Sur­real mo­ments Be­hind the Scenes

Matamata Chronicle - - Your Local News - CLAIRE ASH­TON

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 claireash­ 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.

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