Being on set is weird. I am resurrecting the acting side of my ‘career’ at the moment (thanks mostly to a devoted and believing agency; thank you all at ERM) and in the last little bit I have had three totally different set experiences, with one thing in common; this alternate, limbo reality that actors go to for the day.
Usually you arrive at a place you have never been to, in an area you have never been into, and usually it is early in the morning. Usually, as an actor, you will have had a little intro to the wardrobe people because you needed to try on your costume beforehand, but mostly everyone on set is unfamiliar; except for the one or two actors you may know. Usually, there is time for a coffee and to check out the craft table (in my case to scout if there is anything vegan on it) before getting changed, even though you know you won’t be called onto set for hours.
The work in front of the camera is the least weird part of the day, and night. That is the expected part of the hurry up and wait that is film making. The weird part is the make-up lady, who you have only worked with once before, who is suddenly and for the day your NBF. The weird part is sitting in a space not meant to be sat in, reading your book, with your dressing gown over your character’s clothes. The weird part is checking Facebum on your phone, as you would every actual day, but now you are checking it from another world entirely. The weird part is the running away from the talk-too-much extras. The weird part is watching other people so engrossed in their work and the detail of it, and how upset they get when messy performers have to come into their space of light and angles and set. The weird part is driving in a left-hand drive, on the wrong side of the road, down suburban streets of Ottery-meant-to-be-Virginia, with a camera suctioned to the door, while normal people come home from work, and stare out of their windows at the spectacle. And of course it is the people who must share in that weirdness with you; fellow actors, crew, catering, and the owners of whatever location you may be inhabiting for the day; their house becoming four different houses, a workshop, an interrogation room and a small business.
Finally, after trying so hard not to ask when, it is your wrap time, and you jump out of the strange clothes, now totally familiar, throw your own shit into your bag (I either feel smug that I remembered to bring the things that helped me make my day comfortable; gown, slippers, ginger tea, book, pen and paper, or else regretful that I forgot), and you walk down an unfamiliar dirt road to where you parked your car, 12 hours ago, and start up in the bitter cold, trying to remember how you got there in the morning. And then, the radio comes on and introduces you back into the usual world, as you join up onto a familiar highway, and make your way home.
(Me and Alan Glass on set)