Casting Director Kharmel Cochrane
Commercial: State Farm Insurance
The second longest haul flight of my career but arguably the most glamorous. At 4,707 miles, Vancouver is barely a hop and a skip compared to Cape Town’s 8,395 fifteen years ago. A mere two days’ notice from “VERY heavy pencil” to boarding a Boeing 787 and turningleft.
Highlights of Air Canada’s Business Class:
- Seats that offer verticality to horizontality at the press of a button, plus massages in three different lumbar locations.
- Complimentary ballpoint pen and sponge-bag
- Multiple offers of sparkling vino, port, gin and tonic (Canada Dry, of course).
- Some of the best food I’ve ever tasted (including a cream tea at 40,000 feet above the Rockies)
- Windows you can tint to your own level of ocular comfort.
- At “bedtime” (6.30 pm BST), an über-attentive stewardess unfurls my blanket and tucks me in. What am I supposed to answer when she enquires “Is there anything else I can do for you, Mr Baker?” “What about a goodnight kiss?”
Arriving in Vancouver slightly before I left Heathrow, I am whisked to the Georgian Court Hotel with two other British actors I have never before met and who I am destined never to see again. Although fellow guests tend to be brash American folk off whale-watching in a cruise-ship the size of Manhattan, the staff become my new best friends at once. Headed by a cheerful gentleman from The Philippines called Genesis (“Thank goodness you weren’t called Exodus,” quipped I, “for you’d’ve left by now”) they watch my comings and goings with my bird-photography lens with genial mystification. But do I care?– No, for I am in a land where they serve maple syrup on limitless breakfast pancakes from 2-litre bottles.
The really hard work begins. At Wardrobe, I model two suits, three shirts, four ties. There is then a pause for five hours whilst the client agrees the combo. Ample time, then, for unseemly and ribald behaviour with my co-conspirator, “Divinder [Pureval], that brown English fella” as he typed into my phone contacts.
The evening spent marvelling at the views from the Vancouver Look-out Tower.
On location (an oak-panelled room somewhere in the suburbs), Divinder interviews me in my guise as Conservative No-deal Brexit Minister refusing to answer a straight question. Our scene is in the can after an hour of comedy British improvisation and, with the American clients fulsome in their appreciation, we retire exhausted for an early luncheon, beer and gossip followed by an hour or two photographing white-crowned sparrows and bush tits flitting about a coach park. Too exciting, I know, but you don’t see these stripey-hdeaded little beasts in the UK.
A ferry ride to Granville Island to photograph cormorants and seagulls against a backdrop of Downtown Vancouver’s deliciously homogenous silvery-grey apartment blocks.
Snapped a heron amongst Canada Geese then met Seattle friends Kim and Mark for a cycle ride round forested Stanley Park. The highlight of the trip is the spectacle of three orcas cavorting thirty yards from the shoreline.
Divinder and I would have been even happier had not our scene been destined for the cutting room floor, but even in the absence of my substantial buy-out I must regard this as an away-break of a lifetime.
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 director Alejandro Toledo, Leonid, 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.
Casting Director: Sophie North
Directors: Los Pérez
Ten days in Manchester may not sound too glamorous, but the filming of a series of commercials for supermarket Asda has been a highlight – not least because my days were spent with both Los Pérez (“The clients want a little less, Tim, thanks.”) and my two newly-acquired “granddaughters”, Brooke Haynes and her stand-in, Betsy. (The things I now know about dolls!)
Constructed at Space Studios was Asda’s Christmassy factory (or Imaginarium) containing, amongst many other excitements for an old boy like me, a reindeer in a hamster-wheel (powering the machine to stir Christmas pudding mix, obvs.), a conveyor belt of toys (inspected by children), cakes being smashed by musclemen, a gin/chocolate room, a sleigh ride and a flume (down which I was obliged to slide, risking life and limb). We spent an afternoon in a frozen forest (actually one of the hottest places I have ever been) with snow shaken from a sieve overhead by the excellent and talented Dave from Quicksilver. There were relaxing opportunities to practise my waking-up-in-a-bed-being-towed-by-a-train acting, a glass lift that didn’t move, and much exploration down back alleys of north-west Manchester reminiscent of Coronation Street.
At night-time, more importantly, I roosted in the delightfully eccentric Gotham Hotel whose pink icing shortbread pigs, faux-bearskin rug and Intimacy Pack (mine for £14.95) have wrought havoc with my imagination and – potentially – my family life.
This twelve-minute film from director Anas Alkarmi, Imagine Films and the Palestine Return Centre was premièred during PalExpo London at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre on July 8th and released online on October 30th to coincide with the centenary of the Balfour Declaration.
It is a hard-hitting and chilling piece depicting the eviction of a British family from their home to make room for a homeless family from abroad. The comparison is clear: a Palestinian family being displaced by a Jewish one as a result of the 1917 Balfour Declaration.
