A story I always tell grew much darker the day Natasha Richardson died. It was 2001, and I was spending the summer before university as an extra on various movie sets across Toronto. It wasn’t a “breaking into acting” thing, it was a “making money thing.” Most extra work required me to fill out a crowd scene, but every now and then you’d score a gig that required something more specific and involved a smaller number of people. I once changed tires as a pit crew member on the Sylvester Stallone racing movie Driven. (And yes, we were warned to not look him directly in the eye.) One of the movies I did was TV movie called Haven, set during WWII where Richardson basically played a female version of her husband’s Schindler, and saved a bunch of Jews.
Later that summer, I got the call to be part of a Russian nuclear submarine crew for the movie K-19: The Widowmaker. With that name, I was expecting a straight-to-DVD clunker starring Dolph Lundgren. I was very wrong. My “Captains” were Harrison Ford and Liam Neeson, and Bigelow, who at the time I had to look up, was directing. The submarine interior was built in a studio outside Toronto, and the first few days were spent with the other “crew members,” in the submarine, faking maintenance stuff for the cameras. The only time we saw Ford and Neeson was on Bigelow’s monitors while they were acting inside the sub and we were on the outside. Eventually the agency called and said the filmmakers needed one of the crew members to say a line in a scene with Harrison Ford. We were all brought back to the set, and auditions were held throughout the day.
The scene would’ve had me staring at a blank radar, and telling Harrison Ford, “No contacts captain,” and then, “I have a contact!” Considering it had to be read in a Russian accent, and most of the other actors were Russian, I’m surprised I made it to the final round — just me and another guy. The assistant director brought us on the sub to wait for Bigelow. We would be auditioning to her. While we waited, Ford and Neeson walked by constantly, sometimes nodding. I shook Ford’s hand, and when Neeson walked by, I blurted out “I did a movie with your wife,” referring my days on the Haven set. He shot me a look of disgust and kept walking. Suddenly the AD approached me and said, “How can you say that to him?”
“Say what?” I said. “I told him I did a movie with his wife!”
The AD corrected me, “No, you said you did his wife.” That asshole’s hearing problems frazzled me to the point that when Bigelow actually did arrive to hear me audition, I was a shell of my former self. All the aplomb and confidence I had was zapped. I didn’t get the part or the $5000 paycheck that came with it. Instead, I got a great story, where the Neeson incident was always the punchline. But after Sunday’s Oscars, where Kathryn BigeIow capped her ascent to “name” director, the story is no longer “The time I told Liam Neeson that I fucked his wife.” It’s “The time I auditioned for Kathryn Bigelow.” Thanks, Academy.