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Marco Perella

Maniac in the Mirror
by Marco Perella

July 2000

TV movies all seem to have the same name. That's because they're usually about sex and crime. So they always try to get words in the title that bring such thoughts to the fore. Desire is a perennial buzzword. Likewise Evidence, Killing and Seduction. Body works for both sex and crime so that's a big one. The TV movie geniuses have learned that if they mix and match these words in the titles, America will tune in.

EVIDENCE OF LOVE, SHADOW OF DESIRE, DESIRE IN SO-AND-SO, KILLING IN SO-AND-SO, SEDUCTION IN SO-AND-SO... they just keep recycling these names. I might have been in three TV movies that were at one point or another called BODY OF EVIDENCE until Madonna made a feature and got the final rights.

Everything is "based on a true story" and then changed to include more sex and more murders. You've got Plot A and Plot B.

Plot A is: a lovely, slender woman in her late twenties sleeps with a handsome guy and he turns out to be a stalking psycho killer. She gets violent and the authorities don't understand.

Plot B is: a lovely, slender woman in her late twenties sleeps with a handsome guy and she turns out to be a stalking psycho killer. She gets violent and the authorities don't understand.

I've done Plot A's with Kim Delaney and Nicolette Sheridan. I did a Plot B with Barbara Hershey where she has an affair and then chops up the guy's wife with an axe. Barbara won the Emmy for that. They started out calling it KILLING IN A SMALL TOWN and then changed it to EVIDENCE OF LOVE and then changed it back. Why escapes me.

Another Plot B is BODY OF EVIDENCE. (Number two or three, I'm not sure which. Madonna bent some knees and they changed the title to SEDUCTION IN TRAVIS COUNTY.)

In a small Texas town a lonely lady falls in love with a married lawyer. She seduces her handyman into killing the lawyer's wife for her so she can have the lawyer. The authorities don't understand.

I get the plum role of the handyman. Along with it comes the unlikely name of Clancy Pogue.

I wear what I think is a Pogue-ish tee shirt to the audition, along with one of those fake panther tattoos. I slouch and drawl like somebody might if named Pogue. George, the Hungarian director, eats it up.

The whole Texas accent thing makes these foreign directors lose their minds. First day on the set George takes me over to meet the star, Leslie Ann Warren. He presents me to her like a piece of valentine candy.

"Look fot I got for you! Tok for her, Marco! Tok!"

"Howdy, Ma'm. Pleezed tuh meet yuh."

Leslie giggles with pleasure.

George is trying to cheer Leslie up. She's a little depressed right now, I think. Either that or she's mooding up for her role as a murder-hatching psycho she-bitch seductress from hell. They've had to hire six extra people from her entourage to make sure she has the right hair and the right exercise and eats the right food.

For moments of extreme stress she carries a Walkman so she can listen to a special tape. I wonder what it is? Maybe it's New Age music: Sounds of the Waterfall... Listening to the Light... Distant Elves... Maybe it's reggae that sooths her? Or a Tony Robbins motivational tape?

I think Leslie is just a naturally delicate person and needs a lot of soothing.

First we shoot the butt-twitching scene. I'm down on the floor in Leslie's kitchen fixing an electrical socket or something and she's listening to grinding rock music while she makes lemonade in the blender. Leslie's trying to recruit me to be her evil henchman. Her plan is to mesmerize me with sex. They've got her in these tight blue jean shorts with a blouse tied up around her pancreas. She dances around the kitchen twitching her butt in my face.

Leslie may be delicate but the girl can sure twitch. Her figure is decidedly womanly. As Roy Orbison might say, "Mercy!" Very little acting required on my part. She gives me a glass of lemonade and goes all googly eyed and I am ready to kill.

Since they never shoot movies in chronological order, next up is the scene where the cops come busting into my dingy handyman pad and beat me up and haul me away for murdering the lawyer's wife. The cops are being played by a bunch of my local actor buddies and since they are jealous that I landed the best part of all the Texas actors and got to have Leslie Ann Warren twitch her butt in my face, they make sure the beating part is realistic. Again, very little acting required on my part. I am dragged down the hall by my hair and so to jail.

