Casting Director: Belinda Norcliffe
Monday, and I travel to Italy to film eleven seconds of a commercial for IKEA.
Itinerary: 05.46 train from Etchingham – City Airport – Milano, meeting my colleagues in the limo. David Tudor-Glover, John Lightbody, Jo Burke and Billie North: fine company (and, it transpires, easily able to draw the most indiscreet of confidences from me after a glass or two of Prosecco at dinner). We are delivered directly to the studio for fitting, rehearsal, excellent pasta (no garlic) from Alberto, fine pâtisserie from Isabella and a devilish sexy golfing outfit supplied by Erica and Sara. (Neapolitan ice-cream is flavour of the day for me: pink shirt, yellow trousers, brown belt. I shan’t be making an offer to purchase the outfit as a souvenir.) The best news for me is that they choose David to inflict – afflict – with constantly changing and dubbable golf commentary… in Italian. Which, in the final cut, they don’t use.
Tuesday afternoon: after a leisurely morning, I potter the two hundred yards along the street from the hotel to the studio (they refuse to send a car) and present myself in Makeup. Regardless of the fact that both David and I are married, makeup lady Milena wastes no time in saying she’d be up for marrying either of us depending upon whose bank account is the healthier. Age is clearly no object to the saucy signora either because, when offered the chance to guess mine, she breaks all previous records by suggesting “seventy-six to seventy-nine”. And that, allegedly, is older than David.
In sharp contrast to John and Jo’s leisurely morning spent leaping and tangoing around the set and smashing up IKEA lamps and furniture, David and I hunker down for four hours’ hectic and energised filming: forty-one takes, forty-one gentle golfing putts across two circular IKEA rugs. When the reversing cameraman reaches a certain point, I say “pianta” and David moves an increasingly floppy pot-plant off my green. We are hampered by all the usual problems: a broken window not quite broken enough, unwanted reflections in golf-smashed pottery upsetting the DOP or the cameraman colliding with furniture.
A good-humoured shoot with actor-mannequins being subtly arranged, rearranged and fine-tuned by director Augusto Zapiola at the behest of the clients and agency employees. As is the usual practice, they lurk out of sight behind a screen watching their monitor and avoiding any direct contact with us foreigners.
Given that I holed out – hit the pole provided – only four times during those forty-one shots, maybe golfing is not the future for me.
Two ego-bending experiences this summer as Agent L and I wondered whether we might between us nail a third consecutive Christmas commercial.
Attended what we knew to be a top secret Christmas casting for John Lewis/Waitrose. Pencilled, recalled, “heavy, heavy, heavy pencilled, darling”; the call from Sophie at Wardrobe for a fitting on Friday and then… silence. When I enquired by text of said Sophie, she vouchsafed that she was “so sorry, but they’ve gone with the other cast.” (‘Gone with.’ There’s a phrase. As in ‘the wind.’)
Perhaps you saw the ad: it was that one based on a school production of Bohemian Rhapsody. My part, the headmaster, was two split seconds in the semi-darkness. The commercial wasn’t for Christmas at all.
Then, for Amazon Alexa, a veritable roller-coaster of hope and despair: from pencil to recall to heavy pencil to off-pencil to back on (the same) pencil two days later to be rubbed out again eighteen hours after that. Someone having difficulties make up their mind, I wonder?
Casting Director Hannah Birkett
Finally (and to raised eyebrows and sighs of relief both at home and at Wintersons) I do land a genuine Christmas commercial for Currys PC World. After a summer of such egotistical trauma, daahling, I was ripe for type-casting by director Andreas Nilsson as a miserable old Scrooge character banging with his stick on the floor of his garret whilst carol singers cavort without in Dickensian glee. Asleep on the other side of the bed is my wife (Romanian, this time) oblivious to the din in her Currys sound-excluding headphones. All in the can after a mere three hours of filming plus supper, but two nights in Bucharest and meeting my old friend and former pupil Andreea during two half-days of rank tourism, it doesn’t get much better.
Original casting by Crocodile Casting
With Tom Rooke as the King and Windsor family lookalike Barbara Bone as the Queen Mother, I spend a splendid and sunny three days with old friends from Russia’s Richard Tea, Park Productions and The Brownie Film Company. Mostly we swan about Lisbon or sit sipping beverages on the hotel balcony overlooking the port, but occasionally our presence is required at some palatial location and so we feel we must put in an appearance.
Tom has the hardest job being coerced by leonine director Alejandro Toledo into saying “Mmm, Richard” with more sleepy, sexual nuances than he thought possible; at the same time he must gaze appreciatively at his beautiful (and on this occasion Portuguese) wife, sneer at his butler, ignore his baby, wave patronisingly at the crowds below the balcony and look yearningly at his cup of Richard tea. Multitasking or what? Meanwhile, I buttle around in a rather ill-fitting cozzie (Father not pleased with the over-long white waistcoat) and indulge the client with a reprise of my eyebrow-acting, for which talent, much thanks. Outside the palace a hundred Portuguese walk-ons impersonate the Russian hoi-poloi whilst shouting English in faux-Victorian costumes.
An eccentric production, but unmissable, and my thanks to Leonid, Alessandro, Nadia, Alex and Dmitri for a great deal of bad behaviour and tears of mirth.
Casting Director: Belinda Norcliffe
I whizz out to Zurich courtesy of Swiss Tourism and after a lengthy trip southwards in a minibus (and at one point on a train under a mountain) we arrive at a hotel in Sion. Over supper, I discover from producer Joe Berger that I was only given the part because I mentioned in the casting that I had buried my mother two weeks ago – which is true, but what of it? “I soon as you said that, I said ‘I want him!’”
Day 1, the entire cast is deposited on a frozen lake high in the Alps. In my role as sporty Opa (Grandpa) it is unfortunate that I am given (and don’t notice I am playing with) a wrong-handed mallet, pole, club, stick or whatever it’s called. To the strains of a string quartet I give my allin a triumph of on-ice enthusiasm and competitiveness. “Don’t over-act, Tim” pleads the director. After a picnic in the snow we descend to the valley once more only to zigzag up again to another village for bracing views, mountain air and luncheon. In a delightful chalet, I am then filmed expertly supervising the waxing of the underside of a ski as a jazz band strikes up outside.
Day 2, we ascend through glorious scenery and sit in the sunshine watching our musicians (now a rock band) being inadvertently stolen away by an over-enthusiastic helicopter pilot before it is time for the next meal. As darkness falls, the crew lay out sofas, lamps, carpets and snowmen and we boogie about a blazing brazier late into the evening – my family and I nibbling to order on charcoaled sausages until they have enough footage in the can. All this in the company of our band of young musicians and skiers – and my “Oma” for the week, Daryl Webster, she who, proving once again that I have not worn well, takes me for seventy.
The ski-waxing scene is cut in the final edit, but the experience of filming in deep snow in fake moonlight and a bonfire is unforgettable. And I came away with a Columbia puffer jacket which is the envy of all who behold it.