Author: Charlotte Strauss Swanson and Arielle Darr
Everyone is silent. Action. Cameras rolling. The curtain rises. One by one, Orlando Bloom, Juliette Lewis, and Christopher Thornton step onto the dimly lit stage, instruments in hand. As they begin to play, the crowd cheers wildly, stopping at the end of the set. “Cut,” Mark Ruffalo yells from the back of the theater.
On February 5, 2009, we attended a live take of a scene in Ruffalo’s new indie film, Sympathy for Delicious – filmed in the beautiful Downtown Palace Theater in Los Angeles – and acted as extras in the concert audience. The film follows the story of paralyzed rock DJ, Delicious D (Thornton), who teams up with rockers Bloom and Lewis for a memorable concert performance. On set, Bloom appeared first: tattooed, dressed in full rocker costume, and slightly under the influence. Lewis, best known for her roles in The Other Sister and Cape Fear, also staggered on stage dressed in exaggerated punk garb. Lastly, Thornton rolled out and the crowd was given a cue to cheer.
While they played, we were instructed to chant “Delicious D” and raise our hands enthusiastically in the air. Some were given red Solo cups, while others were handed crutches and neck-braces (symbolic of their support for Delicious D who was in a wheelchair and has mystical healing powers). There were three visible cameras that filmed from various angles.
The cameras caught more than just the scene on tape. At one point, one of the cameramen caught a ten-year-old girl taking photos of the scene. When asked to turn over the photos, which were taken illegally, the girl first denied the accusation and then pointed a finger at her friend to the right. The cameraman, in a furious rage, threatened to call the studio executives. The spat continued until the photos were turned over. The girl’s mother remained silent for the duration of the conversation.
Other extras in the back of the theater turned to Mark Ruffalo and, in shrill voices, yelled, “Hey Mark, can you get us food? We’re really hungry.” We were shocked. We felt honored to simply be a part of the film, observing and interacting with the crew and set. In fact, in between takes, the actors did a raffle for film memorabilia to keep the extras interested.
As extras, the scene felt blurred with reality. We watched in between cuts as Orlando Bloom had his shaggy hair combed, Juliette Lewis practiced her fainting scene, and Mark Ruffalo pondered the aesthetics of the set. The characters we once saw in films such as Pirates of the Caribbean and Zodiac were working inches away from where we stood. Watching them fix their makeup and practice their scenes, we began to realize that they really are just people. Yes, they are famous, talented, and intolerably attractive, but at the end of the day, they are just doing their job like everyone else.
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