For the jail scene I get to wear an orange jumpsuit like real prisoners. I'm supposed to smoke a cigarette and confess that I did it for love. This means a big close-up for me, with all the Texas cop actors standing around wishing they had this part. (But there can only be one Clancy Pogue.)

Unfortunately this is a scene that does require acting and here I run into trouble. I have somehow decided that the circumstance calls for volcanic emotion and on the first take I screw my face up and try to squeeze out real tears.

"Cut!"

George takes me aside and earns his pay.

You mean I don't look like a poor, lovelorn dupe lost in the depths of demented devotion?

George patiently and gently explains to me that I look like a bad laxative commercial.

Oh. Never mind.

We do it again. This time I restrain myself and am content with a lip quiver that speaks volumes. Huzzahs all around.

And now for the wife killing. This takes place at one of the fanciest houses in Austin. I'm sure the owners thought it would be neat to have a movie shot in their house. They probably had no idea what a crew of forty could do to a wood floor.

Peter Coyote is playing the sexy lawyer and we strike up a conversation about the old days in San Francisco where we both experimented with alternative lifestyles. Or exploded the plastic inevitable. Or whatever the hell it was we were doing back then. I still haven't figured it out.

Peter's soon-to-be-wasted wife is being played by Jean Smart. It happens that Jean just had a baby and she has a nanny on the set to hold her bambina whenever she has to be on camera.

What's supposed to happen is that I, Clancy Pogue, the slave of love, come to the front door and ring the doorbell with a fake flower delivery. When Jean opens the door she catches on that all is not well. She tries to slam the door but I power my way in. (They want me to grunt animal noises during this part. They say they're going to synthesize these noises later to make a spooky soundtrack.) Then I am to chase Jean upstairs, blasting away at her with my pistola.

So we shoot the front door scene and all goes well except they aren't happy with my animal noises. They make me record a few extra grunts. These are called wild tracks and everybody gets real quiet on the set while they stand around watching me growl and snarl.

It's time for the Art Shot. In every TV movie there is at least one Art Shot. That's because all TV movie directors want to be doing big-studio features instead, and they think that if they throw in an Art Shot somebody will see that they have serious talent.

George is not immune to Art Shot Syndrome and being Hungarian the condition may be terminal.

In this case he has set the camera on the second floor looking down the main staircase in this fantastic home. There's a huge mirror on the first landing where the stairs make a ninety degree turn and go on up to the second floor.

Jean is supposed to run up the stairs screaming bloody murder with me in hot pursuit. Just as she crosses in front of the mirror I'm supposed to fire at her and hit the mirror instead. See, they've got the camera focused on the mirror seeing me in reflection and when that bullet hits the mirror it goes all cracked and so does my image.

Voila! Art Shot!

Of course I'm not really going to fire a bullet at Jean Smart's head. I'm firing a blank, and at the same instant the explosives expert will set off a charge behind the mirror.

So the first time we try it, Jean runs up the stairs and I stop at the bottom. I shoot at the mirror. The explosives guy hits the switch. Nothing. It's a tough mirror.

So we try it again-- same thing. And again.

By this time George is beginning to wonder about the explosives expert. Deadlines to meet and the man can't destroy a mirror. Besides, this is the Art Shot! Let's get with it!

Kid Dynamite doubles the charge. I fire the blank, he hits the switch, and... Double nothing. Evidently his expertise does not extend to antique Texas mirrors; the double charge makes not a dent.

Now George and all the brass are livid with rage at this poor guy. He hastens to guarantee that this time he'll crack my evil reflection for good. We hear him making noises behind the mirror. When he comes out this time he pauses by me, whispering,

"Why don't you move back a couple of feet on this take?"

What? I can't move back! I have to hit my mark so I'll show up in the mirror and my image will be reflected correctly when the mirror shatters in a vivid metaphor for the fractured nature of evil! It's an Art Shot!

"Okay" says Blast Master, "but I just put seven charges behind that mirror so at least close your eyes."

Okay. Here we go. Jean Smart and I take our pre-murder positions once again. Wait a minute. Seven charges? Close my eyes? That doesn't sound too good.

But Jean is running up the stairs, so I follow, aiming my gun at the mirror. Just before I fire I get that this could be bad feeling. Should I cut the scene? Or should I do my sacred actor duty and forge through to the finish no matter what happens?

