Sunday, December 17

Darkness Falls

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When I went to the Isle of Man to do this film I had no idea what was in front of me. It was myself, my Myles who was 4 at the time and our nanny Alyce. I had never heard of this exotic place and had wild imaginings as to what it would be like, most of which were realized after a very long flight when we arrived and found ourselves driving on an island with the deepest shades of green I had ever seen or smelled. Rocky pathways, nature  dominating with miles and miles of beauty, quaint and vital all at once. Traveling gets one out of the sleeping bubble of one’s limited, self-centered existence. To see such a place existed somewhere other than in my dreams was astonishing. It made me feel that dreams were real, that out here beyond Michigan and California were many worlds to explore.

A diverse mix of people and cultures came together to become the family of this production. People from England, Scotland, Ireland and America. Beautiful lyrical accents and pronunciations that took a bit of time to bend one’s ear around.  Yet, I felt so oddly at home with all these people. I belonged here somehow. I knew I had lived many lives with the people on this side of the world. Somehow, in my body sat a deep recognition that was quite new to me. It is always a surprise to travel to far away places and feel right at home. I have also at times experienced the opposite but those are others stories to be shared at another time.

During the production our little trio lived within a sweet, three bedroom house that sat on a golf course. My Myles wreaked utter havoc on this golf course, as for him it was a huge playground where he would find these little white treasure balls. He delighted in collecting them in his shirt and running back to our house with some angry golfers hot on his trail. He fancied them being dinosaur eggs as this was his utter obsession as a little one. He knew all the dinosaur’s names, and if they were carnivores of herbivores. And proudly proclaimed (and does to this day) that HE is only a carnivore. It is still a fight to get the young man to eat a salad.

When I was offered this film I was told that a then somewhat unknown, but wonderful actor was doing one of the leading roles. His name was Ray Winstone.  I was told to rent Gary Oldman’s directorial debut called “Nil by Mouth,” because he had the leading role in that as well.  I have always loved Gary Oldman.  He is simply brilliant, deep and poignant in whatever he touches. The film is a brutal documentryesque piece of an abusive household, it is said to be semi-autobiographical.  It was heart wretchingly difficult to watch in many instances. And Ray was like a force of nature.  For me it was one of those moments where I was excited and frightened all at once, and I knew I had to work with this man.

The script was interesting as well, a psychological drama that took place mostly in one house where my wealthy husband and I are held hostage by Ray, a man with a secret and a score to settle with my husband (played by Tim Dutton). As the wife, I am completely in the dark about it.  I felt it would be a challenge but with good actors  it could be really interesting.  I knew nothing about the director Gerry Lively but my faith in Ray Winstone outshone any doubts. God knows I had worked with directors in the past who were not great but was still able to do something good in spite of them. Sad but true.

The first day on the set I had a scene with Ray. I was swimming alone in our indoor pool and he comes in and surprises/upsets me. His character was very unlike Ray. He played a quiet, internal and persnickety kind of lunar type of person. Whereas Ray is a sort of cockney, East-end boy who will not balk at “glassing someone in the head” who randomly upsets him in a pub  (as happened at least one time that I know of during filming.) I noticed Ray was getting increasingly frustrated as the director spoke to him, (you have to know that following his experience with Gary Oldman would be a hard act to follow). And I was determined to get close to this incredible man, so I asked him what was going on. He promptly and conspiratorially replied with the nickname he had already given me,”Awwwww, he’s givin’ me some dodgy direction Shers…. Best not listen to him.”

I fell in love with him. Not in a sexual way but just his character. He was so unique. I felt oddly protected by him. I knew he had my back and this proved to be true in more ways than one. Not to mention that was my introduction to one of my favorite words that I still use to this day. Dodgy. Such a perfect word to describe many situations. Ray would remind me that the real beauty is in the imperfections of people, of their actual faces, bodies and characters.  Not to be sold the bullshit bill of goods Hollywood tried to sell me. I have a scar on the top of my nose between my eyes and a bump on my nose and Ray used to say that these were his favorite parts of my face. He believed that the director was “not a proper man” because he had no children. Ray was so thoroughly himself…….courageous, raw, flawed, deep, honest, sometimes scary, self destructive, a father of two daughters (at that point), a husband…….. a PROPER man.

During my most difficult scene it was this proper man, Ray, that held the key to my completely letting go and going into a realm I have rarely visited in my work. It is difficult to have all the elements in place and trust enough to go really deep….   The entire film led to this moment for my character, the wife, who would now find out that her husband had been having an affair with Ray’s wife and on an outing had been in a car accident where she was killed. He with his money had covered the entire event up. We did a take and I was not connected. I had since come to not rely on the director but on myself and on my fellow actors, especially Ray. But I was floundering here and it was bordering on melodrama. I was simply lost and went to the one I knew could help me. My RayMan.

