Our visit to the set of State of Play in Washington DC - 3/15/08
Early Saturday morning, my daughter Mary Beth, my 3 year old grandson Griffin and I took off in the car for Washington DC. We had a date later that day to see Russell and to visit the set of State of Play, his new film.
It is directed by Kevin Macdonald. (The Last King of Scotland – and he won an Oscar for One Day in September in 1999. For film history buffs like me -- He is the grandson of legendary filmmaker Emeric Pressburger, who, with partner Michael Powell, wrote, produced and directed such films as Black Narcissus (1947), The Red Shoes (1948), A Matter of Life and Death (1946) and 'I Know Where I'm Going!' (1945) under their production banner "The Archers".) - When we first walked in, Kevin was such a gentleman that he immediately offered MB, who was carrying Griff, his chair.
The film tells a twisted story of politics, newspapers, and sex. It stars Russell as Cal McCaffrey, a reporter for a major newspaper, Ben Affleck as Stephen Collins , his friend and a congressman, Robin Wright, as Affleck’s wife, Rachel McAdams as Della Frye, a fellow reporter, Jason Bateman as Dominic Foy, a PR type guy who gets mixed up in the mystery, and Helen Mirren as Cameron Lynne, the editor of the newspaper.
Filming scheduling for this movie is very fluid, so Keith, Russell’s right hand, couldn’t give us the time and place until Friday night. We got the final word at our hotel on Saturday to come to The Mellon Building on Constitution Avenue late in the afternoon where he would meet us and bring us to Russell.
(As an aside, we had a wonderful early afternoon touring the National Museum of Natural History on the National Mall, where Griffin could get his fill of his latest love – dinosaurs!)
The scenes that day were being filmed inside the historic Mellon building in a huge space and stage filled with camera equipment, lights, wires, technicians, film assistants, assistant directors, the director, line producers and Russell’s crew, including our Keith, Mickie, Terry and stand-in David Oliver. David greeted us with a hug. We had last seen him in France a few years ago. We were able to tell him how much we enjoyed his brief appearance in Yuma – and what a pivotal role he had as the barkeep who gave the nod to the sheriff…. He joking said “too bad there’s no Oscar for “Best Supporting Look” – very funny!
The first scene was being shot in an anteroom to the main space. A friend joined us, and we crowded in; quiet as mice (Griffin was very good and never opened his mouth). When we first walked in, Kevin Macdonald encouraged us to get closer to the monitor to see the footage. The hi def image on the two monitors was vivid and the two different perspectives from each camera was interesting. Russell/Cal was sitting on stairs (see stairs at left- HBO First look screen shot left) that looked to be part of a stairwell for a large building. He was speaking on a cell phone. He talked very softly, so it was hard to hear his words from across the room, but the sense of his feelings and body language came through. At the end of the call, he closed the phone, got up, and ran down the stairs and out of the shot. After the first take, he and the director conferred quietly, and then they did the scene again. I heard Macdonald say “Good! – Even better than the last take.”
Russell saw us at this point and gave us a wave. The whole shebang then moved back into the main room where they filmed extras in a hallway – walking and talking. (To left - extras rest during down time) Some of them were lobbyists and fellow congressmen, some constituents. The lobbyists/congressmen were dressed in suits, and some carried briefcases. Russell/Cal was in a part of this set up.
Keith explained that the scene they were now doing was a scene where Russell walks out of a bathroom into a hallway. They filmed the first part in a bathroom in LA and now the rest of the scene here.
Speaking of LA, the newsroom that they built on the soundstage in LA had great attention to detail. Two levels of 300 desks. Russell said you could pick any one of those 300 desks and if you looked you would see each desk was totally complete, even with things like sticky notes and all equipment pertinent to its function in a real news room.
While they set up the scenes that Russell would be in, we had a chance to sit by the stage and view all the complex preparations that had to be made.
He was able then to come over and say hello to us. We shared hugs and a few words. He teased Griffin, who greeted RC with “You fight tigers?” Griffin was fascinated by that fact. I’m not sure he thought Russell did that “for real.” It’s hard to grasp movies and the making of them when you are three. Russell was so sweet with him. He gave Griff a raspberry on his tummy and neck, which made Griffin giggle. Our little guy got very shy when picture time rolled around, so the pictures show mostly the back of his head (Those are extras in the background. Note Griff's ever present elephant)!
Russell had a chance to tell us about Charlie and Tenny – A cute story: Charlie is working through trying to fit his various career choices into a work week – He would be an author on the weekends, a paleontologist Monday and Tuesday, and then a policeman the rest of the week.
RC invited us to appear as constituent extras if we wanted to. The catch was you had to stand ready for a scene for an hour before. I knew I’d never make that after walking Washington earlier, and Mary Beth wasn’t sure how Griffin would do, so we had to decline. A missed opportunity if ever there was one!! (read Cgee's report on her stint as an extra) Still, just being there was reward enough for me. He shared that he is wearing a wig for this role. His real hair – very long for Nottingham – is tied into a pony tail under the wig. I felt the wig (at his invitation) and, while of top notch quality, it was definitely dry to the touch with no life of its own. It was nice to hear that Nottingham is moving forward, if very slowly. Ridley is scouting locations near London. The SAG AFTRA situation makes the future unsettled.
He hoped to wind up shooting that evening early enough to go the Alan Doyle’s concert at RFK Stadium. As it turned out, he could, and even sang two songs on stage with Alan (without that wig - in his own hair). [Videos at Consant Crowe in several formats] Sorry we missed that, but by then we were back in our room, watching “Atonement “on TV and resting. I conked out early and slept like a log, as did MB and Griff.
(He shared that on Sunday night they were going to film until 3 AM. They were doing a scene “in the rain,” and Russell would have to be under a rain tower to get the desired effect. He was shivering at the thought. They finally wrapped at 7AM Monday! He is still shivering...)
The next day – back to the museum and then home again.
We are full of memories of this very special time. I thank everyone, from Russell himself, to Keith, to Terry, Russell’s security man, who kindly and patiently waited on the street with us to hail a passing cab.
We can’t wait to see the film!