Chapter 7: LA part 1 – 21 Grams

Sunday the 12th of July 2003

Photo double for Sean Penn in 21 Grams.

I drove south to Sand Pedro to attend the Norwegian service at the Sailor church. I had not planned on going there but that was the way it happened, and I came across some new very friendly faces who are working at the church this summer. I spent most of the day at church only leaving for a few hours to then come back again for the evening concert.

As I came back to the car I noticed a voice mail from Carla at Extras Casting Guild. She asked me if I was available to work on Monday. I called her back and told them yes. I was supposed to get a call from the Casting Director for “First Daughter” and I think the person probably did call but I never did hear my cell phone ring as I was walking around in a market place in San Pedro, so the job was for someone else. I noticed when I checked the cell phone when I got back to the car that I had missed the call by two minutes, and the number did not come up so that I could not call back. I have not in the last two weeks during my time of focusing elsewhere received any calls from Extras Casting Guild, and the day after I get back to LA and am ready for action the phone rings.

I believe the reason why I did not work Monday 14th of July is that it was good for me to spend some time being of service to a Swedish couple in their 50´s when they got married in the Norwegian church in San Pedro. I used their small digital camera and took pictures of them during the short wedding. It was good to just be present.

As I got back into the car I noticed a new voice mail. This time it was from Chad at Central Casting. A month ago I had left two varied look headshots (these were pictures focused on showing the face) in the tray by the reception, and it seems like that was a very good thing to do as Chad used them. The message said that he had submitted my pictures to the Director for the movie 21 Grams and the director had really liked my pictures and wanted to use me as a photo double for Sean Penn. I called Central Casting and asked for Chad, and he was very relieved that I told him yes that I could work tomorrow. He also asked me if I was comfortable holding a gun, which I replied yes. I told him that I guess I would have to shave for tomorrow, as I had been on vacation for two weeks, and he said that he thought that Sean Penn was scruffy looking, but he would send me an e-mail with two pictures of Sean Penn so that I would get an idea of what he looks like. Chad asked me “you have not cut your hair have you?,” no, “that looks the same” I said.

Rocky Mountain Picture Company

Tuesday July 15th 2003.

I woke up early with more than enough time to make it to Rocky Mountain Motion Picture Company in Hollywood where the insert scene for 21 Grams (I found out over the internet that the title comes from the amount of weight the body loses when it dies) was going to take place. I wore my new white T-shirt that I had bought at Ross cloths the night before, and the thick black leather shoes that could perhaps double as work boots. The evening before I had shaved off my three week beard to leave just a two day scrub, just in case they wanted the scruffy look. So I brought along my shaver just in case they wanted me clean shaven.

I got there at 8.15, 45 minutes before my call time. I like to at least be on set 30 minutes before my call time to be sure that I have more than enough time for traffic or anything else that might make me late. One thing I always do if I am not totally clear with where I am to go is to look it up at mapquest.com, and many times if it is not too far away I also drive to the location ahead of time. I had dropped by Citrus avenue in Hollywood the evening before and found Rocky Mountain Picture Company, so I knew where it was so that I could easily find it the following day.

I parked in the small 20 car parking lot next to the picture company and walked inside with two of the crew members who had arrived at the same time. Inside I followed the two guys into a room further in where a few others who I believe works for the picture company were setting up a camera for a insert shot to be done later in the day of a full coffee mug standing on a fake kitchen counter top. I stood around for a while meeting additional crew members as they showed up, trying to remember their names as they told them to me.

Paul – the characters name

Robyn who I had briefly met when I entered the building came over and brought me into a small office containing the cloths I were to use during my scene. On a small blue couch were the brown pants, blue shirt with some blood stains on the collar, and a thick brown jacket. I looked at the tag on the arm of the jacket and noticed that it said Paul. The name of the character in 21 Grams. Next to the cloths lay a dark leather picture scrap album. Robyn picked up the album containing various pictures from the scenes from 21 Grams and quickly flipped through to find the pictures from the scene I was to be in. We both looked at the two pictures and matched up the cloths with what we saw in the pictures. It was the same two pictures that Chad from Central Casting had e-mailed me the day before.

Sean Penn in 21 Grams 2003
Sean Penn in 21 Grams – 2003.

A while later I heard that the director, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and cinematographer, Rodrigo Prieto (director of photography) had decided on shooting my scene first, so I went back into the small office and picked out the cloths that I was to wear during the scene. I spoke with Robyn and the cinematographer about being clean shaven, and for a moment we all hesitated on what to do. Robyn went back into the small office to pick up the scrap book so we could look at the two pictures of Sean Pen in the desert. The same two pictures Robyn and I had looked at earlier. I knew that I needed to be clean shaven from what I remembered of the pictures. It was agreed upon that I shave. Rodrigo asked if I had the necessary utilities which I said yes to as I had brought my shaver. I shaved and changed into the cloths that Sean Penn had worn during filming a few months ago.