What would Robert Mitchum have done?

I pull the trigger.

Kapow!

Big slabs of glass containing my reflection slam me in the face. Actor down! Actor down! The uncrackable cracked. All over the stairs, all over the house, and especially all over me.

They check me over. The producers are pale with fear. But I'm lucky. Superficial wounds only. It must be that every one of those slabs of mirror hit me with their flat sides. I know it's incredible but if I'd caught an edge it'd be NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD sequels for me.

Peter Coyote is appalled. "How could they do that to you?"

Director George goes from apoplectic to apologetic. Captain Nitro is fired on the spot. And since I am evidently too healthy to file a glass action suit, the producers relax.

"New Deal!"

We're moving upstairs for the climax of the scene. The crew bustles around making sure they grind the broken glass deeply into the fine wood floor.

Jean Smart is going to be hiding in the bedroom closet in the bedroom. I am going to bound across the bed in my work boots and capture her there. But it took so long to get the Art Shot that her baby is getting fussy. Jean has to stop and hold the little thing to settle her down. Before each take she hands the baby to her nanny and cowers down in the closet screaming, as I trampoline over to her hiding place and shoot her in the neck. I'm supposed to reprise my grunting animal noises and then emit a sort of evil yodel as I do these things.

A couple of takes of this and the baby is understandably disturbed. She doesn't know it's just a movie. As far as she's concerned some maniac is attacking her mother. Jean is screaming, I'm screaming and the baby is screaming. Savage frenzy on the second floor!

I give it to Jean in the neck one more time and she does an interview with Entertainment Tonight and we finally go home.

Someday a repressed memory therapist will be hypnotizing Jean Smart's daughter and... Surprise! Clancy Pogue!

The big bar scene. Forty extras dancing. Fifty pipers piping, milkmaids milking... the works. They've got crew crawling all over the walls trying to light this cavernous old Sixth Street club in downtown Austin.

This is a scene where Leslie Ann tries to come on to Peter Coyote. Peter spurns her (even though he slept with her before) and goes righteously home to his wife. Leslie covets him and she hatches her devious scheme of eliminating Jean Smart. And we know how that's going to come out. This is when Leslie comes over to me at the bar and asks me to come home and check her socket.

So everybody's preparing for this big scene when suddenly we hear: CRASH!

Here comes Leslie. She's mad as a wet cat.

It seems that the Little Black Dress she picked out for this scene was torn somehow and now the wardrobe people are trying to get her to wear a replacement dress. But Leslie does not like the replacement dress. Trouble.

She stomps and yells and throws stuff until George clears the set. All the extras and crew have to go outside.

George tells me to stay because he thinks Leslie likes me after my heartfelt performance in the butt-twitching scene. He might need reinforcements. He goes over to salve the wounds.

I guess he says the right thing because Leslie finally calms down and puts on her Walkman earphones. She starts pacing around in circles trying to find a happy place.

Before he brings back the hundred and fifty people waiting out in the alley, George has Leslie and me rehearse the scene at the bar. He's trying to ease her back into harness.

I feel a certain measure of trepidation when he brings Leslie over to me. As a regional actor (translation: Hollywood nobody) my career hangs by a thread. Co-stars cannot afford to piss off a star. What if I look at her cross-eyed or something and she has another fit?

Not to worry. Leslie is soliciting my support.

"I think it's just awful when they say you can wear something and then they give you something else at the last minute. It's not fair, is it?"

Absolutely not. I understand completely. I'm on your side. You can trust me; I'm not like the others.

"Do you have someone in your life?"

Beg pardon?

"Are you married?"

Uh, yes I am. For many years.

"You're lucky. I don't have anybody and it gets real lonely."

And she starts to cry.

This woman is a movie star and she makes tons of money; she's a good actress and she's beautiful. But it's not enough.

George and I pat her gently on the back and try to make her feel better. We assure her the replacement dress looks real nice. I get her a Kleenex from behind the bar.

After a while the crew drifts quietly back on the set, the dancing extras go to their places and they turn on the music. Leslie and I do our scene. It goes real well. And then she says goodbye and goes back to her trailer with her Walkman.

Another TV movie is in the can.

I go home and give my wife a great big hug.

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