Tuesday, April 23, 2013

You can take the girl out of London...

But she will not leave her tendency towards bêtises behind.

My first day on set, I made a rookie mistake.

When I landed in Oran on Monday, I was understandably exhausted after a full day of travel and at least a full week of anxiety-induced sleep deprivation.  I was nervous still, slightly disoriented, and my brain was already aching from reactivating my three-years-dormant French.  The Arabic drifting through the air all around me, not a word of which I understood, was not helping matters.  I had, however, made it to Algeria, which meant that I probably hadn't dreamt up the feature film I had signed a contract to perform in.  Otherwise what was I doing there?

Strictly speaking, I didn't make the aforementioned mistake my first day on set.  I went straight there from the airport -- only stopping at the hotel to drop off my bags, brush my teeth, and spin into a five-minute panic over the presumed loss of my passport... until I remembered I had just left it at reception -- eager to see the other cast members and have a sneak peak at how things were going, although I wasn't scheduled to shoot until the next day.  Having never performed in a real movie before with real cameras and a real crew, I didn't know quite what to expect, and I wasn't about to make a fool of myself when I first stood in front of all of them.  No, no, I'd much prefer to make a fool of myself before the cameras were ever even rolling.

On that first Monday evening, I was reunited with my onscreen husband, I watched the opening sequence of our wedding run at least a dozen times (very impressed with the extras that ran past time and time again carrying cast-iron tables over their heads), and I met the rest of the cast, those who hadn't made it to our read-through in Paris.  Although offered to be driven straight to the hotel for the evening upon arrival -- which might have been wise considering my state -- I'm glad I decided to familiarise myself with the location, the crew, my fellow actors, and even to take up their invitation for a late dinner.

When my alarm went off at 6 on Tuesday morning, I thought better of the previous night's decision, but by then, it was too late.  I stumbled to my desk to write my morning pages, willed myself into the shower, and made it down to breakfast to discover that bar one, all of my options were dairy-based.

Side note: I don't think I've mentioned it on here, but I gave up dairy completely about a year ago when I realised it was wreaking havoc on my stomach and on my skin.  Did I think I could never give up cheese?  Yes.  But I did it.  And I've lived to tell the tale.  I've also been eating (mostly) vegan since the beginning of the year, but I knew this wouldn't be easy in Oran.  I was right.  That cast dinner on Monday night?  At a fish restaurant.  I'm going to have to plan my food more wisely for my next journey over.

The only option other than (butter-based) pastries and yogurt was this pre-sliced, intentionally stale bread and some "strawberry" jam that appeared to be 72% sugar and 12% colourant.  Yum!  The coffee, at least, was as delicious as it was needed.

At 7:30, our driver arrived to take one other actress and myself to set for hair and makeup.  It was here that I realised my silly error.

Before I get into it, let me lay down my defense.  Whilst on set the day before, I had run into the incomparable hair and makeup artists.  I had mentioned to the hair stylist that I hadn't washed my hair in a couple of days, and I asked whether it would be better to leave it or wash it before the next days filming.  She looked at it (pulled back) and asserted it was better to leave it a little dirty.  

Though I had managed a shower the day of the shoot, I dutifully kept my hair unwashed, despite noticing that is was pretty greasy as I brushed it back into a fresh ponytail.  

The stylist began to pull pins out of my hair as I sat down, and I removed my hair tie.  Her face dropped and her eyes widened.  "Oh no", she shook her head, "Oh no no no, I cannot do anything with this".  My eyes widened.  I too thought, Oh no.  "Far too much grease.  Far too much grease", she scolded, "What am I supposed to do with this?"

I had the overwhelming sensation that I had ruined everything five minutes after arriving.  Why hadn't I just washed it when I myself saw how greasy it was that morning?  I will never know.  I am proud to say I did not cry.

As I have spent a fair amount of time around French people before, I know they can have a slight tendency to exaggerate, and I kept that in mind as I apologised profusely (although I also dropped in the fact that she had told me not to wash my hair the day before).  She continued to say things like, "Far too much grease, far too much oil.  What are we going to do?  I can't do anything with this.  Impossible.  Impossible".  There must be a solution, I thought to myself.

And of course, there was.  "We'll have to wash it", she concluded finally, digging a bottle of shampoo out of her bag of tricks.  "Of course it won't be easy", she continued, "This is Algeria.  There's no hot water on tap".

"That's fine with me!" I assured her.

The house was similar in style to the one I had stayed in years earlier during my study abroad in Cameroon.  With tiled floors and walls that the residents swept daily, an outdoor balcony area, and a Turkish toilet upstairs (the kind with two raised rectangles suggesting where your feet should be planted and a funnel-style slant into a hole just behind them) it brought me right back to the days I had spent drinking beers on the porch in the afternoon Yaoundé sun, punctuated by freezing cold showers to wash away the perma-layer of sweat.

The hair stylist, of course, did not know this and was very concerned about pouring cold water from a basin over my head in the downstairs bathroom.  As I bent over the sink and rubbed the shampoo into the front of my hair, I laughed and told her it really was fine.

Her concern at the state of my hair had rapidly changed to concern at the circumstances that I was having to endure.  "Can you imagine?" she clucked, "Cold water when  you are used to..."

Of course she had (has) no idea what I'm used to.  She probably didn't know that this was my first feature film and that as an actor, I've put myself into much weirder/less comfortable situations for much less reward.  A little cold water wasn't going to get me down. 

One day of filming done, one lesson learned.  I will be making the trip four more times, and I'm sure there will be many more gaffs to follow.  At least next time I'll arrive on set with clean hair. 

1 comment:

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