Love is Strange — Love, New York

I finally saw the movie I was an extra in, “Love is Strange”, this past weekend – and found out my scene was cut. I knew it was coming up when I saw Alfred Molina wearing some great red pants, and I knew it’d been cut when John Lithgow told his niece and nephew that his husband had gone to church that day while he had gone to the movies, because my scene took place outside a church. Oh well! I’ll have to buy the DVD and check out the deleted scenes.

I took two very bad photos while I was on set. Both had John Lithgow in them, but not Alfred Molina.

I took two very bad photos while I was on set. Both had John Lithgow in them, but not Alfred Molina.

Despite me not being in it, it was a really lovely movie. John Lithgow and Alfred Molina play a couple who have been together for 39 years. When marriage equality means they can finally tie the knot, Molina is fired from his job and they have to sell their apartment. Separated and living with friends and family members, the two deal with living apart after so long together, and their situation touches and influences everyone who comes into contact with them.

It’s not a perfect film – some threads get too much time while others were clearly truncated, and the ending is a little sad and a little rushed, but through it all Molina and Lithgow are so convincing as people who not only love each other but are used to each other, who know one another’s quirks and anticipate each other’s needs.

It doesn’t hurt that it’s a beautiful picture of New York. My scene was filmed in the West Village, as much of it seems to be, in the fall of 2013, and so many shots seem touched by golden autumn light. It’s like walking through New York on a perfect fall day and getting a chance to see the lives of strangers up close. I don’t recognize every street they show, but watching it I kept thinking, “Oh, I’ve been near there before.” At one point, to signal the next scene was in Brooklyn, they had a long, gorgeous shot of Grand Army Plaza.

My friend and I saw the movie at the movie theater at BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music), which is a great place to see a movie, but it’s playing elsewhere in the city, too. If you have a chance to see it, let me know what you think! What’s your favorite movie version of NYC? I just watched “Ghostbusters” a few weeks ago and loved seeing that vision of the city.

Here's my second bad photo. At least you can see what a lovely day it was!

Here’s my second bad photo. At least you can see what a lovely day it was!


My big screen debut: "Love is Strange"

So I’m officially a movie star.

Okay, not really. But if you go to see “Love is Strange” at the Tribeca Film Festival in a week or so, or whenever it gets a wider release, you will see yours truly on the screen in this film about a gay couple getting married after decades together — and having their lives thrown into confusion because of it. The exact number of seconds of screen time I was granted is yet to be seen, but my guess is that it’s under sixty. This is almost definitely related to the fact that I was an extra.

Being an extra was something that sounded interesting to me because of my inadequately concealed belief that all that’s standing between me and my big break is the right exposure. Clearly a director would take one look at my extensive acting stills (ignoring the immaterial info that my last theater credit was freshman year of college) and bump me up to a leading role — or at least suggest I get an agent.

This, of course, did not happen.

Instead I spent a few hours on a lovely fall afternoon standing outside a church in the West Village. The film’s leads, Alfred Molina and John Lithgow, were shooting a scene in which they walk down the sidewalk and stop outside the church. I was one of several extras and my job was to amble down the sidewalk behind the leads, alongside a guy about my age, and then pass them and go into the church.

And so I did. The guy I was ambling with told me about his budding career in background work. This gig wasn’t paid, but he didn’t have anything booked that day so he figured he might as well show up. One of the other extras was also a professional; while she had an office job, she also had done commercials, plays, and other work in the past. Most of the rest of the extras were tourists that the extras casting director had pulled off the street. This meant that their clothes weren’t always church appropriate, so Wardrobe had to find them shirts or jackets to slip on. I’d worn one of my normal work dresses, so I was fine.

I’d heard about the opportunity through Facebook, because one of the people associated with the film was an alum of my college choir and had posted on the group’s Facebook page. After the shoot I introduced myself to him and we chatted about college and choir. He did not suggest I quit my day job – but you never know. Maybe some casting director will see my twenty-seven seconds of fame and discover me.

Then again, maybe not.

