I went up to the Bronx the other day to visit the set of Blind, the movie my cousin Michael Mailer is directing, based on a script by my cousin John Mailer. Little did I suspect that I would wind up in the movie. The fact is, I’d been thinking I’d wait until they were filming in Manhattan to visit. So it was a very spur of the moment decision on my part, as it was no doubt Michael’s when he asked me if I’d like to be in the movie. As he quickly outlined it, my character’s main function was to introduce Demi Moore to a group of blind children before she sat down to read to them. Fortunately I was able to say “Yes!” before he could come to his senses. But then I remembered that I had parental duties to fulfill—namely, picking up Eden from an after school play date—so unless Alice was able to fill in for me, I told him I might have to bow out.
“Guess what?” I said when I reached her, “Michael wants to put me in the movie.”
“Really? Doing what?”
“It’s a scene with Demi Moore. And I’m supposed to kiss her.”
“Wait—what? You’re supposed to kiss her? Why?”
“I’m not really going to kiss her. But I am in a scene with her.”
“Oh,” she said uncertainly. “I don’t understand. You are kissing her or you’re not?”
“Not. But I love that you thought that it might be true—and that you’re jealous. So what do you think? Can you do it?”
“You’re sure you’re not kissing her?”
Luckily for me and film fans everywhere, she said yes.
Now I’ve been on a few movie sets over the years, having worked as a PA in my twenties and then later as Natalie Portman’s poker coach on My Blueberry Nights. I also recently did a brief stint as a technical advisor on the TV show Billions. While I’d enjoyed all these experiences, this was definitely the most convivial group I’d ever been a part of. Maybe it was because I knew so many people in the cast and crew: my young cousin Christina was a PA; my cousin Antonia was part of the camera crew; my cousin John in addition to being the screenwriter was a producer; his fiance, Katrina Eugenia, was the still photographer; my old friend Pam Thur was one of the producers; another old friend, Diane Fisher, was another producer. And of course Michael was directing for the first time after many years of just being a producer. I was impressed that he was taking on this new challenge, and also that he seemed so self-possessed and calm on the set. It was clear that he was in command but relaxed about it.
Having all the family and friends there created a vibe of the kind I imagine one would feel on a John Sayles or Judd Apatow or Robert Altman movie set, where everyone knows everyone and likes everyone and trusts everyone, and even if there is the occasional clash of egos or hurt feelings, it never festers. Pam and I talked about our hopes for this movie being successful enough to allow Michael to keep directing, and also how that in the future we could envision even more of my talented family being involved. My cousin Stephen is a writer and actor. Kate is a writer and performer. Betsy is a writer. Matthew is a filmmaker and writer. Danielle and Maggie are visual artists. My wife is a screenwriter. I’m a writer. Even Sue, the eldest of us, a psychotherapist, has just finished a memoir. Up until now we’ve never really pooled our talents, but I think there has always been the fantasy that we would—a fantasy that I think tickled the heart of my Uncle Norman.
But getting back to the matter at hand–my star turn. It all took place so matter of factly and casually and quickly that I can’t say I really got nervous. I went into makeup, had my face powdered and dusted. A bit of shaping and molding of my hair followed by a quick whoosh of hairspray. Then Michael coached me and Demi’s stand-in through one rehearsal. And then we were rolling. Demi appeared, wearing a tight-fitting satin dress. I led her before a group of blind children (that included a number of children from a school for the blind as well as Michael’s son Cyrus and Pam’s daughter Sarah). I said, “Hey kids, we have a surprise today! This is Mrs. Dutchman and she’s going to be reading to you from a book called Mamou and the Mouse.” Then I handed the book to Demi and walked off screen. After she read for a while to the kids in her distinctive husky voice, Michael yelled “Cut,” and that was it. To my disappointment, we didn’t do another take, although I was itching to improve on the first one (there was, however, another shot from a reverse angle to get the kids reactions–in which I can be seen standing in the background with the actress playing the director of the Beacon School for the Blind). Despite my wish to have had a chance to better the one and only take, I received a reassuring text from Michael the next morning, saying that I was “quite natural up there.”
It’s a far cry from what Uncle Norman once told me, after my friend Tom Piazza and I auditioned for the role of Rod the Stuntman in his play Strawhead. “It would break my heart to have to give the role to either one of you,” he said back then, “and fortunately I don’t have to.”
At any rate, I’m not planning on joining the Screen Actors Guild anytime soon.