I pulled with all my might and still it barely moved. There were three of us along the length of the rope, and on the command of the first in line we heaved in unison. The scene was reminiscent of the children’s book The Enormous Turnip, where the whole family, including pets, are called upon to help haul a huge turnip out of the ground. Only we were not desperately trying to unearth an enormous root vegetable, we were trying to hang a human being by the neck from a tree.
I got a bit trigger-happy responding to ‘expenses only’ casting calls in my final year at Drama School, and found myself cast in a student film in Luton. The actor we were attempting to hang was wearing a harness under his clothes by which he was attached to the tree, but we were finding it very difficult to lift him off the ground. Every time we did get a few inches of air beneath him, his legs and back would swing way out behind him so that he formed a straight diagonal line from head to toe, making it very obvious that he was not in fact hanging from the (rather slack) noose around his neck at all. The poor actor was also having problems with the way the harness ‘cupped’ his nether regions, so we had to release him at regular intervals in order to give him a ‘ball break’. After a number of hours on this conundrum, which my fellow actor mainly spent skimming the ground with his big toes, the director called a state of emergency and recruited the help of a third party – a stoned, greasy-haired friend of his. Greasy Stoner was immediately put to work lifting Hanged Actor by the legs, requiring the rest of us to maintain the established position rather than having to haul him bit by ball-breaking bit off the ground. This was easier still once we had drafted the help of a nearby tree trunk around which we could tie off the rope. We just about made it work. You know, with a lot of close-ups and clever camera angles.
This was the first of three short films that I appeared in during the last months of my training and although the final cut was pretty disastrous, I did manage to salvage the odd clip for showreel purposes. Which is a whole lot more than can be said about my next foray into film…
The ‘vision’ for the so-called ‘art film’ was inspired by the works of the artist Caravaggio. The director (a Bob Marley lookalike, who if he’d been any more chilled out would have been moving backwards) wanted to depict passionate kisses between an eclectic group of couples, in extreme close-up. The film was being shot in a dilapidated nightclub (another unsanitary venue for the list) somewhere off Brick Lane. Once I had negotiated the barbed wire fencing structure that was the front gate, I was hustled in and introduced to my kissing partner, Maya, an elfin South African beauty. The slo-mo director placed us in front of the camera and instructed us to snog continuously until we heard him call ‘cut’. We awkwardly puckered up, giggling nervously, and leaned in for the kiss. After a spot of nose bashing, we began what must have been the longest non-stop kiss I have ever had. When we were finally permitted to come up for air, Bob Marley slowly ushered us out so that he could start on the elderly couple that were lurking in the shadows awaiting their turn. So, job done, Maya and I went home. Not together, mind, don’t get too excited.
There was some progression on the short film front though, and I remain proud of my third and final endeavour to this day. It turns out there is quite a leap in standard from Luton University to London Film School (perhaps comparable to the leap from studying Performing Arts at Southampton Solent to Acting at RADA). The days were long, but the director was meticulous and the writing was great. The sting in the tail was a massive (think Mount Vesuvius) continuity error that became apparent at the screening. In my defence, on this particular filming day I had no means by which to rectify the situation as all my belongings had been left at the studio whilst we jaunted off on location. Consequently, in the final cut of this otherwise brilliant film, wildly announcing its presence, but only in occasional scenes, is an enormous turnip of a spot on my chin.