* * * *
I have recently returned from Athelhampton House in Dorset where, for Imagine Films (and in moustache and whiskers – “spiritgumtastic”, as Agent L put it) I impersonated Sir Arthur Balfour. He was the one who in 1917 was instrumental in popping the Jewish People into their new homeland in Palestine. And how well that has gone.
Not only was I required to get the wording of the Balfour Declaration right, but was also expected to walk with a limp and a cane whilst simultaneously smoking a pipe stuffed with what I suspect was strong cigarette tobacco. Needless to say, the resultant nausea was such that I could do none of the above with much proficiency. Oh, and the clouds of pollution I produced repeatedly set off the fire alarms which in turn necessitated the application of a pink condom-type cover to fool the sensor.
Spot the uncanny resemblance:
Casting Director: Belinda Norcliffe
A delightful Ferrero Kinder Egg commercial filmed in a Viennese garden last year has recently hit the screens in Europe. There are children, carrots, the ears of an Easter bunny (oryctolagus cuniculus) and, at the very end, an old git doing septuagenarian granddad-acting with his lovely “wife” for the day, Carole Goodman. All this in the heat of summer sunshine boosted by some monster arc lamps. Although there were no chocolate freebies (even melted ones) available, I did come away with that natty, beige jersey in exchange for wearing my own shoes.
On the strength of my growing reputation for being children- and animal-friendly, I was invited to bond with a dog (an oversized Corgi with a red neckerchief, as I recall) for a currently unreleased ident for an unnamed company. Suffice it to say that when I bent to show said canine some affection, the creature’s loving and lingual attentions (coupled with extreme dog-breath) necessitated calling Make-up for a wet-wipe before the next take. Tight-lipped was I for the rest of the shoot.
In February, care of Emily Tilelli Casting, I was married for a day to Maggie MacLeod (she who spent the previous night in the Bartholomew residence – with the knowledge and consent of his current, actual and indeed real wife, Julie) before filming a Valentine’s Day piece for Morrisons. This time, we were destined to be upstaged by a bleeding heart sponge-cake, a characterful little confection which got its own Winnebago, all the attention and a stand-in. Both cakes were later consumed by the crew, so who has the last laugh?
Most recently, I might have been spotted walking another dog called Bertie in Tooley Street. Again, I am not yet able to divulge any details, but I can say that despite it being a glorious May afternoon, the rain was pouring down courtesy of a machine supplied by the London Fire service. In other news, one of my fellow pedestrians (a five-year old from Pimlico) now firmly believes that I am the real Father Christmas earning a spot of cash during his low season. Who am I to deny these things?
Casting Director: Dan Hubbard
Having been contractually gagged until the commercial’s release, I can now offer grateful thanks to Oscar-winning director Tom Hooper, Janet McTeer (my “wife” Mrs Claus for the two days’ filming), casting director Dan Hubbard and to Molly and all the gang from Smuggler who made the occasion such a delight for me. (The crew were constantly suggesting I take off my costume, but I knew better: this was the hot-and-sweatiest job since Baloo the Bear in 1995; I learnt then that there’s nothing worse than putting back on a clammy, damp, heavy cozzie after a lunch break.)
There was a real chalet, log fire and – outside in the blizzard – a sleigh with real reindeer to stroke. As a seasoned traveler, I expected to feel the cooling blast of the polar gale as I stepped out of our house and into its teeth; and yet it was warmer outside than in. I had never before been to Pinewood Studios – and certainly not in July – nor been collected from Kent in such a luxurious limo. It even had on-board Wi-Fi. How do they even do that?
Oh, did I mention that the job was immensely sweaty? So much so that they sent out for a fresh pair of boxer shorts and socks. M&S, of course.
Casting Directors: Crocodile Casting
Can’t believe it: I’m off to Moscow again, this time in the company of fellow actor Ashley Cook. We meet on the plane where we have been upgraded. Our task is to film a commercial for Russian tea with ebullient and leonine director Alessandro. Ashley is the King; I am his butler. Neither moustache nor whiskers are required this time. You can watch it in the Showreel.
More importantly, during our march around Moscow, I take Ashley to a café I frequented last November. The waiter (I remembered his name: Alexander) immediately bustles up to me and welcomes me like a long lost chum. Which I am.
At the wrap dinner, Alessandro and the Big Richard Tea Man encourage us to drink double shots of Beluga vodka. I rarely drink alcohol, but because the clients are happy, the director is happy and I am happy, I think “in for a rouble” and woof down four glasses. I must have been thirsty … and, d’you know what?– I like vodka. I like the taste. The Russians are making a man of me. During the night, however, I am overcome with a certain abdominal disquiet, an unwonted ickiness. I must have eaten something. That lamb kebab was probably off.
Curiously, neither a quiet twenty minutes upon the porcelain pedestal nor a hot bath improve my bilious state. Nor does the sweet, Russian porridge at breakfast. Not until I have consumed four cups of coffee and three or four hunks of bread and butter with honey do I begin to feel better. Ashley is kind enough not to be judgmental.
According to my more experienced son and stepson, I have been suffering from a “beeriod”, my very first hangover.