CRIMSON PEAK, Monday, April 28, Day 16: (These day numbers are MY days on the film. I was off for 7 weeks while everyone else was still shooting, remember. We're somewhere around the 58th shooting day, overall.)
Woke up with a really sore foot. Something about my dress shoes in these formal-wear scenes is disagreeing horribly with my right foot and leg. The shoes aren't tight. Shoot, they're custom-made for me. But something neither I nor the swell wardrobe people can figure out is causing me a lot of pain and limping. It may merely be the combination of new shoes and constant standing for many hours at a stretch. I don't know. But it's interfering with my concentration, and there's only so far painkillers go. And I've done nothing but stand in my scenes for the past week. I'm hoping I'll just get used to it.
Tonight it's Charlie and me in the rain. Wait, you say, it didn't rain in Hamilton on Monday night. Well, it did where Charlie and I were standing. The scene was the one immediately following the one we finished last night, with Charlie and me walking out to his car. (The movie is set in 1901, so you can imagine how cool Charlie's car is!) Originally, the scene consisted of a short monologue of mine as we prepared to get in the car. But the fact that the scene also called for pouring rain made a monologue rather impractical. Just before we shot it, Guillermo suggested we cut the monologue and just say a few more casual words to each other as we are getting into the car. Despite having learned the monologue, I was all for this. The "rain" (from a rain tower positioned high above us) was worthy of NOAH, and it made no sense for two elegantly attired men to stand in it for half a page of dialog. Also, the words really revealed very little that the audience won't already know about the character, and I think this is probably Guillermo's real reason for cutting it. "Show, don't tell." At any rate, I was happy to lose the lines.
The scene took a very long time to shoot, nevertheless. We were supposed to get in the car and drive off, but it's a 114-year-old car, and the rain was a real deluge. Lots and lots of takes, some of them thwarted by top hats getting knocked off or umbrellas refusing to close, and all of them requiring Charlie and me to go inside after the take to be dried off, so we would always look dry at the beginning of the shot. Have you ever spent 9 hours going from your front door to your car in the rain? I have now.
Finally, we finished the drive-away scene and started prepping a dinner-party scene, one that will last most of the rest of the week. It's my first scene with all of the leading cast, Tom, Charlie, Mia, and Jessica. There are a good 14 background players at the dinner table as well. And what a dinner table! The movie business has on rare occasions allowed me to be present at formal dinners. But nothing I've ever experienced matches the elegance of this dining room in "my" house in CRIMSON PEAK. It's hard to imagine dinner at Buckingham Palace being more beautiful, more gracious, or more splendidly appointed. At each place, too, is a slice of cake that looks like it was created on Mount Olympus for Zeus, with gold icing that looks like real gold (and may be, for all I know). Unfortunately, though it's real, I can't touch it. I don't eat in the scene. So I get to stare at it for three more days. They make sure it's always fresh, in case there's a change in Guillermo's plans and I then have to eat it. But mainly, I can have my cake, but I can't eat it, too.
Tuesday, April 29, Day 17: Another rare day when all of the leading cast is together in one scene. It's more of yesterday's work, fancy dinner party. There's not really much to say, because the work was extremely repetitive. Guillermo does more takes than any director I've ever worked with, so we can spend an hour or two easily on each angle. He has the greatest filmmaking mind I've ever encountered. He has before him not just a jigsaw puzzle, but multiple copies of the jigsaw puzzle, each with pieces that are just slightly different from the corresponding piece in the other copies, and he knows all of these pieces and slight variations by heart. All great directors can do this, but I've never seen anyone who does it so well and with so many puzzle pieces. If a director does 2 or 3 takes of each angle, it's not extraordinary for him to be able to keep straight in his mind which beats work best, which sections of each take can be cut together with sections of other takes to make the best scene. But if there are 20 takes of each angle, that strikes me as being akin to playing multi-dimensional chess. Guillermo gets something different from each take, and then knows in his mind which moment from each will work best with the others. He can do the algebra of editing in his mind, working with dozens of factors, and I've never seen anything like it. Yes, it's tiring doing the same scene over and over for a day or more. But then you come in the next day and he shows you his edit, and you recognize bits from this take and that take and you realize that he has pulled together the very best seconds of each, and that the scene works infinitely better than it would with any single take of an angle. It's miraculous, and I'm privileged to be in his presence and to be one of the brushes he paints with.
That said, I stood up and tapped my fork on my glass to get my guests' attention about 400 times today, it seems. Fortunately for my foot problems, my feet were out of sight and I could wear my own shoes. The pain is diminishing the longer I don't have to wear the wardrobe shoes, but it's still a factor, especially as the night goes on. I don't think it's just the shoes, but rather a combination of new shoes and extremely prolonged standing. At any rate, it's a little better today. But just know, when you see the dinner party scene, that I've got my Nikes on.
