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QUEEN OF THE DAMNED

A VAMPIRE MOVIE – MY BIT(E) PART
In a moment of weakness, Andrew L. Urban accepted the irresistible invitation from director Michael Rymer to play a bit(e) part – as a journalist – in Rymer’s next picture: a vampire movie. In Queen of the Damned, your editor plays a journalist at an international press conference in London, asking pesky questions . . . the two minute scene took a day to shoot. Urban reports on his movie (sub)star experience.

It was not exactly a stretch limo that greeted me at Melbourne Airport, just an oversized van. I scrambled into it alongside Kirsty Meares and Matthew Newton (they’re real actors) and we headed out to a giant warehouse in St Albans on the industrial perimeter of Melbourne, the HQ for DQ Productions. (Damned Queen….) We were here for the read-through, along with the rest of the cast – except Lena Olin who was delayed.

"this was not the moment for our Academy Award winning performance"

The pokey production offices upstairs, the cavernous warehouse floor on the ground floor, make for an excellent make-shift film studio. We gathered in a large room on the first floor, sitting in an expansive square formation, and director Michael Rymer tried to reassure us by saying that this was not the moment for our Academy Award winning performance. He'd rather we kept that for the actual shoot. Unappeased by this, I explored my black briefcase to see if perhaps that’s where I could hide….

Around me were Australian actors I’d admired for years, like Bruce Spence and Tiriel Mora, and brilliant newcomer, Matthew Newton. Looking exotically beautiful – what a humbling effect that has on a scruffy journalist – across the square was Emmy Award winning singer/actress Aaliyah, international star, Vincent Perez – and Stuart Townsend, the star of the film, whom I last met across a table at the Cannes Film Festival of 1999, to interview him about his role as a young Londoner, in Michael Winterbottom’s wonderful film, Wonderland. Now I’m about to interview him again – about being a vampire. . .

How come Michael Rymer asked me to be in his film, I hear you ask. Simple really: I was one of the few journalists he remembered from the days of making his debut feature, Angel Baby, back in 1995. I had visited the set and interviewed Michael. Next thing I know it’s August 2000 and there’s a short email from him in London, asking if I’d be interested in a role as a journalist – since he likes the idea of a real journalist playing a real journalist. I shrugged a yes and weeks later got a call from the casting agency; would I do a screen test.

"I was nine when I first walked onto a movie set"

I fought an impulse to refer them to my experience: I was nine when I first walked onto a movie set, and got paid for it. But then I realised that it was also the last time, and 34 years between acting jobs would not seem to be a strong recommendation. Michael was there and he sat me down with Kirsty on adjoining chairs as if we were crammed together in a press conference. Obviously, Kirsty’s shining performance (as a French journalist) rubbed off on me, because a few days later, I had the gig.

Now, I must confess to actually having got myself an agent, the highly respected Martin Bedford, who is very well connected all over the world. This would ensure, I explained feebly to my family, that after my performance in Queen of the Damned, I would remain out of work as an actor all over the world. Having had dealings with Martin Bedford and his business partner Shirley Pearce over many years (they also represent Russell Crowe, but I said that was okay as we wouldn’t be considered for similar roles) made me feel less of an imposter; besides, I needed someone to negotiate my credit ranking, back end points, sequel rights, artwork approval and costume clearance . . .

The latter, as you may be able to tell from the picture of me on this page, was clearly a tough negotiating point, and my agent obviously kicked ass: the gear I first tried on was the sort of thing they put on nerds and losers. Baggy trousers that are too long, a floral shirt that had been used for mopping up a pub floor and a pair of sneakers from a charity bin. But when I arrived at 6.00 am on location for the pre-shoot wardrobe fitting, I was pleasantly surprised.

"he would have killed to get my jacket"

My name had been pencilled on a scrap of paper pinned to a black, straight cut jacket with black and white leopardskin shoulder highlights, a black T shirt (plus a thick silver chain), black trousers, and butt-kicking black leather boots with pointy ends and gothic carvings decorating it. Ohhraaaayt!

I swaggered out of the wardrobe trailer, which was parked in the wire fenced parking lot beside the RMIT Building in the dead centre of Melbourne’s business district. The catering truck was billowing smoke and I could smell bacon, eggs, toast and I could hear fresh fruit being pulped with a whining noise – but all I could SEE, was a crowd of normal people scurrying to work on the pavement, catching sight of me and blam… bumping into each other and telegraph poles. I felt safe within the wire fence, until after breakfast we had to walk out of the ‘compound’ and along busy Swanston Street to the entrance to the RMIT Building. In costume. It was okay for Kirsty, she was in a nice little outfit. Dino Marnika, Melbourne based actor who plays an MTV reporter, also assimilated into the crowd. Ironic, really, he would have killed to get my jacket.

