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No Bridge Too Far for Star-Struck Extras

By Jay Mathews
Washington Post Staff Writer
July 21, 1997

The traffic jam some people feared from yesterday's closing of Key Bridge failed to materialize, except for Steve Dantzler, who was stuck for hours in his white 1984 Toyota truck behind a line of cars waiting to cross the river from the Rosslyn side.

Dantzler, 40, a landscaper from Rockville, could not have been happier. He was being paid to sit in the 80-degree heat so he and his truck could appear as extras in "Deep Impact," the disaster film that closed the bridge.

"I've been doing this for years," Dantzler said, adding up what he calculated would be more than $200 for the day's work. "Usually, they don't like white cars or red or yellow, because they draw attention, but Clint Eastwood also wanted my truck for 'Absolute Power.' "

What some thought might turn into a day of motorist anxiety and pedestrian anger was instead a celebration of Hollywood's love of Washington vistas and of Washington's fascination with cinema stars and scripts full of conspiracies that don't require months of hearings to unravel.

Prominent public warnings that the bridge would be closed, as well as excellent weather and other attractions, such as the National Airport open house, kept motorists away from Key Bridge and the filming of the Paramount Pictures/ DreamWorks Pictures epic.

Jetliners landing at National did rattle the filmmakers' sensitive microphones, but "Deep Impact" publicist Stuart Fink said the producers knew what to do: "You film between landings, or you loop in sound later, or you shoot the plane down."

Pedestrians and tourists hoping to see Tea Leoni, star of the NBC television series "The Naked Truth" and the only recognizable actor present, were allowed to walk across the east side of the bridge most of the day.

The movie casts Leoni as a reporter for MSNBC -- a promotional triumph for the cable network whose rival Cable News Network was mentioned so often in the recently released "Contact." She has discovered that the government is covering up news of a comet threatening to hit the Earth. In yesterday's scene, agents force her car onto the Whitehurst Freeway and stop there for some emotional dialogue.

For the 36 local extras lining up to drive their cars across the bridge and into cinema history, the day brought fun and profit. "All of us say we are precision drivers, and some of us are precision drivers," said Ed Colbert, 66, a retired federal employee from Bowie.

His dark blue 1986 Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera can be glimpsed in only three of the six movies in which it has been used, he said, but more opportunities abound. Today, he plans to be behind the wheel in Baltimore to add verisimilitude to a road scene in "Species II."

He started as an extra on the NBC series "Homicide," playing homeless drunks and dead bodies. Now he provides background as a detective in the squad room. "Even as an extra," he said, "you pay your dues."

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