Portugal - Part Two

Ellis J. Wells
Chronicles & Tales
November 7th - 26th, 2019
To give a more detailed experience of our time in Portugal, now we've established the structure of our daily life, is to look at specific moments that stood out.

Confusingly the first part of filming in Portugal was focusing on the second half of the film. James was required to grow his beard and hair long (and unkempt) for the second half of the story, as Timon descends into madness. This meant one of two things: firstly, an added challenge for the cast was holding the journey of our characters in our heads (that we worked on building so tirelessly during our various rehearsal periods). We were shooting the end of the film first; so everything that came before must be present in our work, all the hurt, trauma, love, failings. We had to remember where our characters started, how they progressed, and deliver that fully rounded vision for our performances AT THE END of the film (despite not having shot any of that, as of yet, in Portugal). Until we have those scenes done, we cannot proceed with the first portion of the script (due to James' beard and hair length needing to appear consistent between the end shots). This can be a standard situation you'll find yourself in for film (as opposed to stage). Secondly, this also meant when the day finally came to shave 'our Timon', we had a little ceremonial ritual in hair & make-up. I believe Mozart's "Dies irae" was playing in the background, while whoops and cheers erupted as Bruna boldly brandished the clippers about her head.

On the subject of haircuts... as I arrived first, I was therefore the first of the "subservient" roles to get his haircut. Further more, as I had not cut my hair for over a year and a half (as per the contract -- minus a little upkeep every 6 months) Bruna had free range to embrace Maximianno's vision for Lucilius. Now I will emphasis: I loved the end result. It worked for my character, and I kinda rocked it, not gonna lie. But the reality is I had the Beatles/Bieber bowl. I'm sure it was historically accurate, I'm sure the fashion of the 60s were part inspired by the ancient style... but let's not sugar coat it. It was a bowl cut! And there was an unfortunate knock-on effect to this: Maximianno was very, very happy with the results, and therefore decided... ALL the subservient roles will be getting the same cut. To quote Will Smith in Men In Black "You know the difference between you and me? I make this look good." HA! I kid, I kid. But for a day or two I did feel a tad guilty that everyone playing a subservient role who arrived with such stylized quaffs and by sundown were the proud owner of Ellis' bowl cut.

After a few days shooting, we were joined by Declan, the soldiers and Heidi. To stick with the hair theme, just briefly... Declan was required to cut his hair prior to filming (with Maximianno's blessing) for a different role. So the company had ordered a gorgeous lace-front wig (I learnt that terminology from RuPaul's Drag Race), for him to wear during the shoot. It fitted so perfectly, you honestly forgot it was a wig (I seem to recall Declan even saying he was having to remind himself it wasn't actually his hair). The first time I saw him emerge from his dressing room in his emperor purple robes, gold leaf crown nestled in those perfectly curled black locks of his new wig, as the sun's rays bathed his entire aura, as cherubs sung the triumphant cry- I just wanted to punch him in the face. Stooooopid, beautiful, perfect Alcibiades' wig stealing all the attention *grumble grumble grumble*.

With Declan and the soldiers came one more important commodity that is noteworthy in this tale: Connor's chess set. I've said it time and time again: being on set, for an actor, is 50% discipline because you have a lot of down time. And a chess set is THE PERFECT item to have with you. It's a quiet activity, it keeps you in the building, it burns through time quickly and it maintains your brain ACTIVE. We all had a wonderful time playing various games against one another; it was something the whole cast participated in, at-least once. And as it turns out... it would seem I'm pretty good at chess. I think I only lost one match (to Jack). A truly excellent addition to the shoot. I enjoyed it so much, when I got back to England, I actually bought a mini-chess set myself, to take with me on all future shoots. It's a fantastic idea.

