Leatherheads extra describes experience
By Paul Lieberman
Los Angeles Times
GREENVILLE, S.C. ó Bobby Brookshire already was planning to open a gym here before Hollywood came to town ó it wasn’t like the ex-Marine was starting it just to get George Clooney and Renee Zellweger in there. But it wouldn’t hurt to have photos of celebrities like that working out, you know? So off he went last year to the Expo Center, where representatives of “Leatherheads” had set up shop to find extras for the film about early pro football, telling them the stars could use his gym, any time, “for free, no tipping.”
Well, that plot never quite worked, although Brookshire still was trying to pass his invite to the actors when they came back to promote their romantic comedy, which hit theaters earlier this month. From Hollywood’s perspective, “Leatherheads” might be most significant for marking Clooney’s return to directing, his first time back in that chair since “Good Night, and Good Luck,” the Edward R. Murrow biopic set amid the McCarthy-era anti-Communist witch hunts. But his movie about pro football circa 1925 arguably is a higher-risk venture. Featuring two Oscar winners, Clooney and Zellweger, “Leatherheads” aspires to a different sort of high calling ó pure entertainment ó and Clooney sets a formidable standard with references to the classic farces of Preston Sturges and Billy Wilder, the repartee of “The Front Page” and the period flavor of “The Sting.”
There’s an old-fashioned love triangle, too, involving Clooney as the aging footballer, “The Office’s” John Krasinski as the college hotshot and war hero Carter “The Bullet” Rutherford, who promises to give the pro game the boost it needs, and Zellweger as a Chicago newspaper reporter assigned to “chop down his cherry tree” (expose the truth about how “The Bullet” got dozens of Germans to surrender in World War I).
All that mattered to Brookshire, however, was that the tale set in the Midwest would be filmed in the Carolinas. The 43-year-old is one of the area’s enterprising characters, having promoted tough-man contests (the “Baddest of the Bad”) and beauty pageants and operated a business flying banners over Myrtle Beach, NASCAR tracks and football stadiums.
It seemed like providence, then, that after he decided to open his Fountain of Youth Personal Training Gym, the Hollywood people set up shop here and told him the best way to forward his offer of free training was to write it on the bottom of the forms they were giving would-be extras.
That’s how Brookshire wound up wearing vintage ’20s garb while playing a peanut vendor, then a sideline official, in scenes filmed on school gridirons here and in surrounding cities.
As Brookshire saw it, the least fortunate extras were those stuck in the stands as spectators. A notch up were people like him or Rick Arboscello, a financial planner who was a defensive back in college and hoped to be cast as a football player only to be told he was, at 37, too old. But he hustled his way onto the sidelines, holding a yardage chain post.
They received $75 for eight-hour shifts ó not quite a finance guy’s pay ó but Arboscello saw benefits to the hours spent in the extras tent during breaks. “It was a networking opportunity,” he said.
Brookshire used it the same way. “Picked up two clients,” said the new gym owner. Still, they had to be a little jealous of 12-year-old Luke Moody, who was picked to double for the film’s water boy. He was given one-third of a trailer to stay in, with the real crew, and shared a tutor with the young Chicago actor Nicholas Bourdages, making his debut as Bug.
The film became a family affair for Moody ó his brothers were regular extras, and their dad, Mark, worked as an electrical contractor on sets. It astounded Mark how the movie people insisted that light switches in a press box look like real ones from the ’20s. It surprised him, too, when Luke got back to school and did not tell classmates why he had been away until they asked why his hair had been bleached blond. “Then he told one girl he was going to be in the movie. She said, `Sure you are.’ Not many people around here have been in a movie,” Mark Moody noted.
That’s what made Randy Farmer’s experience extraordinary ó the waste water treatment worker wound up with a speaking part.
