The Patriot 6

FOOLS' PARADISE

THE MAKING OF "THE PATRIOT" (6)

   The next scene takes place in Lord Cornwallis' dining room. For fans of Valet Number 2 (my wife, my daughters and my mother) this is the highlight of the movie. But first, there is a lot of work to be done. Lights have to be moved, both inside the building and out. The technicians move with incredible speed. Seeing what has to be done, I anticipate a leisurely lunch, but I hardly have time to gulp down my barbecued pork before we're back at work.
   The scene involves Jason Isaacs (the beastly Tavington), Tom Wilkinson (the aristocratic but also fairly beastly Lord Cornwallis) and Gavin Sinclair (the handsome but silent Valet Number 2). My role is to stand behind Cornwallis as he has dinner, holding a napkin and trying not to laugh. I am aware that there is no reason for laughter. Despite His Lordship's extravagant dressing gown, this is a serious scene, full of the most dastardly dialogue. The only explanation I can find for my explosive desire to burst out into raucous guffaws is the knowledge that managing not to laugh is about my only contribution to the scene. At a certain moment, Cornwallis motions me to leave. I bow slightly and exit with dignity, wondering why so many of the crew are rolling their eyes and clasping their foreheads. Ten minutes later, with rubber attached to the soles of my shoes, we try again. This time I exit with silent dignity, concentrating so hard on not making a noise that I walk straight into a screen that is stretched in front of one of the lights. An assistant director catches me before I fall on the seat of my pristine white britches.
   This is a long scene, and we shoot it many times from many different angles. This gives me an extended chance to observe two fine actors at work. There is an impressive stature and presence about them, and a seriousness about the way they approach the work. Isaacs jokes between scenes, and if he realizes he has fluffed his lines he continues for a few seconds, substituting witty gibberish for the script. But in the moment before a take, you see his brow furrow in concentration as he composes himself. Wilkinson doesn't joke. He is all concentration and when he speaks it is with a Shakespearean grandeur. Before they even start shooting, the two men have rapidly analyzed the psychology of the scene together. There is an important turning point, where Tavington realizes he has the upper hand. Isaacs proposes to emphasize this by walking over to Cornwallis' drinks table and helping himself to a glass of wine,

before turning with a sinister smile on his face. It requires a complete repositioning of lights and laying down tracks for the camera, but it is provides a moment of drama that makes the scene vibrate with menace.
   Shooting finishes for the day and we make our way back down the road to the trailers. I chat some more with Tom Wilkinson as we sit having the wigs pried from our heads. "Goodnight, Gilbert," he says.

Sunday October 31st, 1999
   There is no filming today. The real crew has a softball game in Rock Hill. Those of us who inhabit a twilight world between anonymity and hob-nobbing with the stars are not invited. Good! I'm exhausted by successive 20 hour days. Only one more to go. My wife asks if I have met Mel Gibson yet. I tell her I probably won't meet him at all.

Monday November 1st, 1999
   Sat next to Mel Gibson in the hair trailer this morning. Well not exactly next to him. He has his own hair stylist and had pretty much finished when I came in. Still, we exchanged a few words, so I can tell my wife, and all the others who keep asking, that I met him.

The Making of "The Patriot"
(7 Thrilling Pages)

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Mel enthuses to Ro about
Sharing the hair trailer with Valet Nunber 2

   Up at the big house, it's door-opening time again. This morning, Valet Number 1 and I are opening the doors for Mel Gibson, as he is escorted under a flag of truce to a parlay with Cornwallis. Gibson, who likes to go under the alias of Dr. Seymour Poon while on location, smokes and swears a lot and forgets his lines. There's a lot of standing around and it's hard on the feet. I'm grateful to Peter Woodward, playing O'Hara, one of Cornwallis' Generals, when he organizes some chairs for us to sit on between takes. It's a generous gesture towards the most insignificant people on the set.

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