Now one of my most treasured days on set happened about half way into the shoot, with the arrival of Dan Popescu. I was lucky enough to be sharing a dressing room with him, so I got to chat to him about opera, his homeland and his experiences in theatre. He holds such reverence for Maximianno, and is truly just the sweetest, most gentle man. A Goliath of a voice, but the soul of David. And when he began to sing... we all came out of our dressing rooms, and sat in the hallway in silence, just listening. Even through the walls on set, we could hear his timbering lyrics. John was particularly moved, which was very adorable. And then THANK GOODNESS the crew took a brief pause in filming, allowing us all the opportunity to hurry into the studio and watch this wonder of a performance in person. And what a treat. To give you some backstory: Dan had previously recorded the track before filming started; ultimately what you'll hear on screen in the cinema will be from the recording studio, not from set. But to mirror up the performance with the words of the recording, it's actually just easier if Dan sings it in the studio, rather than lipsync (lipsyncing opera is HARD... well, unless you going for a comedic route, then opera is hilarious to lipsync to). ANYWAY... getting off track. The point being a) Dan was singing full pelt on set, b) sound was NOT being recorded, because he'd already sung it perfectly on the track, c) that meant Maximianno could direct live, in real time! YEY!!!! And that allowed for the magic. The shot was an extreme close up of Dan's face, and to get the true, brutality of the moment Maximianno was free to coach Dan right there on camera. As this beast of a voice reverberated against the green screen walls, Maximianno was bellowing with passion, conducting with his hands and arms, pacing, cheering on. It was such a special moment, and gave us all a glimpse into Maximianno the Opera Director (since we only know Maximianno the Shakespeare Maestro).

This window into watching filming links conveniently to my next point. As one of my duties, along with being this sexy Vulcan rent boy; I was also doing video interviews and 'behind-the-scenes' footage for the movie (for the 'making of', I assume?). Therefore I often found myself in the green-screen studio during a take, walking round with my cam-corder (being VERY silent of course). It gave me quite a unique opportunity to both admire my fellow actors work, while ALSO being able to see how the final framing of the shot will look. Now I know cinema. David knows cinema. But no-one knows cinema like Maximianno. I kid you not, every shot I saw looked GORGEOUS! And this was before adding the magic of CGI for the green-screen surroundings. Already they looked like a work of art. Based on these images alone, I could not be more excited to see the finished product. It's going to be something very, very special.

Now I can't sit here and describe or analyze every scene I watched. Firstly I am not qualified to pass judgement, nor would it be fair (as I didn't see everyone's scenes, neither did I see every take). So I'll try and keep my thoughts succinct. I do know that acting opposite Martin was joyous. I could watch his Flavius for hours. He just imbues him with such love, such tender, broken love. He's really very wonderful to behold upon performance, and on camera his reactions are even more exquisite. And I did LOVE my two days filming with Reece. He's a sweet, cuddly muscle man, but on set his was TERRIFYING. We had such fantastic chemistry, and every take with him was a true pleasure.

My last thought on the scenes I witness was watching Alcibiades long monologue to Timon at the banquet (and I'm sure Declan won't mind me telling you this story, as I've already talked about this very moment to him over a Caipirinha, one night after filming). To give context of my opinion: Declan is born to be on camera, he just gets it. I envy his ease and understanding of acting on camera, you can't take your eyes off him. He has that 'on camera charisma' that can't be taught, can't be explained, you either have it or you don't and it's a gift that will get him very far indeed. Now bear that in mind when I say watching Declan's monologue during the feast, I was utterly captivated... by James. James just sat there. James just listening. In that monologue he was Timon. It was amazing. I mean with no lines, little movement, he just... existed as the role during Declan's long speech. And I would submit that anyone who can force your eyes off Declan, when he is on camera, even for a moment, must be doing a bloody fantastic job!

Almost done... promise. As explained in my previous Lisbon tale, we worked like dogs while filming (none harder than Maximianno, James and the crew) but we all pulled long hours. And we never really got to explore Lisbon much, which is fine, we were there to work, not play. Apart from one random venture to the corner shop, I don't think anyone had seen much of the city in those weeks we were there. So it was with great joy one night towards the end that Martin, David, Sarah and myself ventured out to watch a piece of theatre in one of Lisbon's newest refurbished venues: the Teatro do Bairro Alto. The play was called Total Immediate Collective Imminent Terrestrial (a mouthful, I know) and it was touring Europe after a successful run at the Royal Court in London. Martin had a friend in the cast, which is how he knew they were coming to Lisbon at this very moment in time. Before we went on our little journey, we enjoyed a walk around the city, saw this epic fairy light floating palace hotel on the waterfront, had some Portuguese tarts and mulled wine in the park. It was gorgeous. The play itself was deeply intelligent, all about cults and how quickly humans fall in line with authority. It was fascinating; and just the loveliest memory to take away. I will treasure the memory of that night for many years to come.

So the first half wrapped, it was homeward bound. Our trip back was relatively uneventful until we accidentally abandoned Saul at the airport in London, through miscommunication we thought he had already scurried off. Like naught schoolboys in Just William we spent our tube ride home sending him gifs of Gollum saying "nobody likes you" and "you haven't got any friends". BWWWHAHAHA!

Bring on the final segment of filming in Paris! BAGUETTE!