OK, one line. But the father of two will recall, until the day he dies, every detail of how he was going to be just another extra, a foreman in a scene in a steel plant that one of the football players returns to after Clooney’s team goes belly up. Then Clooney “patted me on the back, `It is Randy, right? I want you to look at Tim’ ” ó actor Tim Griffin ó ” `and I want you … to say this out loud … You’re back on the football team.’ “It was the moment that legions of wannabes who flock to Hollywood dream will happen. They did three takes and that was it. Farmer figured the whole thing took an hour and a quarter, then he went back to the waiting area until someone said, “Everybody’s free to go except Randy Farmer. … Universal Studios is going to have you sign a contract.” His pay went from “50-something to 700-something … and the guy said, `Congratulations, you are now an actor.’ ”
Sure he got “give me your autograph” teases later. But he spoke to actors who told him what it meant to be “SAG eligible” and how to check the Internet cast list for “Leathernecks,” and there it was, “Randy Farmer … Foreman.”
“I’m sitting here thinking, `What’s next?’ ” said Farmer, who knew one next step ó the premiere.
“My wife arranged for the red carpet. She’s an interior designer,” Arboscello said. He and Brookshire were at a school field that is transformed on screen into a ’20s stadium. They pointed out where a paparazzo was discovered in camouflage pants under trees and where the mascot for Clooney’s team ó a lazy bulldog ó sat. “The dog, I found, got paid $450 a day,” Arboscello said. “We got $100.”
In January, they and a few others decided to stage the gala ó $50 per couple ó at the 700-seat Camelot theater, where Clooney often viewed daily footage during filming. The red carpet was donated, but they had to rent the searchlights and 10 limos. A local TV woman agreed to emcee.
They had hoped the stars would walk the carpet with them, but Clooney et al. already were penciled in for a “whistle-stop tour” of Duluth, Minn., home to the real ’20s team that inspired the story; Maysville, Ky., near where Clooney grew up; Salisbury, N.C., where more shooting was done; and finally Greenville.
On the day the stars arrived, Brookshire gathered a group of extras at the remnant of the filming in town, a brick wall made up as an advertisement for a Duluth hotel, with $1 rooms, or “With bath $2.50 up.”
The Moody boys were there, including body-double Luke, who was coy about whether the film had gotten him attention from seventh-grade girls. “Maybe,” he said. Three football-playing extras were there, too: Dustin Madala, who operates an Oreck vacuum cleaner store, Jason Head, who owns a “paintless dent repair business,” and Peter Arbore, a UPS salesman. They recalled diving headfirst into the mud to look dirty for the film’s climactic game, when Clooney’s Dodge Connelly faces off against the Bullet. They also recalled how Clooney kidded about his own days as an athlete, how his high school basketball team went 1 and 25, “the best loser in the county,” Arbore said.
He lives in an Italian villa now, but Clooney remembered what it was like to be from a place like this. He was Luke’s age when they filmed the miniseries “Centennial” in his part of Kentucky and he followed around Raymond Burr.
Now they all were going to the Westin to see Clooney and Zellweger get keys to the city.
Brookshire got there an hour early and made his way to the second row behind metal fencing keeping back the crowd, which swelled to the hundreds by the time of the ceremony. Mayor Pro Tem Lillian Brock Flemming urged them to scream a “Greenville welcome” and from the lobby sprinted Clooney in jeans and a long-sleeve black shirt, Zellweger a touch more uptown.
“Today is an historical day,” the city official said. “People will always know that Greenville, S.C., exists!”
But then Clooney took the podium and gently reminded them not to overstate the meaning of 114 minutes of light entertainment. “I gotta say,” he said, “we were fairly aware of Greenville long before we showed up here.”
The star did add, “We couldn’t have done it without you, period,” and tossed in a joke about how he didn’t want to spoil the ending but “everyone dies.” Then he and Zellweger strode toward the throng to sign autographs, Clooney heading right at Bobby Brookshire’s position. But the ex-Marine was no match for the heartthrob’s female fans, who pushed in front of him waving photos and posters. Brookshire held his camera high above their heads and took what he could get.
Clooney and Zellweger worked the crowd for a half-hour, then went in the hotel for a news conference, at which a TV reporter asked about the extras, whose organizing efforts had received considerable attention. “Tried not to talk to them,” Clooney deadpanned. “`Don’t look the director in the eye,’ that was one of the rules.”