I was working as a runner at Twickenham studios on an adaptation of Love in the Time of Cholera. It was a big budget Hollywood production that had been filming on location in Columbia for 60 days. For some reason they’d decided to shoot their interiors in South West London, so we mobilised all of London’s Latin American extras and set up for ten longs days of sweltering heat under studio lights.
The story covers a wide time span, and I really felt for the actors, who had to undergo four hours of make-up in preparation for the final scenes of the film. Arriving before them every day to prepare their dressing rooms and be on hand for the breakfast run, by the second day I was already feeling the strain. As the painstaking process of recreating the interior of an eighteen nineties’ steam ship began to take its toll on the schedule, the production soon ran short on time. Shoot days were extended, and I found myself falling asleep as I sat by the bell and light that indicate when the camera is rolling, turning my radio up loud so the call of cut would wake me in time to switch the light back off and readmit crew to the sound stage.
As part of my responsibilities I occasionally had to stand in for the actors during the lighting of a set-up. This was one of my least favourite jobs as lighting can sometimes take up to an hour, and trying to remain motionless whilst the frenetic electricians or ‘sparks’ carted lights and gels around me, shining megawatt lights in my eyes and waving reflective sheets under my face was not an easy task. The film also contains a lot of racy scenes, and I found myself getting intimate with strangers once again. In one particular scene the young Florentino is comforted in bed by his nursemaid. The director rehearsed the scene, and then the actor playing young Florentino leapt up for me to take his place. The nursemaid was a bit part, and so the matronly Columbian lady playing the role was not afforded the luxury of a stand in. I climbed into the creaking cot with its authentic duck-down pillows and bowed mattress, and positioned myself in the arms of the Columbian lady to match what I’d just witnessed. As I took my place, her wisened face creased into a smile and she hauled my closer into her bosom.
‘You’re a good boy,’ she said, presumably rehearsing her lines. ‘You work so hard.’ I smiled up at her and snuggled in closer, the cries of the sparks fading into the background. ‘You just rest now, okay?’ Her hand stroked the side of my head and my eyes closed.
‘Excuse me?’ A Spanish voice by my ear. It’s young Florentino. ‘You mind if I take my place now?’