Saturday, July 24, 2010

Jackie Zane talks about Rob, Tai & filming WFE

Jackie Zane - Lucinda, Benzini Bros. Circus Sideshow Performer:

“Working on the set of ‘Water for Elephants’ (WFE) was, in my opinion, AMAZING! I have been on a number of sets in various capacities as an actor. Whether lead role, supporting role, featured role, or background role…there is often a strict hierarchy and segregation among the levels. I have experienced each extreme, and witnessed a similar treatment among the production crew. The WFE set was a much different atmosphere as everyone from top to bottom was treated with the utmost respect! This seems like such an irony as the story of the circus depicted in this film had much focus on the separation of classes. I realized early on that this film experience would be unique and I cherished every moment. Although personal cameras were banned from the actual set, the images are burned in my memory. So when I am like Older Jacob, at “90 or 93 years old – I can’t remember”, I will look back on my days with the traveling circus fondly.

Many people have asked for specific details on the filming process, and I have been requested to share with a couple different blogs. In an effort to avoid monotonous descriptions, I am sharing various accounts of my experience…so here goes! My first day on the set was a long one, about sixteen hours, and I didn’t get bored once. Everything was incredibly organized as we were shuttled through each phase of the day. First it was to base camp where after checking in and having breakfast, I visited wardrobe, then hair and make-up. This is where a young man in smeared clown make-up is sitting next to me and we are making casual light talk. He extends his hand to me and says “I’m Rob, by the way!” Ahh I get to share the make-up trailer with Robert Pattinson. (So many young girls would love to be in my shoes.) He is the epitome of friendly. He is charming and witty with the tendency to giggle as he was being fitted in one silly looking wig after another. This superstar had no ego to speak of. He was gracious and above all….human. This was my first impression of him, but it repeated itself each day. We shared several conversations in the make-up trailer and he always made a point to say hello when on set. A few moments later, a gorgeous red headed woman with sparkling eyes and a dazzling smile joins us. She immediately approaches me with genuine glee and introduces herself using an alluring southern accent. This woman is Donna Scott, who plays the role of Barbara. This gal is beautiful inside and out and greeted me each day with a hug and kiss on the cheek. There is already something magical happening as the ease and friendliness of the actors unfolds.

Once I am transformed into a 1930’s style wig and make-up, I am taken to set to shoot a breakfast scene with a large number of other featured performers under an authentically tattered circus tent. The zebras, horses, and llamas in the background, I am seated next toKinko played by the fantastic actor Mark Povinelli. (I had the pleasure of working with him in an episode of ‘Cold Case’, so it was great to see a familiar face!) My other table-mates were the Benzini Bros. Circus clowns!!! They were the utmost fun!!! It brought a whole new meaning to the term ‘clowning around’ and the circus family feeling soon emerged! We were laughing while shooting a scene where Jacob wakes up from a rough night in unfamiliar clothes. He soon realizes that he is also positioned to wake up shoved in a trunk and placed on a pedestal in the breakfast tent. He must make his humiliating walk of shame through the crowd and past our table.

Several takes later, we were given a lunch break. It’s finally a chance to get to know some of the other amazing people. In a cast of mostly men, the ladies bonded together instantly. Show Girls, Coochie Girls, and Side Show Performers UNITE! This did not keep us from getting to know the men however. C’mon! A tent full of handsome fellas in 1930’s attire is enough to make any girl swoon!! There is just something elegant and romantic about that era, whether a suit, band uniform, or dirty workman’s overalls…the look was stunning! Costume designer Jacqueline West and her team had an incredible eye for detail. Each and every person went through daily inspection to insure authenticity. While in my sideshow costume, I always wore an embroidered butterfly on my foot or ankle. A small vintage detail that will most likely go unnoticed, but is an example of how thorough they were! After lunch, I am summoned to wardrobe for a costume change and make-up refresher… then swept away to a private photo shoot where a few of us were photographed individually. In an effort to recreate some old vintage photographs, our images are going to be used as some of the movie props. Afterwards, it’s back to wardrobe for costume change number three. The day is flying by and I hardly notice that I am already into the tenth hour!

