is a question of chemistry and it cannot be manufactured. A famously outspoken driver was told to pick up a Hollywood director from Glasgow airport but on no account to speak him during the journey. After an hour of silence, they arrived at the hotel and the driver opened the door. 'You must be some special cunt.' The driver observed 'That we can't talk to you.' The director hired him for the rest of the shoot.

At 5 o'clock in the morning when the actor has overslept, it will be the driver who gains access to their bedroom and gets them up. At 10 o'clock at night when the actor is sobbing because they've spent the whole day in a tunnel full of rats and they've missed their daughter's birthday, the driver must get them back to their room and not to 'The fucking airport'. The driver is not employed by the actor or director but by the production. They have the passenger's trust but it is the accountants they answer to. If an actor wants you to box with him in his lunch break, you better not break their nose. If a director is spending his nights pursuing his leading lady, you have to deliver his broken heart to the set. Drivers know what music, what paper, what drink to get. And they know where the skeletons are hidden.

One happy summer shoot, I was out late with the actors and crew, enjoying the delights of our local Butlins. Arriving back at the small hotel we were staying in, the Other Actress and I found we were locked out. My room looked over the lane in front of the hotel and the window was open. Perfect. The room was on the second floor but there was a pitched slate roof ideally placed below it and the OA and I lost no time in shinning up it and diving through the window. My door being locked from the outside, we were effectively trapped, but we were tired and the next day seemed another country. We soon fell asleep.
About 3 hours later, my alarm sounded. I showered and dressed and, remembering the door was locked, climbed out the window ready to shimmy back. Even in the pre-dawn light, I could see that it was quite a long way down. The OA had the day off, everyone in the hotel was asleep. I sat on the window ledge and waited.
My driver was prompt. He pulled up to the hotel some metres away and turned off his engine so as not to disturb the residents. 'Frank.' I whispered, for it was he. 'Frank! I'm over here'. Confused, he got out of the car and looked around. 'Frank. I'm on the roof.' Seeing me perched above him, Frank took a moment to assess the situation. With a quick 'Hang on’, he reversed his car under my window, and opened the sunroof. I slid in.
I got to work on time with only minor grazes easily covered by petticoats and stockings. I'm not sure what the hotel manager thought when she released the OA from my room, but from then on I was careful to bring my front door key with me every time I left the building. And Frank? Well, a disheveled damsel I may have been, but from that morning on, Frank was definitely my knight in shining Mercedes armour.