‘Can I take you anywhere?’ my driver asked; a young man, with perfect English and an Irish name, Sean.
I could read the back of his head: Handbags, shoes, furs. ‘Kurffurstendamm. Like your Bond street?’ He said, looking over his shoulder at me. He was about eighteen; a son, not a driver.
‘Tea-bags,’ I said. ‘Fresh milk. Do you know the word ’corner shop? A small shop that is always open and sells everything?’
He slowed down. ‘I look for a supermarket.’
The brief read:
You will be performing opposite a well-known actress. It is a sensitive scene which contains some nudity, but this is handled in a respectful manner.
Which was a violation of the Trade Descriptions Act.
A limousine brought me to the audition, in a small terrace house in Battersea. A young man bounced down the front steps, shouting ‘Rose!’ And holding out his arms. I am not an effusive person and remembering the virus, held out my elbow.
He showed me a divan bed that I should lie on. I stripped down to my slip.
‘Actually,’ he said, ‘you need to be completely naked.’
‘OK’. I took off slip and underwear.
‘And you’ll be covered in Faeces’ he said.
I swallowed and said nothing.
‘Oh, not real faeces,’ he said. ‘I think it’s some kind of mixture…’
‘How many of us are auditioning?’ I asked.
‘Only you….’ He was looking at me as if I were the last lifebelt on a sinking ship.
I believed him. Who, knowing the requirements, would want to audition? Me, it seems.
The day before filming the make-up specialist introduces me to the ‘faeces’. She is part German, part Dutch and motherly. She holds out a saucer. ‘It is marzipan, chocolate and coffee.’ She offers me a teaspoon so I can taste – it is delicious.
The city is dark and wet. The streets and avenues and boulevards, wide, empty and cold, but on set it is a different world. We are in a large, expensive flat. Brightly lit from every angle, there are no shadows here.
I am in Make-up by 6.00am. The mixture is smeared on my face, my arms, my hands, my chest, my stomach, between my legs. That is a lot of marzipan and chocolate. I won’t be hungry.. .. Grease is pushed into my hair. I am so interested in how this is done that I forget to look at my reflection. Till the film comes out, and if I am not on the cutting-room floor, I will not know what I would look like were I homeless and demented.
There is a constant background of instructions; to raise this or to lower that; to light this or shadow that, bring the boom closer, the camera closer; lose the background; calls for Hair or Make-up. The set where I am working is cramped; a divan bed with a double row of dolls propped against the wall; an iron bed, rumpled and filthy. Rucked-up carpets and sagging curtains.
The scene is played out innumerable times. I lie on the floor. I stretch my arms out. At first I am silent, then I think, surely a feeble moan would be expected? I moan, feebly.
Wardrobe not needing to clothe me, has fitted a broad medical belt around my waist. It is supportive, like a corset, and used in hospitals and asylums to lift such people as me.
Two women (sisters, I think, but very different) one plump, homely, cross, the other – the famous actress – young, beautiful and elegant dressed, surprisingly, in a night shirt.Together they each put a hand through the loops on the belt at my back and heave. It is not possible to perform this action ‘in a respectful manner’. I feel like a sack of potatoes, a bale of hay, a carcass leaving the abattoir. My daughters stagger across the room to a commode and drop me there.
There is a pause, and the actresses re-group. The dumpy daughter shoos the elegant one out of the room. She is almost shouting, almost spitting with anger. Then silence. She stands beside me, stroking my hands, talking gently to me. I feel oddly comforted.
When we are shown rushes, the light is so dim it is like candlelight and all I can see is a blur of almost indefinable movements; the marzipan and chocolate is lost in the gloom. But I understand the elegant night shirt. We have been shooting Day for Night.