Up in the morning earlier than I wanted to be, and out the door on the dot of 7. Adam is waiting downstairs. This is low budget telly. I’m giving a lift to one of the other actors.
Drive through a waking Sunday London. Clear roads, but Bergman is absolutely peppered with marks. Dirty rain. Perhaps that’s what caused my headache yesterday. Pollution.
Halfway there and “Shit I haven’t shaved!” These guys won’t have a make-up bus with guaranteed razors. “You look alright,” says Adam, but no. I grow a beard in a day. I need to look sharp for this. It’s what I’m selling. I stop at a Shell garage, and they sell me a bag of disposable women’s razors and a tin of Gillette. That’ll do.
Arrival at location and it’s an old Mayoral Residence. A stately home but much of the garden has been sold and developed into suburban housing. The house remains, incongruous now but beautiful nonetheless.
We are met at the gate by the lateral flow guy. Oh yuk yes that again. Everybody is in masks. We all know the routine now. Gak. Done. Still just one line on the strip. I wonder what they’d have done if one of us had come up double.
And we are into an improvised green room for 8. Somebody has turned a flight case into a mirror. Rachel has got there before us and is almost ready, looking sharp. She’ll be playing two different characters, one on video and one just audio with a different accent, but both live. She’s unruffled and versatile. We greet one another. We met before some years ago through a dear old friend, now gone back to Philly. She is also friends with a couple who are also dear old friends. Small world, this acting business.
I have my uncles suit bag and tie case. I use three plastic razors to hack the stubble from my chin with minimum blood. I get changed into my trusty blue three piece. I’m glad it’s not as hot as it was yesterday. I select a silk tie. It’s quiet. I know they’re gonna stick the mic in there.
I’m dressed by half eight. Calm in the bustle. Somebody brings me an instant coffee and I politely dispose of it. I hear somebody else say “flat white”. I manage to get one. It makes me happy. I wait. Somebody brings me an updated script. New lines!
Playtesters are ready. They are the same people who brought the coffee. They’re running through the scenario, making decisions, challenging us to see how we roll, checking the edges. I have a script but some of it is bullet points. I’m going to need to listen and respond here. Back to the green room and there with me is a naval man more highly ranked than my naval grandfather. We talk about the fact I have the binnacle of HMS Vanguard on my bedroom shelf. He’s going to be with us all day as well, playing himself.
My character has my own name. He’s not me at all but he bears my name and wears my comfortable clothes. It feels right as we are the liminal between pretend and real here. Real things are happening in pretendyland. But first, the waiting.
“I always forget to bring a book first day on set,” I tell the naval man. He’s patient and bemused and generous. He has given a great deal of his precious time to this project and he is never anything other than delightful. A softly spoken man of culture, and extremely high ranking. “I think he’s the highest ranking man I’ve ever met,” says Adam. One of the good ones. “I’ve brought a magazine,” he says. He sits quietly for hours while I fidget.
Two groups through and the same frame but played out very differently. By the time we were finished I had been there for over twelve hours. Now I’m home. Yesterday I was fast asleep at this time. At least today I’m not boiling. I’m cooking a Tesco Finest Tikka Masala and having a glass of Rioja.
I can’t really write about this, hence the vagueness. But it was delightful. And I think it’ll be very good. And I’m glad to have been involved.