At the very least, I can now say I’ve been in a movie (something I’ll definitely work into conversations at cocktail parties, because my accomplishment list is still a little sparse). And I’ll tell my kids (the ones I may have many, many years from now), “I could’ve been big! I could’ve been a star!” They’ll probably laugh at me, but they’d do that anyway.

I unfortunately have choir rehearsal the night of the Tribeca screening, so I’ll have to wait for wider release. Who wants to go with me? And has anyone else gotten to be an extra?

HIMYM and NYC life on TV

I was going to write a review of the “How I Met Your Mother” series finale, but watching it left me too frustrated to say anything thoughtful, so no discussion or spoilers to worry about here.

But thinking about the show, which I only got into by binge-watching in the spring of 2012 until I was caught up, made me think about how New York is portrayed on television and in movies. So much is filmed here, like bits of Spider-Man 2 in my old neighborhood of Windsor Terrace, or television shows like “Elementary”, or whatever show’s trailers I walked by in the West Village tonight. The city is showcased all over the place, though sometimes it is faked, like the movie Friends with Benefits spoofed in its movie-within-a-movie.

More interesting to me, though, is how the lives of New Yorkers are portrayed. So here are four ways life in New York is not always like how you see it onscreen – and one way it is.

  1. New York is much more diverse than on TV. “How I Met Your Mother” has been criticized for having a mostly white cast. New York is a big, beautiful, diverse city, and having a show about five white friends ignores that, which was a lost opportunity for the show.
  1. We don’t all live above a bar where we spend all our time with friends. HIMYM has MacLaren’s bar as its hangout, and “Friends” had Central Perk coffee shop. I’ve never lived above a bar (though I did live above a liquor store for a couple years), and I don’t have a regular place to hang out with friends every night, or even every week. Plenty of twenty-somethings do weekly happy hours with friends or coworkers, but that’s still not on par with the amount of time our TV friends spend at their local hangouts.
  1. TV apartments are much bigger than real life ones. I don’t know anyone with an apartment as nice as the one in “How I Met Your Mother”. I’m sure they exist, but I’m equally sure no twenty-somethings live in them. “Friends” also suffered from this misrepresentation. Look, guys, I know it’d be hard to film in my old 400-square foot two-bedroom apartment, but something slightlymore realistic would be nice.
  1. Friends come and go much more than on HIMYM and “Friends”. As much fun as it was watching the gangs’ relationships evolve in HIMYM and “Friends”, I don’t think many people stick with the same core group of friends for a decade. It’s not that people stop being friends, it’s just that people move in and out of NYC, change jobs, get married… Even if you stay at the same company, like I have, many of your friends leave and work elsewhere. People you knew from college and lived with after graduation, like Ted and Lily and Marshall, will move to other cities or other states. People you knew in college but weren’t close to will move to New York years after graduation and you’ll become friends. Instead of one circle, you might have several – work friends, college friends, neighborhood friends, book club friends, sports friends, and more. It’s different for everyone, and while I understand why a show with a tight knit group of friends is compelling and easier to create, someday it’d be interesting to have a show that followed one or two characters as their lives grew and changed.
  1. But, it’s true, you have to really like someone to go to Brooklyn to see them. And I say that as someone who lives in Brooklyn, because unless I’m already there for work, you have to have a darn good reason to drag me to Manhattan.

HIMYM had an episode where the gang discussed what it means to be a real New Yorker. I’ve yet to steal a cab from someone who needs it more (cabs are too expensive to take regularly, plus I get carsick); I’ve never seen Woody Allen (and don’t really care to); I’ve probably teared up on the subway but I’m not sure I’ve out and out cried… yet; and while haven’t killed cockroach with my bare hands, I have killed a lot of cockroaches – and have lived in an apartment with rats. By HIMYM standards I’m not a true New Yorker yet, but give me a few seasons more and I’ll see what I can do.

What do you think TV shows get right about life in New York, and what do they get terribly wrong? Any recommendations on other set-in-NYC shows or movies I should check out?

PS Added a few photos to my Charleston post here.