Monday, May 05, 2008

My conversation with Oprah

December of 1997 I was managing a private nightclub in Philly. A group of out-of-towners approached the door looking to be admitted without membership. One of the guys told me (I think his name was Scott) he was working as an assistant director on a film. I thought he was just conning me in an attempt to get into the club. I told him I would let him in but only if he could get me on the set of the film. I gave him my phone number and I admitted his group, waiving any cover charge or fees. I figured I would never hear from him.

Three days later I received a phone call from costuming (not Scott) asking me to come in for a fitting. I went. After the fitting they told me to show up the next day to the set on 3rd Street, between Market and Church St. I went.

The movie takes place in the late 1860s. They dressed me in a period costume, gave me a handful of cigars and told me to stand in front of some steps and smoke the cigars. This was December and it was pretty cold and damp and the costume was pretty thin and flimsy. I was freezing. I stood there for hours while they did take after take of wide shots of the street with the crowds of people. Every now and then someone would get me coffee.

After about hour 5 I really had to pee. They took a break to reset the cameras and I asked if I could use the restroom. When I returned to my spot in front of the steps there was a buzz of activity around my steps. There were set designers spraying fake soot and fake dog pee (I am not kidding) on the fake snow. They were setting up lights and Jonathan Demme the director turned towards me and said, “Good. You’re back.”

He then said something to an assistant director and the AD came over to talk to me. The AD explained the shot and they wanted me to puff on the cigar because the smoke added to the look of the shot. He also told me to make sure that the cigar stayed the same length for consistency’s sake. So basically in between takes I would need to light another cigar and smoke it down to the right size.

I was thrilled that Jonathan Demme, who directed Silence of the Lambs, one of my favorite films, was including me in the shot. That was when the “buzz” around the steps got louder. The next thing I know I am standing next to Oprah Winfrey. I tried to introduce myself, but hair and makeup people surrounded her. Demme and Oprah talked for a few minutes about the shot, Oprah was going to be walking down the street in front of me. Oprah walked up the sidewalk about ten feet away from me. We were at places.

I knew there would be several takes. I knew it would take a while to film. There were going to be several occasions for Oprah and I to talk. I was planning something witty to say. In my mind she would laugh, she would find me fascinating. She was going to discover me. I would become big time.

Somewhere around take # 8, while the cameras were resetting, I was lighting another cigar and Oprah, standing ten feet away from me, said, “Excuse me. What’s your name?”

This was it. This was my moment. Oprah was going to engage me in conversation. I was going to be a star. “Bill.” I responded.

“Well Bill.” Oprah addressed me. “Could you PLEASE, stop blowing that smoke in my face? It is making me sick.”

“I’m sorry.” I said. “The director wanted me to keep…”

She cut me off. She called over the director and they spoke in hushed tones. But I watched Oprah point to me and say, “That thing really stinks.”

I hope she was referring to the cigar.

22 comments:

Anonymous said...

When I heard that this story was about you and Oprah, I thought you were going to tell the other story involving a three way with you, her, and Steadman.

Ern said...

Wow, that's a serious brush with power! And I'm sure she was referring to the cigar.

SciFi Dad said...

Dude... Oprah told you that you stink. That's awesome.

(Which brother was it that "bested" you in the theatre? I think you got the last laugh.)

Julie said...

I agree with Scifi Dad. I think it's actually cooler if Oprah told you you stink (even if you didn't) than the cigar. Makes for a better story that way! : )

Mainline Mom said...

I love a good cigar.

P.S. you know I'm coming to see you on Friday, right? Better be worth it :)

Anonymous said...

Close (to Oprah) but no Cigar.

Becky said...

Was this during Oprah's fat period or skinny period?

Inquiring minds...you know.

Geez, I can't believe that Oprah would bust up an artful moment because she didn't want to breathe smoke...the jerk.

maggie said...

haha my mom and brother and i were just talking about this yesterday cause we forgot the name of the movie. i sitll think its pretty cool.

Tismee2 said...

Didn't you come back with some kind of witty comment? Bet you have though of plenty since?

Circus Kelli said...

She totally meant the cigar.

April said...

I was in the audience on Oprah's show once. It was a dumb show about psychics. I totally got ripped off. But anyway, I was actually a little shocked and appalled at her, she was not nearly as friendly and fun as she portrays. I haven't really been a fan since.

You totally should have told her where to stick the cigar.

And I saw that movie. It was TERRIBLE. But I am sure you were fabulous! :)

Anonymous said...

Does fake Dog pee smell?

Bogart in P Towne said...

Wondering how sick you got after puffing on that many cigars...

Anonymous said...

...you taste watermelon scented soap...did you taste the yellow snow?

M&Co. said...

Once, someone from Oprah.Com read my blog. That's as close to the famous icon I've ever been. And they didn't leave any comments, so I don't know if they thought I stunk.

Sharfa said...

Was it Beloved?

I would have rather met Danny Glover, he's much cooler and not a Diva.

Autumn said...

My keen detective skills tell me this was 'Beloved'. Now I'll have to rent it to fast forward and look for you.

Calla said...

Wow! Oprah spoke to you and she knows your name too!

Gina Coggio said...

Ah, our moments with the stars. Mine was an embarrasing one with David Sedaris. (That was a funny comment "close (to oprah) but no cigar" hilarious.)
but what movie was it? Beloved?
And also, ARE YOU IN THE FILM? I mean, can you see yourself?!

Josh said...

Becky beat me to it, but I would ask slightly differently: was it fat Oprah or just about to go back to being fat Oprah?

Undercover Mutha said...

I knew it would not end well when you said "She was going to discover me, and I was going to be a star." Otherwise, you'd be hosting American Idol.

creative-type dad said...

I guess you won't be getting a car from Oprah...