“Changeling”

The audition was in September, and it was for a nurse.  I’ve played many in my time.  My mother went through all the hassle of earning a nursing degree and still works full-time in the same operating room she began in more than 30 years ago (the name of the place has changed many times over the years, but she still drives to the same complex of buildings).  She’s my technical adviser, especially when it comes to pronouncing the names of drugs or medical procedures.

She wouldn’t get to be one on this, though, as the film takes place in the 1920s, and the institution is a county mental hospital.  It was apparent from the script pages I was given that there were a number of nurses, and the dialogue here was for several of them.  I broke it into three chunks and asked if I could read each one a slightly different way.  The casting assistant put me on videotape, and once I had done it, I then tried to put out of my mind the fact that I’d auditioned for a Clint Eastwood movie.

Almost two months later, I got a call from my agent, confirming that I had been cast.  I was playing the Receiving Nurse.  They sent the script; I read it, and I was blown away.  It’s an incredible story, and the screenwriter,  J. Michael Straczynski, did a terrific job of telling it.  (This turned out to be a great thing, as we filmed it while the 100-day writers’ strike was going on, and he wouldn’t have been allowed to do any rewrites had they been needed.)

But I didn’t see my part anywhere in the script.  The pages they had sent for the audition were taken directly from the script, and all the roles of nurses were simply designated as “Nurse.”  When I arrived in the set, I asked the 2nd AD, who told me to memorize all the lines (even the ones I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be saying) in order to be ready for whatever our director decided.

Mr. Eastwood is famous for finishing ahead of schedule and under budget, so I was prepared when my start date kept getting pushed up.  In the end, I don’t think I had more than a couple of days’ warning.  Suddenly, I was on the set, meeting the director, rehearsing with Angelina Jolie, and happily working.  A friend of mine, Dale Dickey, was also working when I arrived, playing one of the crazy patients, and I started bonding with some of the other nurses, as well.

the nurses

I worked the last six days of the shoot, ending two days ahead of schedule in early December.  (The finished film made it to Cannes the following spring–talk about a fast turnaround!)  Because I was there on the final day of shooting, and was, in fact, in the very last scene we shot, I got to attend the wrap party and be part of the cast and crew photograph.  (I’m still trying to get a copy.)  The whole experience was a pleasure.

And don’t try to read anything into the mystery novel I completed recently.  The characters, situations, and plot of the movie that takes place in How I Wonder Who You Are is purely fictitious.  Though everything in it could have happened….