Tue, Apr. 10, 2002
Where the city of angels meets the city of cheesesteaks.
ROBIN RINALDI (firstname.lastname@example.org)
WHYY recently reported that Philadelphia was the only major American city to increase its hotel revenue this past year. The same day, chef Masaharu Morimoto was talking about his eponymous new hot spot (723 Chestnut St.) on the national radio show Here and Now. And over the phone, my friend from San Francisco said, "Everywhere I turn, I hear something about Philadelphia."
Could Philadelphia be peaking? When I ran smack into Hollywood on my way down 18th Street the other day, it definitely seemed like a possibility.
The scene, from the new CBS pilot Hack, was originally scripted to take place at a hot dog stand in New York, according to Jon Myerow, Neil Stein's director of operations. When the show was moved to Philly--reportedly because star David Morse wanted to be closer to home--the scene was rewritten for a cheesesteak joint.
But then director Thomas Carter ate at Rouge (205 S. 18th St.), and next thing you know he was calling Myerow at the last minute, asking if they could use the restaurant. It makes perfect Hollywood sense. The show is about a bad cop-turned-cabbie (Morse) making his way through the city's mean streets, helping solve crimes.
What better place for such earthy characters to meet up? Even bad cops and cabbies deserve velvet drapes and a view of Rittenhouse Square.
I counted 44 people in front of Rouge, ready to make the magic happen. The show's roster boasts some impressive credits. Morse has starred in St. Elsewhere, Contact and The Green Mile, and he played Meg Ryan's kidnapped husband in Proof of Life. Carter directed last year's Save the Last Dance, and the pilot's writer, David Koepp, penned Jurassic Park.
From across 18th Street, where I stood with a few dozen onlookers, you could practically smell L.A. The guys in the black director's chairs with their names printed in white, the woman scurrying about with a colorful scarf wrapped round her perfect dreadlocks, the strong-chinned man with long silky hair sitting near the camera--they were all preternaturally beautiful in that flawless way particular to the West Coast, as if they'd been vampirically bitten by Tom Cruise.
Everyone wore walkie-talkies and headsets. Even the lesser crew, who resembled college students and probably had ridiculous titles like best boy and dolly grip, emitted an aura of urgency and great importance. They blocked the right lane of 18th Street and set up a klieg light while two stand-ins faced each other in front of Rouge's entrance. (Real actors don't hang around waiting to be lit.)
A city truck rumbled down 18th Street spraying the pavement with water. A crew member approached us and barked, "We're going to spray down the sidewalk and you're going to move," as if he were a Secret Service agent on a dangerous mission. We civilians, all agog, shifted south on 18th Street with cell phones pressed to ears. "Yeah, I'm outside Rouge! It's the guy from St. Elsewhere!"
About a dozen extras stood at the corner of 18th and Walnut, ready to stroll down the street on cue. They bounced around excitedly, self-consciously, like children aware of being watched.
Morse appeared and stepped into a dirty taxi parked in front of Rouge. He was dressed in jeans, work boots, a flannel shirt and leather jacket, all hanging loosely off his lanky middle-aged body. His close-shorn hair framed an intense, slightly wrinkled face. For such an averagely handsome guy, the air of sex coming off him was baffling.
The crew echoed a series of commands--"Rolling! ... Background!"--and then Carter yelled "Action!" and Morse got out of the cab with papers in his hand.
He walked over to a man wearing a trench coat and they talked. Extras began making into the frame, holding coffee cups and briefcases and managing to look surprisingly natural. A crew member cued a taxi driver parked about 20 yards away and the driver took off fast down 18th Street just as the man in the trench coat yelled "Taxi!"
Carter said "Cut," and the actors relaxed back into their own facial expressions. It had taken about an hour to set the scene, light it and get the first of many shots. The amount of manpower it took just to portray a short conversation--dirty cab, gruff but sexy cabby, beautiful restaurant, wet street, attractive passersby, all of it lit just so--was amazing.
I felt surreal and giddy, and I could tell by the way they stared and giggled that everyone around me did, too. It was like peering straight into the gears of the big machine that runs everything, worshipping the chosen few who get to frame reality, and who inevitably cast it in a light both unattainable and false. I admired and hated them. And I think they may just signal that Philadelphia has arrived.