I remember the feelings…..upset, lost, scared. The director after this one take was gonna move on, lame as he was, when it was just ok. I said I wanted another pass at the scene and went to privately talk with Ray. I begged please help me. That was awful and I am now getting dodgy direction if any at all. We huddled like a little mini football team head to head and he whispered to me in his darling accent. “Right, Shers….be a man in this scene. Do not think of yourself as a woman at all. Be a man and kill the motherfucker. Go at him the way another man would if confronted with this. Be physical.”

It was not just the words but the energy behind what he said. He opened a door in me. Through my utter trust and respect of him. From the weeks of building a relationship. From walking through much in an honest way together he never rejected me for my honesty. He loved and embraced me for it. And now he was pushing me with mutual respect and love to allow myself to go deeper into the unknown and not to feel the need or have the limitations of being a “woman” while doing it.

The next take was a bit of a blur for me. Years of rage built up, of being lied to and being fucked with. The terrible injustices personally and collectively that I felt came flying out. I was like a wild animal. I do remember at one point holding my belly on the verge of literally throwing up. Thank God Ray had warned Tim (the husband) that I would definitely be getting physical and would be all over and I was. He also told the DP (who was using a hand held camera to follow me) that a lot of the marks (where an actor rehearses to be in the scene at certain points) were more than likely not going to be observed.  He had my back….again.

At the end of the scene the crew burst into unprompted applause. I was sweaty, crying, laughing and ended up in a heap in first Ray’s then my beloved makeup artist Kate’s arms. It was nothing less than cathartic. Of course the uptight director did not completely approve. After all it was NOT as we rehearsed it. And he would not know magic if it bit him in the ass. He off centered asked the DP if he got it on film. And said,”Well….I didn’t know THAT was gonna happen!” You cannot please everyone all the time. And I knew something special had happened during that scene and was grateful to have been able to go that far. Thinking of myself as a man in difficult scenes has become a kind of go-to tool for me in the rest of this crazy work I do. It stays with me always.

There was also a sort of theme of “death” around this trip that I only now can see in retrospect. It came in three fold. One element of this  experience had to do with a desire to move to London upon finishing filming.  Upon finishing the shooting, I moved into a flat in Knightsbridge with my son and nanny and had my mother begin to pack up my home. I got an agent there and I landed three jobs on beautiful little films. I then started to look for a flat to live in for a longer lease than the week to week I was occupying. During all of this I was drinking a lot, as is an English past time, and had a cold deep in my lungs that I could not seem to shake. There was a deep chill in the air of the city that went all the way to my bones. Not like Michigan, it went much deeper. I seemed to never be able to get warm bundled up as I often was.

Walking through the city, hailing the old-school black cabs, shopping at Harvey Nick’s (my favorite store), it was all so familiar. The city holds so much history I could feel the ghosts of years gone by. The lyrical conversing everywhere was like a soundtrack. The unfortunate smell of “fags”(cigarettes as they are called there) permeating all restaurants.   I walked around as if it were another part of me that was existing here… and it was.  I was reliving past lives that the veil would not allow me to get a clear, logical glimpse of, but the feelings demanded acknowledgement. I confirmed to myself there had been many lives I had lived here……but another deep knowing came to me. That I would die in this city earlier than was intended if I were to stay.

So as is the case in my life, I was divinely protected and blocked through a series of events to not actually make the move. After many tearful goodbyes to my new found friends, the city and the seeming ghosts from the past, I reluctantly packed up and headed back to the city of lost angels. I was able to keep in touch for a while with my English counter parts and some even came to visit me. But life consumes and we all eventually got back onto our respective hamster wheels and sadly lost actual touch. But the memories live strongly in my heart and I hope in theirs as well. No one ever since called me Shers…..and no one better ever, lest they get a glass to the head.

The second element to this theme of death happened while we were filming, when Princess Diana was killed.  Production shut down for a few days and I barely left my bed except to make another pot of soup. That is my comfort food and has been since I was a young child. I’m happy, I make soup. I’m sad, I make soup. Its 100 degrees outside, I make soup. I have been known in 5 star hotels to buy a crock pot, and all the ingredients and make soup. C’est moi. This time was no different. It was devastating. I don’t think I knew how much Princess Diana meant to me before this. How I had taken her and her presence for granted. Why are human beings like that? Why must something be taken for us to then see its beauty? Arrogant, ignorant creatures are we at times. I have often thought to myself I don’t want to be one of those people that must get gravely ill to see and embrace the beauty of my life.

I feel it was even more intense because we were across the water from London, where there was a collective morning unlike one I had experienced in my life. We were all moving through the air as if it was thick like water. We felt light, unreal and heavy all at the same time. Whatever you did Diana’s face would appear in your consciousness. As if you personally knew her. And to me her ghost seemed to be screaming out that this was not an accident. How many people have we seen go like this. With an air of conspiracy around them. It’s as if you can be truly good but you must hide it well because those powers that want control will take you down. All of us, once we got over the utter horror and shock felt certain this was foul play. But  it would go hidden with all the other dirty secrets of a governing bodies that seek to control the masses.