The parking lot

A few minutes later I was ready so we walked outside to the parking lot where the director looked around for the best spot to set up the camera for the coming scene. The camera was placed in the middle of the parking lot angling upward toward where my face would be. I stood in front of the camera after they had placed it so they could meter the sunlight, and from that they decided the screens were needed to block the light from directly hitting my face. Thin screens were put up on both sides of where I was to stand, and they also discovered that the camera was reflecting sunlight onto the gun I was holding, so the area around the camera was covered in blankets.

The gun

We were gradually getting ready for recording the scene. I tried to stand in the shadow as much as I could as I was wearing a white T-shirt, a blue shirt above that and a thick jacket above that again, making me sweat in the hot temperature. A weapon specialist gave me some quick instructions on how to use the Smith & Weston hand gun. There is always a weapon specialist on set when a lethal weapon is being used. Robyn had also called the police notifying them that a gun was going to be fired, and had received the permission to use it.

One of the crew drew chalk markings around the front of my shoes to mark where I was to stand, but that changed, as the cinematographer asked me to step back because the gun I was holding was too close to the camera.

Firing the gun in the right pace

A few of us walked inside to check out the scene so that we could copy it the best we could. We walked into the small office I had been in earlier and I was invited to sit in the one chair in front of the screen while the others stood around looking at the scene where Sean Penn drags a guy into the desert to shoot him. We saw the small twitches he made when he fires the gun and the angle it was at. The scene was run through a few times before we headed outside again, but someone brought up the pace the gun was fired at, which is something I needed to know as I was going to fire the gun, so the director asked Robyn to take me back into the office to see the scene again.

I watched the scene a few times noticing the pace of the three shots, and walked out to the others.

I aimed the gun into the top right corner of the lens just inches away. The weapon specialist took the gun and filled it with blanks that would create a smoke travel as it came out. He also handed me ear plugs because the noise would be similar to a regular gun being used.

Liquid Smoke

Before the scene was to begin the director came over and told me to be filled with anger as the man I was going to kill had murdered two young girls. I remembered the scene I saw on screen with the character that Sean Penn played, so I placed myself into the persons mind, and noticed how I got restless and filled with a certain anger. But as I stood in front of the camera ready for action my arm began to be tired from the weight of holding the hand gun, and I kinda forgot about some of the anger that was in me. I was more occupied with holding the gun still and at the right angle with the camera. The focus was on the gun and I was blurred out in the background as a shadow being. The first scene began but the blanks threw liquid smoke out at the glass shielding in front of the camera creating spots making the scene unusable.

The blanks could not be used, so the weapon specialist got some other blanks that did not create any liquid smoke. And the scene was done over again. This time they also raised the camera higher to get a better angle.

My blurred out shadow face was just behind the gun as I aimed it with lengthened arm into the top right corner of the camera. I could not hold my arm really still so when “action” was called I stood for a moment gathering myself before I fired the first shot, and then I wobbled a bit with the gun before I fired shot two, and then shot three.

The director, cinematographer and I

I walked behind the one huge screen that was on my left side to watch along with the director and cinematographer on a little DVD player screen the scene I had just done. I was like an unreal painting seeing the scene of a shadow being holding a gun that was aimed at the camera, firing three shots. Like an unreal dream where everything goes really slow, and nothing is clear. They were both satisfied with the result and called it a wrap, meaning I was done. They smiled and thanked me.

After thought

I had noticed through the day that the crew and others who worked on the set looked at me with a certain respect, a similar respect I believe famous actors receive. It was a bit strange feeling that respect. I thanked the guy who I had asked to use my camera to take a few pictures while I stood in front of the camera, so now I just need to develop the film and see how the pictures came out.

This was a major change and a step up for me in the acting jobs I have had. As a photo double for Sean Penn, the focus was all on me, or rather an unrecognizable blurry shadow being of myself, firing the gun into the top right hand corner of the camera. I left a headshot and two business cards, perhaps someone on the crew will call me back again some day. I know they were pleased with having me there, as everything went very smooth. Chad from Central Casting never did show up as he said he would, so Robyn called him and she told me that he would fill out the voucher and send it to me so that I would get paid the $125 for the two hour work.

If I am to make something symbolic out of the scene is that people will react to the blurry image firing the gun. It is a powerful scene filled with the intrusion into anyones life. Having a shadow being, someone who is not recognizable fire the gun, will make it possible for anyone to fill in the blurry image with any person who has strongly intruded into their life.

Even if I am the one who the director chose for that specific scene, the logical mind of the viewer will say that it is Sean Penn firing the gun at the man who is sitting on the ground just in front of him.

Perhaps I am the one to intrude into many peoples life, through my own way of being alive in God. Intrusion can come in many forms, and God will guide me along my own path in how I will affect people I come into contact with. Other thoughts will probably come up through the next few days as to how I came to be the blurry person in a scene firing a gun just to the top right of the viewer. Of what purpose God had for me in that specific scene. It seems more symbolic than anything else I have done up to this point. And it also seems like an initiation or rite of passage into a stronger presence in the movie world.

I got home later in the day, and rested for an hour before I received a call from Extras Casting Guild about a commercial on Thursday with a possible recall for Friday. Michele called me back five minutes later and asked if I was union or nonunion and I told her that I was SAG, union. She would place me on the available list, even if she was uncertain if it was going to be a union job. I will most likely find out tomorrow evening, if they call me back.