(Author’s Note: This is a pre-Mommyhood Flashback Essay. See yesterday’s post for Part 1.)
“Toto– I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”
Late in the game, a second scene is added to the shot list of the dark comedy movie my husband Nick wrote and is directing (“Mini’s First Time”), a scene in which I may get to speak actual lines.
Are looking over at his neighbor’s house, where Martin Tannen and Mini (Alec Baldwin and Nikki Reed) live with Diane, Mini’s mother, who’s played by lovely Carrie-Anne Moss (“The Matrix”).
The strange goings on at the Tannen House that we’re observing from the balcony include bouquets of flowers and balloons being delivered, a little person in a clown costume honking a horn, and various wild animals walking around, including a real live monkey, a giraffe, a zebra, two tigers and a grizzly bear.
In the movie, Mini has ordered all of these things to be delivered to the house pretending to be her mother, who regularly pops pills and guzzles mass quantities of liquor, and the goal is to make Diane think she’s going insane.
We’re told the giraffe is the same giraffe who has starred in the famous Toys R Us TV commercials, and the monkey’s no slouch, either. She’s the same monkey who played Marcel, Ross’ (David Schwimmer’s character’s) pet monkey on the sitcom “Friends.” Marcel was played by a girl monkey!
The monkey wears a diaper on the set, because apparently you can train a monkey to do just about anything except use a toilet or not fling its poop at people’s faces. Nick and I get to take pictures with the monkey and are as tickled as if it’s one of the highlights of our entire lives, which it probably is.
The tigers and the bear have the same trainer and their footage is shot on a different day than the other animals, presumably because they are natural predators and might eat the monkey and the Toys R Us giraffe, resulting in the world’s children going without toys, come Christmas morn. Oh, wait, no, that’s Santa…
On the day the tigers and bear do their big scene, while they’re probably in their trailers rehearsing their Method acting, I read the “call sheet”, which is a daily sheet handed out to the cast and crew, listing things like the times the actors should arrive on set and what scenes will be shot each day.
This call sheet reads on the top of it in big block letters that WOMEN WHO ARE MENSTRUATING on that day should remain in the house at all times and not be near the tigers or the bear. I’m assuming this is because the smell of fresh, flowing red blood might cause these wild, if trained, animals to charge the unsuspecting fertile woman and maul her? Not to be too graphic, but I did happen to be “menstruating” that day, myself.
I left the set early in the afternoon for a meeting on a screenplay I was writing, anyway, but it appeared to me as if all the women were remaining safely in the house. See, women are smart, if given the option of being mauled by a bear or not being mauled by a bear, they’re gonna go for “not mauled” every time.
The animals had a professional trainer, and the crew was also told that while around the animals, they should remain in a group. “If for any reason- and this has never happened,” they were told, but if it did, and “if for any reason” the animals should get past the one, thin, single electrical security wire not containing them and “charge” the group, do not run, because they may single you out from the herd.
Okay, I don’t want to be depressing, here, but quickly cut to April 2008, when a trainer was killed by a bear being trained by the same company who provided our wild animals for that scene- including a bear! It was a terrible tragedy, and the bear who killed the trainer had recently been seen in the Will Ferrell movie “Semi-Pro”.
I’m not saying it was the same bear used in our movie, it probably wasn’t , but man– I was on the set while the bear was there, and girl, I was bleeding like a piece of fresh kill that day. Yet another of my many near death experiences in life, I’ve got some doozies.
So, the day Jeff Goldblum and I shoot our balcony scene, we start early, around nine AM, which means we were “in make-up” getting ready in the make-up trailer, barely after sunrise. We are filming this half of the scene on a separate day than the Tannen house animal stuff, and our scene will be intercut with that footage, as if it’s all happening at once.
Nick decided to add the balcony scene for several reasons, one being that he wanted to have more of Jeff Goldblum in the movie. As we liked to say, “More Jeff is more better”. Nick also wanted to have something to cut to in editing, to break up the action of the other sequence, which was shot in one continuous take (except for the day with the tigers and bear).
The balcony scene, however, is to be completely improvised by us, meaning that we have no written lines. The crew is recording what we say, but Nick is not yet sure what, if any, of our conversation, he’ll ultimately use in the movie.
I am scared but also relieved by this prospect, because I can’t freeze up by not remembering my lines, and I had done improvisation before in acting class. The thing about improv is, you commit to who you are pretending to be and what the situation is, and then you just go with the moment. Whatever happens, happens, you just ride with it.
