Wednesday, January 24, 2018

My Day in Ros na Rún, Part 1

You probably think the life of a TV recapper is all brushing your teeth with caviar and twerking on yachts in Dubai with Jay-Z and Dame Maggie Smith. And you are exactly right. But recently I took a break from my go-go Celebrity Recapper lifestyle and spent the day in lovely An Spidéal, just outside Galway, visiting the set/studio/world of Ros na Rún, meeting the cast and crew, and even being an extra in a couple of scenes! It was an absolutely incredible day, a joy from beginning to end, and something I’ll never forget. What’s it like hanging out in Ros na Rún, seeing the secrets behind the magic, and spending the day with the people who bring the show to life? Let’s find out together!

A little background: I was invited to visit Ros na Rún by two of the stars of the show who’ve become social-media friends of mine over the years, Marie Bheag Breathnach (Mo) and Annamaria Nic Dhonnacha (Bobbi-Lee). Marie actually invited me to visit back in December 2016 when my husband Mark and I were in Dublin for a few days, but we couldn’t make it work logistically on that trip (we were about to leave for London), so we planned a European adventure in December 2017 that was scheduled around a visit to Spiddal. We spent a few days in Dublin, then took the bus out to Galway for a few days, and while we were there, we day-tripped down the coast to Spiddal on the Monday, having arranged the details with Marie and Annamaria, who had kindly offered to pick us up at the bus stop and had planned a big day for us. (It will be a recurring theme in this report that they are absolute joys—two of the kindest, funniest, loveliest people I’ve ever met.)

I won’t go through the entire day blow-by-blow, but I will tell you that we knew it was going to be a fun adventure right from the start. Because I got confused, we got off the bus at the wrong stop in Spiddal, so I texted Annamaria to explain what had happened and to tell her we’d be a little late because we were walking up the road from the Texaco station to where we should have gotten off the bus. Less than two minutes later, a car pulled up on the other side of the street honking its horn, and leaning out the window was Bobbi-Lee herself—or rather, Annamaria Nic Dhonnacha! She and Marie were in the front seat and had zipped up the road to meet us, leaning out the windows waving and gesturing for us to get in.

I’ll admit I was a bit starstruck at first, although it helped that we’d broken the “meeting someone you’ve watched on TV” ice a few days earlier in Dublin (more on that later), and while I get tired of the overuse of the word “surreal” by reality-show contestants to describe anything that does not happen to them every single day, I have to say: being in the backseat of a car being driven by one of my favorite TV stars, and with another of my favorites in the passenger seat next to her, was absolutely surreal. But Annamaria and Marie are so sweet, so funny, so genuine, and so welcoming that within a few minutes I felt completely at home with them, and any initial inclination I’d had to look at them and see “Bobbi-Lee and Mo” quickly went out the window.

We went to a café for a bit to get to know each other and let things really get going over at the studio, because it was still quite early (we got off the bus shortly after 9:00). If you’ve read my Q&As with Annamaria here, or with Marie here, you already know that the two of them are besties in real life and have been for many years, and they are absolutely hilarious together, both natural storytellers, and we had a great time getting acquainted. Around 10:00 or so we got back in the car and headed up the hill to the set, where they first gave us a tour (much more on that later), showing us around all the interior and exterior sets located there, as well as places like the hair and makeup room (where we met Máire Eilís Ní Fhlaithearta in the chair in mid-transformation into Caitríona), the amazing wardrobe department, and some other off-camera spots like offices and an extras’ sitting room.

We were extras in two scenes—an exterior shot we filmed in the morning and an interior sequence we did after lunch—more on those in a bit. Annamaria and Marie kindly took us to lunch at Tigh Giblin in town, and we spent a lot of time in the afternoon hanging out in the green room, which is the lounge where the actors can hang out and relax between scenes, catching up with each other, making a cup of tea or having a snack, reviewing their lines, or checking the internet. I’ll talk more about hanging out there in a bit, but the green room is where we got to meet and really hang out with some of the actors who were working that day, and everyone was so welcoming and kind, and seemed genuinely interested in who we were and what we were doing there. (And not just in a “Who are you and what are you doing here?!” way.) After our afternoon of filming and hanging out in the green room, we said our goodbyes to Marie and to the other cast and crew we’d spent the day with, and then Annamaria took us to the bar at An Cruiscin Lan back down the hill in town, where we met Domhnall O’Donoghue (Pádraig), who wasn’t filming that day but kindly came in just to meet us. The four of us had lots of chat and laugh over drinks, and then Annamaria said goodbye, and Domhnall gave us a bit of a tour around the waterfront, from which you could even see the Aran Islands, and waited at the bus stop with us till our bus came a bit after 5:00. Of course it was almost pitch black by then—the days are short in Ireland in mid-December!

Making My TV Debut: No Autographs, Please

Annamaria had arranged with Ciaran the floor manager to have Mark and me be extras in two scenes, an exterior one we filmed in the morning and an interior one after lunch. Perhaps oddly, we only have a vague sense of what was happening in either scene because when you’re an extra you’re supposed to be going about your business normally, not gawking at what the actors are doing in the foreground.