I scamper into the make up trailer….

"a real vampire rock star"

Scene 17, said the call sheet; 2 minute 30 seconds of screen time. So there we were, all 200 of us in Storey Hall, all being media in a press conference in London. Extras were rigged up with tv and video gear, photo equipment and dozens of notepads – they even had extras as bouncers. We sat squeezed up on chairs next to each other in rows, just like a real press conference. The first shot was from the back of the room, over our heads to the stage that had been set up. This was a Warner Bros music outlet, and Lestat and his group was on the eve of their first and only live concert. The debut album was going through the roof, driven by the novelty of a real vampire rock star.

I get to fire the first question, just before Lestat makes his appearance on a giant screen. (He’s a vampire; he can’t appear in daylight, duh, that’s why.) I bully my way ahead of the screaming throng of raw reporters and scummy society writers, making eye contact with Tiriel Mora, who plays Roger, the group’s manager. Either side of him are the rest of the group, lounging and swivelling in their chairs, underwhelmed by it all. Megan Dorman, who plays Maudy, the vamp in the vampire’s band, glistens with goth makeup, red hair, nails like claws.

"did that 14 times"

When Tiriel picks me out of the crowd, my voice rises above the din: "Andrew Urban, The Spectator," I say rapidly by way of introducing myself and my publication in the tradition of all major press conferences. I’d already created a backstory for myself, a trick I picked up from interviewing actors, so I could locate the motivation for this. I saw myself just a year or two in the future, having accepted $38.6 million for Urban Cinefile from Rupert Packer, moving around the world grabbing jobs I fancied. A stint on The Spectator would be fun….I’d give the classy rag a bit of an Aussie rev up. I barged on with the instinctive quiz of an investigative journalist: "OK, so why here in London?"

OK, so did that 14 times.

Now it was time to go through to the moment when Lestat appears and we direct questions at him. "Aren’t the other vampires going to be pissed off that you’re giving away their secrets," I ask. And so on….We do that about 18 times.

Now it’s time to change the camera’s pov, so it’s looking at us, the media. It’s lunchtime. I walk back along Swanston Street, ignoring the pointy fingers. . . . I gobble down some very nice food and head over to a swanky trailer where Michael Rymer has agreed to do an interview.

We go back to Storey Hall and do it all again, from the beginning, 14 times, and 18 times. Then finally at about 6pm, the camera is moved again for a two shot of Dino and me asking question. The same ones.

"it’s a wrap"

The shot’s in the can, it’s a wrap. For me. For the day. Must remember to take off make up…. Back to Melbourne airport, just make the plane, can’t find my mobile, panic; can’t find my reading glasses, panic more. Forgot to take off make up! Cabin crew with fixed smiles glide past . . . I shoulda had a private jet….must talk to my agent….

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Queen of the Damned is a supernatural adventure which follows the legendary vampire, Lestat (Stuart Townsend), who has re-invented himself as a rock star in the contemporary American music scene. His music wakes Akasha (Aaliyah), the queen of all vampires (the Queen of the Damned), and inspires her to want to make Lestat her king. Akasha’s malevolent power is so great that all the immortal vampires must stand against her if they want to survive. Meanwhile a young London woman, Jesse (Marguerite Moreau), with a fascination for the dark side falls in love with Lestat. The film also stars Lena Olin as Maharet and Vincent Perez as Marius.

Directed by Michael Rymer (In Too Deep, Angel Baby) with a screenplay by Scott Abbott (Introducing Dorothy Dandridge) based on the novel Queen of the Damned by Anne Rice, the film is produced by Jorge Saralegui (Red Planet). Ian Baker (The Russia House, The Chamber) is the director of photography. Graham ‘Grace’ Walker (Pitch Black) is the production designer. Dany Cooper (In Too Deep) is the editor. Queen of the Damned will be distributed worldwide by Warner Bros. Pictures and, in select territories, by Village Roadshow Pictures.

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 Publication date: November 16, 2000

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Andrew L. Urban - on set


On set: Michael Rymer
& Andrew L. Urban

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