Lost in London:
WOODY HARRELSON’S MYSTICAL CABBIE
110 minutes of film on one camera non-stop. I didn’t believe it till I turned up and started rehearsing. I’ve never rehearsed a movie before. No. You learn the lines, walk onto the set, mutter through a couple of times and shoot the scene; that’s how movies work, don’t they?
I was cast late and turned up at the old St. Martin’s Art College. It is semi-derelict and infested with film companies getting cheap house room. Woody Harrelson strolled in and sat with me (other cast members around us) and began throwing ideas around. There was a cab driver in his script described as aged 99. At the time of the real-life adventure on which Woody’s film is based the cabbie drove him crazy by driving very slowly. Now Woody wanted something a bit more special, juicier. So I said something about the Goddess Kali and how she was both a creator and destroyer. That what is important is the journey not the destination. Something clicked and I was offered the job, right there. It’s the most astonishing entertainment I’ve ever been part of. To avoid the worst of the traffic, I was called in the dead of night and drove a London black cab round Bloomsbury Square. I waited, engine running, for Woody – belting down the street – to dive into the back of my cab, with camera-man of course and DROVE. I was on my fourth cab before they found one big enough to do the job; it was the friendliest to drive, too.
It was Woody’s unfailing courtesy and Texan humour and charm that held the enterprise together. He knew, everybody knew, the chances of achieving feature film quality live in one take on one camera were – well, you wouldn’t risk your house on it. So there was an atmosphere in the cast something like crossing a ravine on a rope bridge over a thousand foot drop for the first time. Feverish, but everybody solid, happy to work through night after night – all because of a kind of infectious enthusiasm.
And a team of hilariously laconic, unfussily efficient English assistant directors which nursed the mad, wild thing to its happy birth. Leading them, Edward Brett.
I thought I saw moments when Woody was questioning what he’d got himself into… but like the best of directors and best of colleagues he remembered that if you look glum, or doubtful, the troops will pick it up; so he stayed warm, full of praise for what we were bringing to the show – AND IT WORKED. The Front Row reviewer said `nothing went wrong’ – almost to his disappointment.
Most astonishing of all – I still find it hard to take in – is that one man holding a camera could, with no breaks, take us into a restaurant, a night club, the streets of London, a police station… for 110 minutes at feature film quality… he was John Hembrough; the super-hero of the whole extravaganza, I’d say. Interviewed, he was casual, throwaway, down-beat as if what he’d done was routine, easy. It wasn’t!
And the weird thing is, I’m going to be rehearsing another movie next year. Sworn to secrecy for now – but WATCH THIS SPACE.