Between scenes, it's theatre talk with Tom and Bruce Gray (who plays my lawyer Ferguson) and Jonathan Hyde (playing my friend Ogilvie). Lots of great stories about our own experiences and about the experiences of the greats of British theatre. Put a bunch of stage actors together and eventually there will always be a round-robin of tales about props not working and doors not opening and people going up in their lines or corpsing (breaking up) onstage. It's one of my favorite theatrical traditions, and Tom, Bruce, and Jonathan are master storytellers.
The dinner party continues for the next two nights. We're only half-way through this week of night shooting and the strain is already showing. Everyone is really tired.
Wednesday, April 30, Day 18: More dinner party, though today was primarily about the aftermath of the dinner party. We repeated a lot of yesterday's stuff at the dinner table, with that gorgeous cake still sitting there uneaten by me. (The extras got to eat theirs. Good for them.) The dining room is exquisite, with a long, long table appointed spectacularly with amazing china and glassware. Butlers (really actors) serve us, and they work very hard for little recognition. Background actors don't even get their names in the credits, but the actors playing servants in this film are really helping make this movie look wonderful. The background players who play guests have it a bit easier, being seated for the dinner. But three days of being seated in the most rigid of formal wear is exhausting in itself.
The dining room is difficult to shoot in, because it's a real dining room and (unlike in the studio) we can't remove walls to make room for the camera. We have a crane (or jib) that somehow fits in the room despite its size, and the shots Guillermo and his cinematographer Dan Lautsten are able to get are gorgeous. Not everyone knows that the cinematographer, despite often being referred to in the press and in books as "the cameraman," doesn't actually operate the camera (usually). The cinematographer lights the set and places the camera positions, but the actual operation of the camera is done by, of all things, the camera operator. We've normally got two operators on this film, Gilles Corbeil and Robert Stecko, and these guys are brilliant! As A-camera operator, Gilles is most prominent, also serving as our Steadicam operator, a job that requires not just ace camera skills but great strength and endurance. Gilles is incredibly easy-going and he has a master's touch with the camera. He's one of the best cameramen I've ever encountered. He shot PACIFIC RIM and THE THING (2011), and I hope to work with him many times in the future.
As often happens in good movies, something dramatic takes place, and once we finished the dinner itself, the action transfers to the foyer of the house for a big dramatic event. There was a bit of a break for most of us, as Tom and Mia had the bulk of the scene and the rest of us were only needed to come in at the most dramatic moment as witnesses. Guillermo shot Tom and Mia's part first, for several hours, which gave Jessica and me and the rest of the group some time to relax. When finally we were needed, it was in the wee hours, and a lot of standing was required. I lucked out again when it turned out our feet wouldn't be showing, so I got to keep my personal shoes on instead of the formal dress shoes. My feet are getting better every day now.
We have these wonderful people called Cast Coordinators, Emma Tamblyn and Sam Rosati. I've never been on a production with people in that particular job, that I'm aware of. Their job is to get us in the cast to wherever we're supposed to be and to make sure we've got whatever we need to do our jobs right and well. This job usually falls to Production Assistants or 3rd ADs (Assistant Directors), and we have those here, too. But Emma and Sam are very closely focused in their jobs primarily on the cast. With this nagging cough and raspy voice lingering after my cold, Emma has been an angel of mercy, showing up with hot tea just when I need it. It may seem we are being coddled, and in many ways we are. But actors working on a scene aren't free just to wander off and grab a drink or something to eat. Yet a drink or cough drop may be just what we need to enable us to do the scene well, so it's a benefit to the production to have someone there who can run such errands without pulling us off the set. It feels like special privilege, but despite the innate kindness of these people, they wouldn't have these responsibilities if it didn't make shooting go faster and more effectively. I've been guzzling hot tea this week, and I'd never have been able to get enough when I need it if it weren't for Emma's kind ministrations and attention.
Every time Guillermo calls "Cut!," a troupe of hair, makeup, and wardrobe people swarm over us to make sure nothing is out of place. I used to think this was overkill, because in real life, people have hair out of place or their ties a bit askew. But I came to realize that it's not so much about making everyone look perfect as it is about making sure we look the same in every shot. We do lots of takes from various angles, and a messy lock of hair in one shot that is perfectly in place in a different shot would yank the audience out of the scene. So before each new take, there's this flurry of activity as we get "final touches" that are never final. Until the end of the day when we finally hear, "That's a wrap."
It was way past dawn before we heard "That's a wrap," today. And due to construction at my hotel, I have to go there after work and check out and move to a different hotel which, they tell me, will be much quieter. Let's hope. I'm fried.
Thursday, May 1, Day 19: Continuing the dramatic aftermath of the dinner party. Have you ever seen someone get slapped 40 or 50 times, for two days, and seen them do so without ever flinching prematurely? Well, I have now. I think I would not have stood up well under the punishment one of my cast mates took the last couple of days. Sure, it was all choreographed by the stunt coordinator and reasonable precautions were taken by all parties. But in the end, it involved getting slapped in the face repeatedly for the better part of two days. It was covered from every angle, and because it comes in the middle of a longer scene, everything in the scene had to be right before we could move on to another angle or, blessedly, another shot. I'm bending over backwards not to spoil things in these diary entries, so who, what, and why must remain mysteries. But suffice it to say that there's some tough, dedicated folks in this cast.
