Surreal moments Behind the Scenes
One of my more surreal moments behind the scenes of Wellywood, involved climbing into an attic with a penguin and an Olympic athlete.
As a freelancer, you are often almost in tears wondering where the next job is coming from. In this instance, the early morning phone call from Film New Zealand, the first port of call for overseas filming enquiries (now merged with the New Zealand Film Commission) about scouting large country houses and estates in the Wairarapa for an American crew, was well timed and well received.
Fuelled by gourmet jelly beans, I picked up the minivan and my passengers for the next three days - one being Danny DeVito, who played the Penguin in Batman Returns, the others being his producer and small crew who email@example.com were filming the expedition to scout locations ‘‘Downunder’’.
The movie was to be set in turn of the century England and New England and also... at sea. The team wanted to flood Peter Jackson’s studio and put a ship in there. I don’t think Jackson was keen though. (Since then, Kumeu Film Studios have a purpose-built water tank).
We headed for the hills, and I was particularly impressed that Mr DeVito had cell phone reception (apparently satellite) while we drove over the Rimutakas, and even more impressed that he was talking to his then wife, Rhea Pearlman.
First on the recce list was Brancepeth, in Stronvar, west of Masterton. Brancepeth is one of the largest wooden structures in the southern hemisphere, and was once staffed with a population the size of a small village, complete with its own post office. The owners, the Beetham’s, greeted us and their family were thrilled to meet Mr DeVito and pose for photos with him.
Next was Fernside, a country estate, then owned by Toni Jeffs and her partner Bill Garlick. Toni Jeffs of course was the rebel swimmer of the 1990s who was scandalously sponsored by a strip club; had an at-the-time shocking tattoo - of the Olympic rings on her upper thigh, and took up with the head of the NZ Olympics administration, Bill Garlick.
So there I was, pulling down the steps to the attic with Danny DeVito in Toni Jeff’s bedroom. This, I thought, is one for the album.
But I didn’t get a photo of them, nor did I get one with Mr DeVito. As a New Zealander I think we have this thing that we don’t want to bother famous people, or seem ‘‘uncool’’ in getting a photograph or an autograph. In other words, we are kind of backwards in coming forwards. If anything, I exist only in their images - in the footage of the documentary, flipping my hair and trying to charm a parking security warden, something I was teased for when I got back in the minivan.
And yes, so I don’t leave you wondering, Danny DeVito is very short. He was also a sweet, quiet and gentle man, who drank a lot of green tea, and only told one joke. Those who know me - all five-foot-ten of me - will wonder how he kissed my cheek. We were sitting down. In the van.
-Waikato writer and film-maker Claire Ashton’s column, Behind the Scenes, is published monthly. Ashton grew up in Hamilton and now lives in Te Aroha.
Kiwi swimmer Toni Jeffs offered her Wairarapa home for a move to star Danny DeVito.