Below the Line works Crazy Heart in Santa Fe

Here I am again, an extra on a major motion picture, one of about 10 currently shooting in New Mexico. This is a one day affair on a film called “Crazy Heart” starring Jeff Bridges, who seems to be everywhere these days, Robert Duvall, and Maggie Gyllenhaal.

(It’s one day for me and my fellow extras, but the crew and actors will be here for about two weeks.) Our scene is in a bar, actually the Elks Hall in Santa Fe, where Jeff Bridges, who plays down and out country singer Bad Blake, is making a minor comeback with the support of his friend and mentor Wayne, played by Robert “Bobby” Duval.

So after about 8 hours of waiting around while the crew came from another location and got set up, we 62 extras all got a chance to meet and greet. A bit too much time if you ask me (can’t they plan these things better??), and then it was meal time. As I have written before, the meals are usually divided up between the “A” list—actors and crew, and the extras, who eat a slightly inferior meal. But in this case, we all ate together, with the crew going first, so we small people got to eat all the good stuff (today’s main selections was swordfish in a white sauce, lamb, and hand carved capon….not too shabby….) My first impression of Robert Duvall was very positive…he ate in the main room along with everyone else. Just one of the guys. And a rare thing to see such a star to be so unassuming and available. But since mealtime is still on the set, he felt comfortable that proper “set etiquette” would apply, and thus he was not bothered by extras who wanted autographs and pictures. If that happens at all, it’s usually at the end of the day/night, and in fact it did with Jeff Bridges, who was very open to meet folks at the end of the day’s work.

So my story for the day was that even though our job for the day was to be bar patrons listening to Jeff’s song, which turned out to be originally written by Greg Brown, I was relegated to the back of the room by the pool tables. Away for the camera and the bandstand. Bummer. But it turns out I was positioned right next to Robert Duvall’s chair, so between takes he’d come back and sit not three free in front of me. A true hero of American cinema within arm’s length. Well, I know you’re not supposed to talk to the actors, but here we were looking at each other, so when the moment was right I told him there was a great photo of him as Gus McCrea from “Lonesome Dove” in the window of a downtown Santa Fe gallery. The fellow next to me said it was the Smith gallery. “What?”, Mr. Duvall asked…he’s getting to bit heard of hearing it seems. “We all really like your photo as Gus McCrea in the Santa Fe gallery on San Francisco Street” I repeated. “Gus…?” he replied, “that’s my favorite part!”. Wow…that’s saying something, with all his experience and great roles. So I ventured a bit further, telling him that the recently aired prequel to “Lonesome Dove“, “Comanche Moon“, was also filmed here in the Santa Fe area. I’m glad I’d didn’t add that I was an extra in that TV movie, because he said rather loudly, “I hated that picture…Comanche Moon? I hated that!” cool Bobby, cool, just askin’.

As we finished up the night and the ADs placed me closer into the scene, we all experienced a very special bond with Jeff Bridge and his live band of local musicians (Jeff on acoustic guitar and vocals—he‘s really good– , Jon Gagen, bass, a drummer and petal steel player), as they went through this very slow and beautiful Greg Brown song that music consultant and producer T Bone Burnette somehow found for the movie. We didn’t have to act as we listened to the heartfelt words and imagined what Bad Blake must have gone through to sing those words as they were his own. I guess we’re supposed to think that anyway, but it was a extraordinary time in that bar, and at the end of the evening Jeff and the band got heartfelt applause form everyone, and from the director Scott Cooper on down we all knew we had been part of a special moment in the movie. Can’t wait to see it.

Michael Handler for Below the Line

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