My first day on set I was astounded by the enormity of the project. All the people involved, all the equipment, all the security, all the catering. The 2 days before I spent rehearsing and fitting I had only met a section of our cast, and almost none of the crew, some of which were American. As South Africans, working with some American crew members, it seemed we felt the need whenever repeating something that was told to us by an American, to do so in their accent. I think my American accent sounds rather authentic now, thanks to all the practice.
You can usually identity crew members and stunt people by their damaged iPhones. Usually with cracked screens where I crane fell on it, or they dropped it down something or other they were shooting, or as falling on something with the phone still in their pockets. I can say, however, that most of these iPhones with cracked screens work regardless of the various states of disrepair which they are found in. Chatting to the stunt men, in particular was quite interesting. Hearing the politics about how badly South African crews are treated in the international cinema circles (I heard this same sentiment repeated by the Makeup Ladies, who are always good for a gossip, and who all know the models, the photographers and their business). One of the older stunt men thought it was his responsibility to inform myself and one of the younger Johannesburg actresses about things such as when we get Premium days, how much Per Diem we should expect. How to make sure your agent isn’t cheating you out of money and how overtime works. He always had some useful tip about what to look out for. Another the very large (6,8 foot or over 2 meters) stunt men, who is a martial arts expert, would always eat breakfast with his glasses while reading newspaper. It somehow didn’t really fit. I also saw him surreptitiously remove his glasses from some inner lining of his costume during a break while shooting to read a SMS! When I say the stunt people napping on the first morning I realised that in this industry, sleeping on the job is a requirement!
I had always read in various different textbooks, acting tip books and manuals that a required skill for an actor was being able to sleep in almost in position. When you are working on set between 14 and 17 hours a day this comes quite easily. You are so tired that the moment you have the time you pass out quite easily, but not without telling somebody with a radio attached to their belt and an ear piece in their ear where you will be doing exactly that. The studio we were sleeping in had a long, rather dusty bar. Two of my comrades had set up a laptop on the bar to watch series, and we were close enough to the set to see what was happening, but also far enough away to make a little noise. The bar was slightly wider than my hips, and I had been informed that I probably wouldn’t be needed for the next hour or so. This was also subject to immediate change most of the time. As one of the Makeup Ladies put it, the shot lists were ‘Toilet paper money’. Now on set you have these wonderful things called warmers, which are essentially a gown with fleece on the inside, plastic on the outside, a hood and a pocket. We wore these over our costumes to stay warm, as you can imagine. I found a rag somewhere, wiped of the worst of the dust from the bar, tightly wrapped my warmer around me and flipped the hood over my head to protect my costume and hair. I lay down on my back with my arms folded over my chest, like a mummy or a corpse and slept for an hour and half without moving. The Makeup Ladies loved me because I slept so statically that I required no touch-ups after my nap.
Most of my days on set were good days. Even when I was tired, of my costume was hurting me, or I had so stand in heels for hours. Essentially, I was excited all the time, and became more hilarious as I got tired. The second morning, however was perhaps my worst, as we were shooting outside, and the weather conditions were that far from ideal that that they were hindering the shoot. On top of this, shooting had been stopped for about ten minutes while the head of wardrobe fiddled around my but with some costume problem: “We have a rear-carriage problem here” she yelled to roughly 30 male crew members, who were all watching intently as she attempt to remedy the but-problem. After this the paramedic refused to give me a codine based pain killer for a really bad headache that was developing:
“If I give you codine you will become drowsy”
“I know my body, I promise you if I become drowsy you can harvest a kidney”
I received two panados and was required to make do.
The highlight of my morning that day had been lying on the warm tar wrapped tightly in my warmer while someone passed me an oats cookie. I immediately felt better.
As actors, we are quite easily satiated. Give us some tea, give us a cookie and tell us we are doing a good job. Every now and then one of the ‘grown ups’ would descend from behind their laptops to our level, tell us we were looking really pretty, that we were doing a good job, and offer us a cookie. We knew exactly what they were doing, but it worked!