Bum Day

Today I played a bum in movie you will never see.

I regret not getting a still shot of me fully bummed out. The makeup lady went to town on me — I think she was tired of just covering up blotches and blemishes on the other actors and was happy to have someone for whom her job was exactly the opposite. In the end my skin looked filthy (not just dirty, but that ground-in grime that extends several millimeters below the surface), I had a nasty-looking sore on my lip, and I had a black eye. Some vegetable oil for the hair, and I looked truly awful. Given time, I think she would have continued to add deformities and lesions, but this is the movie business, and there’s never enough time.

It was raining lightly when we made our way from the makeup room onto the streets of Prague. I shouldn’t have looked in the mirror after the makeup was done; I felt a bit self-conscious walking down the street. Doubly so when the first thing we did upon meeting up with the rest of the crew was duck into a little cafeteria-style restaurant for lunch. I did not look like the kind of guy you want in front you in the chow line. (Did I mention the big ketchup stain I put on my chest?)

Lunch finished, it was time to start acting. We made our way to a nearby park and selected a bench. They had forgotten the classic bottle-in-the-paper-bag prop, and so I was handed a plastic bottle of wine (if you take a bottle into most wine stores here, they will fill it for you). The wine was pretty good. We did a few takes. “I think you’ve found your calling,” Little John said. He meant it as a compliment. Actually, I might have been overdoing it a wee bit, but the crew was laughing (later in the day a shot was blown when the crew laughed as I scratched my ass), and I was in touch with my inner bum. I took a few lessons from the Miguel Martinez face book, moved with that careful deliberation that drunks use, and when I moved to the next park bench I sat very heavily.

The temperature was dropping. It was not just meandering in a downward direction, it had a heartfelt need to explore the basement. [As I write this, it is snowing.] We did the scene several times, using the camera from different angles, while I slowly emptied the bottle. For the off-the-tripod shots, the cameraman said he wasn’t able to hold the camera completely steadily after a while. But we carried on, for the art. I blew a couple of decent shots by saying “I could be you!” instead of “You could be me!” Technicalities. I had a lot more lines than I had been told about, and none of them stuck that well.

The rain continued. My shoes leak.

A woman passed by, then stopped on the corner and made a phone call. “Think she’s calling the cops?” one of the crew asked. Apparently this little venture had dispensed with some of the formalities. “Nah, she’s smilin'” another said. Our next location was right around the corner from the police station. There were cops everywhere, but none paid any attention to us at all. I didn’t think about it, I just continued to ply my craft.

That’s what actors say, right? “Ply my craft”? Because, well, I really don’t know crap about that stuff. Or about acting, for that matter. But being a bum on a park bench, that I can do. Being a guy who appears to be a bum wandering the street who is actually not a bum at all, I managed to pull off well enough to make them happy.

“You should have asked for more,” the assistant said as he paid me. Next time, I will.

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