Today we’re shooting at a different rented mansion in Malibu, very ornate with lots of marble and chandeliers, owned by a delightful, sassy woman in her eighties I’ll call P.
P was a firecracker. She asked what the name of the movie we were shooting was, and I said “Mini’s First Time,” qualifying, as usual, that it wasn’t a porno.
P shrugged and said “Who cares if it’s a porno? If people don’t like it, they can change the channel.” I hear a rumor that P survived the Holocaust, she’s not gonna be fazed by a slightly racy movie scene.
The situation Jeff and I are pretending to be in is post-coital. Mike Rudell (Jeff) and his favorite call girl Jennifer are hanging out on his balcony after praying all night at the foot of the bed. Jennifer is holding a glass of champagne, as usual, and wearing only a navy blue towel. In the movie, Mike Rudell is a wealthy, successful TV producer and doesn’t need to pay anyone to get sex, but he likes Jennifer, she’s fun, and it’s “no strings attached.”
Paraphrasing what Charlie Sheen once said about prostitutes, “You don’t pay them for sex, you pay them to leave.”. All I know going into the scene is that Jeff is gonna ask me some questions and maybe tell me some interesting facts about giraffes. All I need to do is respond as naturally as possible. It is a beautiful, sunny morning, and the devout Catholic girl’s hair (my $2,000 fake extensions) is smooth and blowing in the breeze.
The cameras start rolling and Jeff is playful, we’re both acting giddy and flirty, which is of course, completely appropriate for two people who are post coital, assuming the sex was happy. He runs his fingers through my hair, coyly asking “Do you have hair extensions?” (I cringe and smile). He tells me some funny facts about the lengths of giraffe’s tongues, then he asks me at one point to kiss his finger. I do, and it somehow makes its way into my mouth (!)
Now, this is gonna sound a little bit slutty, but for some reason Jennifer (myself, playing Jennifer) looks at him wide-eyed, a little faux-shocked, then says “I want the thumb.” I repeat, I was not a mother yet.
Jeff playfully gives me his thumb to suck, and I do. He also kisses me, pouring the champagne (actually sparkling grape juice, this time) from his mouth into mine, and sucks on my nose, saying to me “Put your nose in my mouth and smell my stomach,” which I thought was a weird, but hilarious line.
Now, yes, my husband is directing this whole thing, with a whole crew of people watching his wife sucking on another dude’s thumb! Awkward. Someone makes a joke about Roger Vadim, who I later realize was once Jane Fonda’s husband, who was a director and reportedly pressured her into doing threesomes. Ack.
During one of the takes, I hear a crew member drop a piece of equipment, loudly, and in the back of my mind, I’m thinking, is this really okay, that I’m doing this, in front of God and the grips? Is Nick gonna be mad at me?
If you’ve ever been in acting classes, especially the ones in L.A., they encourage you to lose your inhibitions and go with the flow of a scene, as long as you’re not compromising your morals or values.
A famous female porn star named Ginger Lynn was actually a fellow student in one of my classes (and was reportedly dating Charlie Sheen around that time), and she did a scene with one breast hanging out of her top, and no one said a word about it afterwards. This kind of thing was fairly common, people doing scantily clad love scenes and such, and it was all cool, man, we were performing “art.”
I knew that Nick, having studied in acting class for years himself, understood this completely. Still, right after the scene was shot, I wondered if the crew would be uncomfortable talking to me, or wonder if Nick and I were kinky freaks or on the verge of divorce. I wondered if anybody was going to yell at me, “There goes the whore!” throwing sticks and large stones, as my husband hands me legal separation papers and refuses to look me in the eye.
I went directly up to Nick and checked in, making sure he wasn’t contemplating violence, which he wasn’t. He had been laughing the whole time and he loved the improv stuff we shot, although most of it didn’t end up in the movie. The main focus of that scene is, as it was always meant to be, on the Tannen house and the animal delivery stuff.
But the experience was a blast, I’m honored I got the chance to do it. I still laugh when I think of Jeff saying that “Put your nose in my mouth and smell my stomach” line, to me, that was classic quirky Goldblum gold. For a millisecond, I could pretend I was a bit player in one of Jeff’s movies like “The Big Chill,” “The Fly,” or “Jurassic Park,” especially since all those velociraptors had their faux-haired hookers on speed dial.
And by the way, nose sucking is not half bad, if you’re willing to try it.