The third element that completes the triad of the death theme was that of a young woman who worked on the set assisting wardrobe. A pretty “bird” (as the English call women) that seemed to have her entire life in front of her. Her name eludes me but I see her pretty face in my mind’s eye. She used to be a model I was told. She was early to mid twenties at best. I was not as close to her as some of the others but we did spend a good amount of time together. After a night of partying on the Isle during filming, the birds including her came with a tale to tell.

They shared that the night before, after going to a few pubs they were exiting a place very loudly and drunkenly. This was the norm, a film production descending upon a small, quiet town. With all its pomp, pageantry and self important mind set. Our theme song of this shoot was a bawdy:

“I have whiskey drink, I have a vodka drink. Danny boy. Danny boy. Danny boy.
I get knocked down, but I get up again and you’re never gonna get me down. ” etc.

Whenever it came on we would scream, sing and dance to it. If it was not played it would surely be requested again and again. It was our anthem. Even at our flat, if it came on Myles and I would sing it and scream it and jump up and down. Literally. To this day when I occasionally hear it, it evokes a joy and a rebelliousness in me!

So back to the story, as these birds boisterously left a pub it seems they awoke an older woman that lived nearby that had been peacefully asleep. She angrily told them from her second story window to quiet down because the rest of the Isle was asleep. This apparently ignited an anger in the young woman in question and set her off on a verbal tirade with words spoken that would prove to be more poignant than any of us ever could’ve imagined. They shared with me what they said to her the next morning on the set laughing, and filled with bravado, “Shut up old woman, you’re just jealous because we’re young and beautiful and you’re old and ugly and you have no life anymore. So bugger off!!!!”

The young woman  in question said this with a kind of arrogance and self absorption that only a young person has. Dripping with the sarcasm of an “I know it all” mindset. One that is certain all is as consumed with her as she is with herself. It is a special kind of ugly for it’s lack of conscience and holds zero regard for anyone else. It contains a sense of entitlement and an insatiable hole to get more, more, more of whatever it wants at the expense of whomever and whatever. I have since known other people like this which has made it much easier to identify now. In that moment, I am sure I laughed at the crazy ramblings of the birds. But a few months later those laughs would turn to shock, horror and many tears.

Once home from the Isle and London itself, my house unpacked after the premature boxing I forced my poor mother to do convinced I was moving.  Myles beginning his first year of kindergarten. Busy, as was the norm….  I got a long distance call that rocked my world. It was Tara one of the birds and the key hair person from the film. She was affectionately known as my self proclaimed “sister from another planet” with her birthday a day after mine. I loved her and was closest to her of my English friends. Now here she was sobbing on the end of a dodgy cell phone connection from London. She reminded me that the young woman had moved into her flat with her upon returning from the Isle. Through her sobs and the crackling of the phone line I made out that the young woman was now dead.  And to my horror, it was sweet Tara who had found her.

Many stories and speculations flooded in and out over the next few days as my phone bill soared to unbelievable heights. But after the police hunted down the young woman’s boyfriend the pieces began to come together. Apparently this young woman with all her beauty and bravado had a huge hole inside of her and decided she wanted to die. She had fought with the boyfriend and supposedly got him to strangle her to death. Of course only the two of them knew the honest specifics of that fateful day.  There in poor Tara’s flat, on Tara’s bed, forever haunting Tara’s life with a memory that to the normal balanced person is unthinkable, save moments when one feels wronged by the world and wonder “wouldn’t they be sad if I died.”

I believe that is somewhat normal. What is not normal is to go the Syd and Nancy route. And to choose to take others with you and ruin their lives on some level. Or at least alter them until through therapy and a clear vision they can leave it where it belongs….in the past. Viewing the passed soul with compassion and knowing at least they are now free from the suffering this life presented them with.

I, to this day am haunted and amazed at the power of the spoken word. That this now deceased young woman only a few months ago screamed at this older woman, “You’re just jealous because we’re young and beautiful and you’re old and ugly and you have no life.” The irony cannot go unnoticed. That she is now in the ground and I am certain the older woman finished out her life peacefully on the Isle. That possibly spewing that kind of ugliness is  detrimental to one’s health. There are so many ways to consider the connection between these events. I believe there are no accidents and that we are accountable for out actions while we are here live on the planet. That everything you do will come back to you. This is the most bizarrely blatant case I recall from my life.

So Darkness Falls, as was the name of this rarely seen film, was appropriate on many levels. That light will always prevail and darkness WILL fall. That it fell upon Princess Diana and on the pretty young bird in wardrobe. I take peace in believing that she flew away to her source, the only place that can ultimately fill the hole. One has the right to make that choice, that ultimate choice. At least she did not leave behind casualties of sweet innocent children who would forever wonder if it had to do with them. And wrongly so.  She left some friends like me and as adults we hurt and learn from it all. Of course her family as well, but I knew nothing of them. God blesses them as well. But make no mistake…..darkness falls…..again and again. Praise GOD!!!!!!!

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