Saved by the Early Birds - Spear's Magazine

Saved by the Early Birds

When the credits rolled was my name now going to be included under 'Extras' or 'With thanks to'? Clearly I wasn't playing myself any more.

The other day my friend Lotte Eagar of Tatler called me and asked whether I would like to play myself in a London 'literary' restaurant scene in a romantic comedy film she had written about a girl who is stalked by a Scooterman she once booked to drive her home. That afternoon, in fact.

'I know it is rather short notice,' she said. 'No lines. All you have to do is show up at 3pm and it'll take about an hour. We've got an Oscar-nominated director from LA on board. You'll get a credit in the movie as yourself.'

Having missed out on an opportunity that came along last summer to be immortalised by Sir David Hare as the editor of Spear's last year on the stage of the National Theatre in The Power of Yes, his play about the financial crisis, I wasn't going to let a second chance in six months slip away. I said, 'Yes.'

When I duly showed up at 3pm at the 'production HQ', the house was in mayhem. I was told there was a delay and directed to the local pub. Over the next hour or so, various other cameos showed up including Caroline Dalmeny, the glamorous wife of Harry's deputy chairman Harry, and Philip Eade, author and a former obituary editor at The Telegraph.

Finally – it was now about 5pm – we were told to report for duty at Roussillon restaurant next-door. Make-up was applied and the assistant director sat me down at a table where I was introduced to the actress Georgie Rylance, the debonair male lead whose name I can't remember and – so I was informed by the producer – my 'wife' for the purposes of the film, a charming blonde mid-fortysomething friend of the screenwriter who told me – as more make up was applied – that she lived in the country and had two almost grown up children who had left school. Her husband was a banker.

As I heard the director shout 'Action', and the cameras rolled, I had a sudden identity crisis, combined with an attack of whatever the opposite is of deja vu. What was I doing there? Who was I these days? A third wife? I needed to get into character. I needed direction. Was I playing myself, or was just sitting there as the intellectual equivalent of a banker's body double?

Was what my screenwriter friend meant when she called to say I was 'playing yourself' is that – far from playing a media figure about town aka the late Dominick Dunne who often played tiny cameo movie roles  – she meant could I play an anonymous extra?

As the short film is expected to tour the global film festival circuit, from Sundance to Cannes, would anybody actually recognise me, or even know what the real William Cash looked like or was? When the credits rolled was my name now going to be included under 'Extras' or  'With thanks to'? Clearly I wasn't playing myself any more.

Such thoughts reeled around in my head as I was ticked off by the director for nearly taking a sip of the rather good smelling half drunk glass of claret that was put in front of me. 'You can't drink the wine, William,' said Georgie. 'The glass needs to be at the same level for each take'.

'Reset.' No, that didn't mean, the shoot is over, you can all go home now and kindly please reset the table for dinner. 'Reset' means do the scene again; and again; and again. After about ten takes, with the actors ad libbing lines ('God, my pork was awful' within earshot of the maitre d' of Roussilon, one of London's best French restaurants), it was now about 6pm and I could see the restaurant staff getting anxious about when they would actually be able to reset the table, still littered with glasses and plates, in time for dinner.

As the script kept changing a la Mike Leigh, all I could think of was what Walter Donohue, the screenwriting producer had said at the previous week's Faber Academy class on screenwriting: 'Ad libbed lines never work on screen – that's why we employ writers.'

Then, having been advised to keep quiet and not speak, my 'wife' and I were then told by the director to engage in banal marital banter as we left the table with the film's two leads to collect our coats.

'Are you ok to drive or do you want me to?' my 'wife' said as we stood by the coat-check.

'I'm fine. I'll drive.'

'Looking forward to seeing the children when we get home.'

The director attempted to get us to engage in more painful Pinter-esque marital banter. I said nothing. After about another five takes, my cinematic acting debut playing a banking husband extra mercifully came to an end as a taxi pulled up outside Roussillon.

An elderly but well dressed Chelsea couple stepped out and headed up the stairs, no doubt wondering what the hell a film crew of about fifteen, along with lights, extended sound booms and a turquoise Scooterman motorbike were doing on the steps of the restaurant. 'Cut' shouted the director as the startled couple walked into the set. I looked at my watch. Exactly 6.30pm. Saved by the early birds.



 

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