NEVER MIND EXACTLY how it happened, the important thing is that it happened. The call came and we chatted and then he made the offer. He said, "We're shooting a press conference scene tomorrow and we could have a speaking part for you. You could play a reporter. How would you like to do that?" That's how I got to be in pictures. Anything for a column.
Fade. Bring up music. Close-up of Cohen. Now more music - "There're No Business Like Show Business."
I mean, why not? Why not do it? Why not do it? Just today. It could make a column. Not that I really wanted to be in the movies - not me. But I know that a lot of people do. It's something they dream about. And so when I got a chance to be in one I thought I would do it and write about it and people would identify.
But still, there were problems. I told the person who called I would have to check my schedule and see what colums I had planned and whether I had time for this nonsense. Then I conferred with my wife and a friend and they both said "do it," said the friend, he adding, "It'll make a column, and me saying, of course, "anything for a column. I'll do it."
Music swells. Trumpets blare. Profile shot of Cohen in dressing gown and ascot. Norma Neiman from high school days comes into view. She is shocked. "You thought I'd always have acne?" I say. Fade to shot of waves breaking on beach.
You people out there in newspaper land, you all want to be in movies. It's your dream - no mine. once, maybe, but not now. Now I want to be a famous writer. I've never given up on that dream and I wonder, really wonder, if people ever do give up on their dreams - dreams of hitting home runs for big bucks or being a billionaire or just sitting there in some drug store when someone comes along from the movies and says you ought to be in pictures. Sometimes when I'm down at some municipal office and I see some 25-year veteran of the paper wars with his pale bureaucratic complexion and nicotine stains on his fingers, I wonder if he still dreams of the movies. not me. I'm a writer.
So the next day, I go to where the movie is being shot. I learn that I have not one line, which is what I expected, but four. This is a press conference scene and I am to ask a question of a United States senator. I studied the lines and I secretely took notes of what was happening around me so I could write this column. I did not even brush my hair.
Close-up of Cohen. He smiles. Women swoon. He looks bored.
The scene is a simple one. There is a bunch of us reporters gathered in the senator's office with lots of television technicians and staff people. We ask a few questions and then leave the office, but setting up for this and rehearsing takes most of the day. All during this time, people move me around like a potted plant. They call me "the man in the tan jacket" or "hey you" or, sometimes "Richard" and they tell me to remember whre my feet are so I will stand in the same spot next time.
Cut to Cohen putting feet into concrete outside theater. And up to marquee where we see "Richard Cohen stars in 'The Man in the Tan Jacket.'" Music swells. Trumpets blare.
Now we are ready for the rehearsal and now I am told that I don't have the lines I have memorized. They have been playing another reporter. She was going to ask two questions, me one, but now she wanted all three questions. She said she is playing "a character." I laugh at her joke. She does not smile. She is serious. Wonderful. A better column. I walk off the set and take more notes. The director gives me another question to ask.
The principals are lined up and then the extras come in. One of them, a man in a red and blue striped shirt, is placed before me and to the right. he's playing a television cameraman. The place fills up with fake technicians and fake reporters and fake Senate staffers. I start to smile. If the cameraman in front of me moves a bit, he will block me and I will be out of the film. Perfect.
The lights are checked. The camera angle is checked. This goes on forever. The cameraman in front of me moves a bit. He begins to block me. The "senator" is ready. We are all ready. Someone says, "Three bells, please," which means we're about to film.
"Very quiet everyone," someone yells.
The guy in front of me moves a bit more.
He moves a bit more, blocking me entirely. This is funny. I won't even be in the film. I eyeball the back of his camera.
"Seventy six. Take two."
Suddenly, in my head I see a screen and the screen is 96 feet wide and 100 feet tall and everything is in color and out in the audience are my wife and my son and my friends and suddenly I care about being blocked. I take a step to the left and then push against the man in front of me at the same time.
The questions are asked. The answers are given. I get my cue. The guy in front is moving back. I lean into him.
"But tell me, Senator, if you're not interested in higher office, why the sudden need for a foreign policy adviser?"
He starts to answer. I look at the camera. I look at the camera. I have made it.
Anything for a column.