A starry, starry Sunday
From Jackie O to Chris Rock to the real deal in Virginia, our columnist’s previous Sunday was not short of stars.
LAST Sunday, I knew Natalie Portman wouldn’t be at the Oscars. A girlfriend had sent me a link to a news report on DC street closures for the filming of Jackie, a biopic of the iconic former First Lady and widow of President John F. Kennedy.
And 34- year- old Portman, who plays the titular role, would be re- enacting sombre scenes from JFK’s funeral procession in DC, alongside her “brother- in- law” Robert Kennedy, played by Peter Sarsgaard. Set after the president’s assassination on Nov 22, 1963, the film is expected to air next year.
Having missed Saturday’s filming, I hotfooted it down to DC’s 15th Street between New York Avenue and “E” Street, located just round the corner from the White House. Given his advantageous height, my husband was put on star spotting duty.
Although filming had already begun in Paris in November 2015, it was reported that set could satisfactorily duplicate DC’s unique cityscape and architecture, thus necessitating the two- day filming here.
Passing the White House, we noticed heavier police presence than usual. Entering 15th Street, we encountered “mourners” on either side, dressed predominantly in black. The ladies especially caught my eye: elegant in peacoats and kitten heels, their hair fashioned into bouffants or beehives.
We were on set – but only briefly. “Excuse me folks, you can’t go further anymore because we’re filming a period drama. You folks can stay here and watch and then keep going once the scene is over, all right?” explained a friendly crewmember, sporting a multicolour pastel man bun.
We were shepherded to various corners, which I presume were out of the recording span of the cameras to ensure that the scene wouldn’t be marred by windbreaker- wear- ing, iPhone- toting onlookers who had yet to exist in the 1960s.
We had arrived on time to watch the shooting of the procession just after it had passed the White House. The extras were touching up their makeup, the horses drawing the caisson that carried JFK’s casket were being brushed, while the casket itself was being draped with the American flag.
Everyone wondered if Natalie Portman was there, amongst the mourners. After almost 15 minutes of waiting, there was some bustle as a quartet of umbrella carrying men came on set, with Portman and Sarsgaard in their midst.
Standing on tiptoe, I managed to catch a glimpse of the actress dressed in a black skirt- suit, pillbox hat and veil. And I marvelled at how diminutive she actually was.
Eventually, we were told to hush, as the director yelled, “Action!” The procession began and lasted all of five minutes, before he yelled, “Cut!” and the scene was repeated. We stayed for three more takes, during which we moved to where the procession came towards us. I saw Portman through her veil looking woeful during the scene, and breaking into a radiant smile after.
As we left, I encountered an elegantly dressed “mourner” who gamely posed for a photo with me. We also saw crewmembers along another street, busy removing modern signs attached to the old lamp posts to preserve the city’s 60s atmosphere.
That same evening we attended an Oscars viewing party. Hosted by my husband’s colleague, the glamour of the event hit us as we “walked the red carpet” that she had unfurled from the pavement to her front door. As we mingled with other guests, it became apparent that we were all mainly interested in host Chris Rock’s opening segment.
As 8.30pm EST drew near, every- one bagged choice spots in front of the wide screen television, and the chatter died down as Rock’s monologue occasionally touched a nerve.
Like when he referred to black Americans having more fundamental matters to fight in the past: “When your grandmother’s swinging from a tree, it’s really hard to care about Best Documentary Foreign Short.”
Or when he hit the nail on the head: “Everyone wants to know: Is Hollywood racist? Is it burning- cross racist? No. It’s a different kind of racist ... Hollywood is sorority racist. It’s like, ‘ We like you, Rhonda, but you’re not a Kappa.’ That’s how Hollywood is.”
The non- Americans among us nodded knowingly as we were reminded of “networking” – which is a big deal in DC – and which also often hinges on “who” instead of “what” you know. As we had a rental car, we left before Leonardo DiCaprio won Best Actor.
However, the night skies of Virginia presented an even prettier spectacle for our journey back to DC: countless stars that one can’t quite appreciate in the city.
A fitting end to an already starry Sunday.
Brenda Benedict is a Malaysian living in Washington DC. She’s always had a weakness for Jackie O glasses. Follow her at facebook. com/SambalOnTheSide.
Host Chris Rock held nothing back at the live telecast of the 88th Academy Awards.