The sky is darkening as we are in our make-up trailers preparing for the party scene in Kinko’s train car. As is often the case with film, many scenes are shot out of sequence. It is actually supposed to be the night before the breakfast scene we finished earlier in the day. As evening envelopes, the production crew is hard at work setting up for the night shoot. The amount of light permeating the darkness from the giant flood lights is obnoxious. However the talented crew uses the right angles, shadows, and effects to enhance the mood. Herbal cigarettes, matches, and mugs are handed out to create the party atmosphere as we oooh and ahhh as Queenie the dog performs tricks. The desert night is cool and brisk as we film into the wee hours. After wrapping for the day, I make my way back to base camp to change out of my costume and turn in my wig. As we board our shuttle to return to parking, it amazes us that the group of people parked outside of the set entrance from this morning is still there. I later learn that these are the dedicated fans, known as ‘set soldiers’, that continued showing the love and support day in and day out through the entire filming process. Their constant enthusiasm and heartfelt waves to everyone involved was endearing. It was clear that most of them were there in support of Rob or Christoph, but they did not discriminate. They made us all feel loved! Hence, crawling into bed at 3:00am was a glorious feeling. It had been a full day and I felt like a lot was accomplished. I couldn’t wait for my next day of filming. My shoot dates were scattered throughout the months of May, June, and July. Each day was a new and exciting adventure as we would escape back to the 1930’s. The WFE circus family was full of interesting personalities that was an incredible mix of people. We all seemed to genuinely like each other and every single one of us felt honored to be part of such an amazing group.

Other scenes included the interior of the train, another breakfast, under the big top with Rosie, and a scene in front of a green screen. The easy going vibe continued throughout the filming. The first day I worked with Reese Witherspoon, she approached a group of us and introduced herself. She would always go out of her way to say hello to me and was extremely approachable. No wonder she has one of the best reputations in Hollywood for nicest person to work with! Her kids visited the set a few times and she beamed with pride when we chatted about them. I’ll say the same for her as I did Rob. She was incredibly friendly and above all…human. Then there was Christoph Waltz. I worked with him for three days and even when standing just inches from him, I could only muster a shy “Hi”. I found myself feeling dumbfounded! He was fantastic during his scenes, and joked around between takes. Yet, I found myself star struck. Finally I was sitting next to him in the make-up trailer (clearly the BEST place to meet people!!), and officially introduced myself. He was friendly, laughed at a joke I made and exchanged pleasantries. Suddenly he was in my eyes …human. Although there is something thrilling about being near someone that makes you feel star struck, there is so much more satisfaction to see them as a real person. At least that is how I feel.

The most amazing star however was, hands down, Tai the elephant. She played Rosie and is absolutely mesmerizing. I kept hearing about her from others who got to work with her, or watch her practice. I was often filming other scenes or being prepped and had missed out on several opportunities to see her. The first time I saw her was close up. She was walking beside me into the big top tent for a scene. I stopped to let her pass and she radiated warmth and kindness with her amber eyes. She is incredibly well trained and docile. She seemed absolutely smitten with Rob. She raised her trunk to sniff his face repeatedly as he gently pet her in an effort to give her attention while he focused on receiving direction for the scene. It was such a Kodak moment but alas, I had no camera.

Francis Lawrence is like no director I have worked with before. Often as a featured or background actor, one does not see much of the director. There is usually a group of people huddled behind the monitors and direction comes via walkie-talkie to the Assistant Director who then relays the info to the background. This is just common practice. Although this practice was used some of the time, Francis was very accessible. He was often walking around the set, chatting with all the actors and setting up the scene. Heck, I even saw him act as a stand-in (when the hired stand-in was unavailable) so they could set the lighting and camera angle!! He made a point of saying hello to us by name as we passed by. He made us feel important to each and every scene.

During the busier filming days on WFE, additional crew people were hired in several capacities. One visiting crew member said to me, “If a fish stinks at the head, then it is rotten all the way down to its tail.“ This metaphor is in reference to many situations she has encountered in the industry. It was, however a backwards reflection on WFE as she followed with “When it’s good at the top, it’s good all the way through.” Her meaning was that everyone working on WFE was fantastic, and therefore, this fish was good head-to-tail. It didn’t matter if it was the producer, director, principle actor, hair/make-up/wardrobe, caterer, background actor, background wrangler, or security guard; everyone was treated with respect and a part of a whole.

I felt honored and proud to a part of this film. It is a project where the old saying ‘There are no small parts’ rings true. All too often, the background and featured background actors are not acknowledged or appreciated with the respect they deserve. I often shy away from extra work for this very reason. So it was incredibly refreshing to be a part of such a fantastic story along with equally amazing people. I would like to thank everyone who worked on the film, as well as Sara Gruen for writing such a fascinating story. A very special thank you goes to the fans that have showed such tenacious support. This experience will always hold a special place in my heart!”

Thanks , Jackie, for sharing your set story.

You can follow Jackie on Twitter @jackiezane

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