It was probably 3 in the morning by the time we finished the dinner-party aftermath and Mia, Bruce, Jonathan, and all the extras were sent home and we started work on an earlier scene that will precipitate everything we've shot for the past few days. This is a much more intimate scene between Jessica, Tom, and myself.
I was particularly exhausted because I'd moved to a new hotel the previous morning and, about 2 hours after I collapsed in the bed there, the fire alarm went off. I dragged myself up and walked down 12 flights of stairs and around to the front of the building, where the firetrucks were already being loaded up by the firemen leaving after a false alarm. There had been a similar false alarm the previous day at the old hotel, so clearly sinister forces are at work. Or coincidence, which is much harder to fight. Anyway, it cost me an hour's sleep on a day when I didn't have it to spare.
The scene we started at zero-dark-thirty (sorry, Jessica) is, for want of a better term, my most dramatic in the film, in terms of dialog and verbal intensity. It's a turning point in the narrative and involves a great deal of semi-suppressed emotion. It also involves a lot of prop work. I have to open envelopes, write (with an antique fountain pen), precisely tear paper, and walk at the same time. Normally, I have enough trouble doing that last by itself, so technically this was the kind of scene I really dislike. I'm not a greatly coordinated person, and saying lines while writing, folding, and tearing on exactly the same words every time, every take, is a real challenge for me. That's in addition to the standard requirements of turning at precise moments, hitting marks without looking at them, making sure my face is in the light while not shadowing anyone else's, and handling the props the same way and with the same hand every take. If acting consisted of nothing but standing and saying lines, it would probably not look all that interesting, but it would be a million times easier than it is. Instead, in a prop-heavy scene like this one, it's a balancing act, juggling B-Bs on a tightrope to the beat of a metronome. Chris Geggie and Kevin Lise, our prop guys, are brilliant at getting everything placed properly for us, and re-placed after every take. But in the scene, no one can save you from recalcitrant props but yourself. I envy actors who handle props smoothly and without apparent stress. I'm always sweating inside when I have anything to handle, even just a drinking glass. Guys like Lee Marvin, Steve McQueen, and John Wayne had a special gift for adroitness with props, making everything look like the natural extension of their characters. I, on the other hand, always feel as though I'm being asked to do a card trick for the first time while explaining quantum mechanics in Hindi to tourists from Andorra.
Have I mentioned that Jessica Chastain is astonishingly beautiful? A lot of the scene requires me staring into her eyes, and it's a remarkable experience. I recommend it. I get to stare into Hiddleston's eyes, too. It's not quite the same, but I enjoy it. With both of them, particularly in this scene, there's such a wealth of thought and emotion swimming in those eyes. It feeds the scene even when they aren't speaking. That the scene is lit gorgeously by Dan Lautsten's (artificial) fireplace glow adds immeasurably to the atmosphere. But it's a tough scene, and I don't think Guillermo's getting from me what he wants in it. I don't think that, because he told me so! I asked if he was getting what he needed from me, and he laughed and said, "No, but I will." It's a very dramatic scene, and I drive it, and there's a natural tendency amongst many actors (myself apparently included) to make more of a meal of dramatic scenes than we should. More than once, Guillermo warned me about getting "too Agatha Christie" with it. The great writer-director Billy Wilder was asked what was the hardest thing about directing, and he replied, "Getting the actors to talk fast enough." Obviously, that's an issue for me in this scene, despite the fact that I'm a die-hard proponent normally of getting through the words without undue delay. Guillermo keeps mentioning Howard Hawks, the director who directed his actors to tear through dialog rapidly. He said, "Play it like the last scene in THE THING," the 1951 movie that Hawks produced, where the actors rip through the closing dialog like they're in a race. I don't remember that scene terribly well, so I reference another Hawks film, HIS GIRL FRIDAY, a movie with some of the fastest dialog in history. "No!" Guillermo shouts. "Not that! That's too fast!" Well, at least now I have a gauge, a set of reference points. But I'm tired. We're all tired. The sun's now been up for an hour or two and the crew is dead on their feet, I'm dead on what's left of mine, and I'm getting sloppy with the props and the timing and the words. Camera moves are starting to be more difficult. Finally, with the master and Tom's coverage completed, Guillermo asks if we mind finishing the scene on Sunday, after Friday and Saturday off, getting a fresh start on it. Knowing that we were scheduled to finish the scene now, and knowing we had hours left to do, it was a real relief to everyone to wrap it up to come back later, even though Sunday was supposed to be a day off for Tom and Jessica.
The funny thing is that it wasn't a particularly long day, as movie days go. It's just that the shift this week from day shooting to night shooting has thrown everyone into a whirlpool of exhaustion and mental disarray. I'm ecstatic to have nearly two full days off, to get some sleep, to do some relaxing activities, and to prepare anew for the scene -- maybe figuring out how to do it the way GDT wants!
Lots of words, I know, but interesting behind the scenes info that will surely make us feel closer to the movie.