Star-studded cast making The Event in Halifax
Actors Posey, Preston join local talent in feature film
Cynthia Preston wanted the part of Amy in Thom Fitzgerald's new movie The Event so badly she offered to pierce her eyebrows and nose.
The Toronto-raised actor, who has been based in Los Angeles for the last eight years, let her long, medium blond locks be cut into a shoulder length platinum mullet with burgundy tips.
And she even turned down a guest spot on the hit drama CSI: Crime Scene Investigation in order to play "edgy New Yorker" Amy in The Event, a black comedy about a death from AIDS.
"It's the best script I'd read in eons," says Preston, clad in a silver-studded, multi-strand black leather choker, royal blue nail polish and skin tight jeans for her scenes Wednesday on set in Halifax at the old Academy Building on the corner of Brunswick and Sackville streets.
"The story was so poignant, the way it was presented I was crying, laughing. I saw myself in the character - strong, competent, forceful. But because she's very different than me she's a blast to play."
Halifax-based Fitzgerald, the award-winning director of The Hanging Garden, Beefcake and the upcoming Wild Dogs, wrote the script with "two friends I'd known since university in New York."
"It reflects growing up in the age of AIDS in New York. My own response to the script is very visceral, very wrenching, very funny. It really is a project of passion for everybody involved. It's a complex film with real characters and a story that will be very meaningful."
The project has attracted Academy Award-winner Olympia Dukakis (Moonstruck), Parker Posey (Party Girl), Jane Leeves (Daphne Moon on TV's Frasier) and Canadian stars Sarah Polley (The Sweet Hereafter), Don McKellar (eXistenZ, The Red Violin) and Tony Award-winning Brent Carver (Kiss of the Spider Woman).
Fitzgerald wrote the role of Jewish mother Laila Shapiro for Dukakis and always had McKellar in mind for the central character of Matt.
"Jane Leeves came on board early on and her role as Mona, Matt's psychotherapist was easily tailored to her," he says while peering into a monitor watching crew set up a scene in the clinic.
Posey, on set Wednesday at the unglamourous hour of 7:30 a.m., agrees the script drew her to the project, which had a two-week New York shoot before filming began in Halifax on March 20.
She plays District Attorney Nick, who is uncovering a case at an AIDS crisis centre.
"She's not a DA like you see on Law and Order. She still lives at home," says the Mississippi-raised, New York-based actor.
"She's unkempt, depressed and hopefully funny in the way people are when they aren't very self-conscious and don't know they're being rude."
While Preston took in Peggys Cove and spent hours at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic where she was fascinated by the story of the Halifax Explosion and the city's role in war, Parker's first Halifax stop was at the yarn store in the Hydrostone Market.
"I'd heard about the arts and crafts community out here and I was excited to go look at all the colours of yarn," she says rushing out of the actors holding room where she's being miked for a scene and returning with a giant bag of chunky yarn in colours she says remind her of the beach, browns, beiges and warm pinks.
"I love knitting, it really keeps me grounded, thoughtful. It's hard not to get impatient in the hurry up and waiting on set and it relaxes me."
Also a potter, Posey's working on a sweater during breaks in The Event, which she says is like any other low budget movie "rushed, fast and a little chaotic."
"I like moving at this kind of pace, it requires focus and concentration. The energy doesn't get much of a chance to dissipate."
A dancer since the age of nine, Posey enjoys the intimacy of performing and generally works in indie movies because of the range of roles available.
"Low budget, independent films write those sort of parts," she explains.
A case in point are the memorable characters she played in Christopher Guest's Best In Show (as half of an uptight yuppie couple unhealthily obesessed about its purebred dog) and Waiting For Guffman (as a Dairy Queen counter girl turned amateur thespian).
After The Event wraps in Halifax April 7, she'll move on to her third Guest project about the folk music scene in the early '60s.
"It's the time of the Serendipity Singers and the New Christy Minstrels, bands that were more Conservative, singing songs like This Land Is Your Land.
"In the movie one of the New Christy Minstrels has died and they all get together for a reunion concert. Chris Guest, Harry Shearer and Michael McKean are in one band, Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara are in another and John Michael Higgins, Jane Lynch, myself and newcomer Chris Moynihan are in another band. I'm learning five songs.
"It's mostly the same cast (as the other two). Fred Willard is the publicist of our band. It's like a behind the music documentary following us to Carnegie Hall.
"These movies are all improv and it's such a different way of working. It's a lot of fun."
Seafood-lover Posey is also happy working with Fitzgerald, with whom she wasn't familiar before signing on to the project.
"I like to work with a director I feel has a lot in common with the characters in the piece. Thom does a great job and creates a nice atmosphere on the set.
"I love working with (Halifax actors) Rejean Cournoyer and Chaz Thorne and Brent (Carver) has such an intensity about him. He's an interesting person."
Fall River's Cournoyer, a stage veteran who has performed with Atlantic Theatre Festival, Neptune Theatre, Live Bait, the Stephenville Festival and Two Planks and a Passion Theatre, plays Rory, part of the inner circle of Matt's friends and a central figure in the plot.
Rory's also a drag queen, and the towering Cournoyer spent twelve hours at the Marquee Club on Tuesday face painted blue and dressed like a geisha.
It's the biggest film role to date for the square-jawed actor who has three weeks to grow a beard for his role as Rene Cunning, Bette MacDonald's aide-de-camp in the new CBC-TV series Rideau Hall.
Producer Bryan Hofbauer notes The Event is giving local actors like Cournoyer, Thorne and Glen Michael Grant a great opportunity to mix with industry veterans.
And the production itself has a decidedly Nova Scotian feel, employing a large group of day players and background actors, as well as a crew that is almost exclusively local. The only non-Nova Scotia crew in Halifax are B.C.-born, L.A.-based director of photography Tom Harting and Montreal-born art director Ethan Tobman, now living in New York.
After April 7, the film goes into post-production in Halifax and Hofbauer, who was supervising producer on Wild Dogs, hopes The Event will be ready in late fall, possibly in time for submission to next January's Sundance Festival.
© 2002 The Chronicle-Herald - Halifax. All rights reserved.
©2004 Cynthia Preston. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Legal Statement.