Tuesday, February 21, 2017

STRICTLY ON BACKGROUND, PT. 5: BLUE BLOODS

When I finally had my day in court, I had no idea it would be with a television legend.

Blue Bloods, which debuted in 2010, was one of the shows I had been trying to get on since starting background work. Extras talked about what a pleasant experience it was; the p.a.'s and a.d.'s were all easy to work with, and treated them well.

Fine, I thought. I just wanna see Tom Selleck in person. Yup, still the same starstruck kid I was when I saw Lorne Greene making a personal appearance at a Rhode Island Chevrolet dealership almost 50 years ago. Only then I wasn't paid for the experience.

But when I finally got the call, it didn't necessarily mean Selleck would be there. I've worked on The Americans twice and have yet to see Frank Langella. And it took my third time on Homeland before seeing Claire Danes.


Lights! Camera! Guilty!
Indeed, when I settled into the holding area -- a large room in the Brooklyn Borough Hall courthouse -- I chatted with an extra who had appeared in Blue Bloods three previous times, always Selleck-less. 

The fourth time would be the charm. 

There were at least 100 extras in the scene. As usual, I recognized many of them from previous jobs, including the guy I'd worked with in Elementary. This time, he was a lawyer, while I was a member of the courtroom gallery. We looked our parts (i.e., he was broad shouldered and had a nice head of salt & pepper hair; I'm not and I don't).
The courtroom without make-up.

The scene concerned a hearing, involving a cop accused of excessive force. Shooting on location with a genuine courtroom sketch artist amped up the realism. As the tech crew prepped the scene, I glanced around, taking in the history and its beautiful architecture. That's the thoughtful thing about the people who built New York's courts in the 19th century -- if you're on trial for your life, you might as well enjoy the view.

And then, almost involuntarily, I looked toward the front of the room, to the left. Tom Selleck had walked in, and was now chatting with the director. 

This. Was. Cool.

It had taken me a while not to stare at celebrities when I moved to New York in 1981 -- Johnny Rotten gave me a nasty look when I gaped at him walking with a beautiful blonde several inches taller than him. And I'm still surprised Greta Garbo didn't do the same when we stood side by side on Park Avenue waiting for the light to change.

So by 2017, I had long gotten the hang of at least appearing blase. But holy cow, there was Tom Selleck in front of me -- not as close I was to Johnny or Greta, but at least I wasn't going to make a fool of myself this time.

A few minutes after Selleck took his seat at the bench near the judge, the director called for a run-through. And when he spoke his first line in that low, rumbling voice, it was like watching Mt. Rushmore come to life. Selleck owned that scene -- hell, he owned the courtroom, Borough Hall, and the #4 subway line.

And you know what? He might be 72 years old, but all I could think was, Damn, this guy could kick my ass three ways from primetime and not break a sweat. Don't nobody mess with Tom Selleck.

Yes, yes, yes, I hear you say. But what about your contribution to the scene? 

Blue Bloods was my best show yet, as far as screen time was concerned. Doing a freeze frame blurs the images slightly, but I'm still recognizable. I could be glimpsed several times, as the camera followed the lawyer who was questioning Selleck. 

Initially, I was in a wide shot:

Fourth row from the front, near the left, in the jacket and tie, following the proceedings with much interest. At some point between takes, a wardrobe guy came around and straightened my tie, which made me feel like a professional. By the way, the actor in the front row on the left was who I worked with in Elementary. Obvious, right?

The camera moved closer. This time, I'm on the far right:



The guy playing the lawyer, by the way, had a lot snappier dialogue than anything I've ever heard while on jury duty. Lawyers could do worse than consult with the Blue Bloods writers before facing a judge.

A moment later, I got to prove my versatility by appearing once more on the left:


You know how the TV camera is supposed to put 10 pounds on you? It takes 40 hairs off me.

When we wrapped around 4:00, Selleck thanked us for our contribution, which was not only kind but very classy.

But he could still kick my ass.

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