In the exterior shot, we crossed the street and disappeared into the shop in the background while Mo, Colm, and Úna had a conversation in the foreground. We were at a bit of a distance from them, and of course we weren’t supposed to look in their direction as we crossed the street pretending to chat to each other, so I have no idea what they were doing, but it was happening in the vicinity of Keane’s. Of course, even if we’d been standing right beside them we wouldn’t have had much sense of what was happening since I have an Irish vocabulary of about 100 words and Mark’s is limited to the word “craic.” So unless they were counting to 20, discussing whether various stores were open or closed, or talking about fruits and vegetables they either do or do not possess, I would've been pretty clueless even if we'd been standing right between them.

When the director signaled us, Mark and I crossed the street diagonally in the direction of the shop, heading away from the camera from right to left, as Mo entered a conversation between Colm and Úna in the foreground. I lost count, but we probably did about a dozen takes of this scene. It was very cold that day—it couldn’t have been much above freezing—and midway through we all started getting pelted with sideways rain. At first we were told to cross the street, pretending to chat as we went, and then wait in front of the shop until we heard “Gearradh!” (“Cut!”), because we’d be out of frame standing there. After it started raining, though, and as the wind picked up, a kind member of the crew suggested that instead of standing outside the shop shivering, we cross the street, open the door, and then go wait inside the shop until we got a signal to come back and do it again. I was a little hesitant because we couldn’t hear anything or see much from inside the shop, but Mark was happy to go inside where it was warm, and I’ll admit it was a lot better in there, especially as the takes piled up and the rain picked up. (Plus the shop is a completely amazing set. More on that later!)

There was some intricate choreography involved—in some takes we walked in front of Marie/Mo as she entered the scene, and in some we were behind her, and I think there was a lot of moving her around, but since we weren’t supposed to be paying attention to her, I don’t really know what she was doing and will be interested to see the finished product. Marie is a bundle of energy and a riot, so she kept everyone laughing with her comments between takes.

It had snowed the day before, which caused some issues. Even though it was mid-December, we were filming episodes that will go out in March (as we discovered when Annamaria and Marie pointed out that Gaudi was decorated for St Patrick’s Day). There were patches of ice and snow on the ground, and between takes at one point, Marie noted to us, “This is going out in March and there’s ice on the ground! How’s that going to work?” They might have been able to hide the ice and snow by shooting only from particular angles, or maybe it’ll just look like the street is wet.

Meanwhile, our trajectory across the street took us right past a big patch of ice, and in a couple of takes, Mark accidentally steered me into it. The first time it happened I stepped right in the middle of it and it made what sounded like an enormous “CRUNCH” sound, and I instinctively made a big cringe-y face because I was afraid the noise would mess up the take. Depending on how small we are and where the focus is, if they use that take, you may see one of the guys crossing the street in the background grimacing like he’s passing a kidney stone. In another take, I stepped on a solid patch of black ice and felt my foot slide forward underneath me—I had visions of the viewers watching Mo and Colm in the foreground and then seeing, in the background, a tall guy’s feet shoot straight out in front of him and him landing flat on his back in the middle of the street. Fortunately I managed to stay upright, so that won’t make it into the episode, or the end-of-season cast gag reel.

After lunch we hung out in the green room with some of the actors until we were told they were almost ready for us. The green room is a separate little building in the studio complex with sofas and comfy chairs, a kitchenette, desk and computer, and pigeon-hole message boxes where the actors get their scripts and so on. We were going to be filming in the café, but they were still getting the set and equipment ready there, so Pól Ó Griofa (Mack) took us to a hallway area where there were a couple of chairs set up by a monitor and suggested we wait there so we could watch what was happening on the monitor until they were ready for us. He went to prepare for the scene, and a few minutes later a couple of crew members we hadn’t met before wandered up, looked at us, and were basically like, “Umm, and you are…?” Before I could blurt out, “This is where Mack put us!” like an idiot, they showed us into the empty pub set and said, “This is where extras usually wait,” so we sat there for a while until they called us. At one point Pól walked back through, saw us sitting someplace different from where he’d left us, chuckled and said something like, “They moved you in here?” and then grinned and sort of shrugged when we said yes.

Then it was time for us to go to the café set and film our second scene of the day. If you’re looking at the café so the front door is on your left and the counter and kitchen are on your right, with a wall of windows and tables stretching between the two, Mark and I were sitting at the leftmost table, right by the front door. I was facing the door and therefore had my back to most of the set, so I couldn’t see anything that was going on behind me, but from what Mark told me (he was facing the other way and could see more), the scene consisted of Úna and Colm having a conversation at the table behind me when Mo and Mack enter through the door, walk over and join in the conversation, and then exit through the front door. Again, I have no idea what the content of the conversation was because I don’t speak Irish (and wouldn’t tell you even if I knew!).

At the beginning of the scene they told us where to sit, put a couple of cups of coffee in front of us (yes, they actually had hot coffee in them), and told us, “Pretend to have a conversation.” Of course neither of us had any idea what exactly that meant, so I imagined the old French & Saunders sketches where they play film extras and there’s a lot of flapping of mouths and saying “Rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb.” There was no time to strategize, though, because suddenly it was “Action!” and we had to wing it. We got into a rhythm in which Mark would flap his mouth a while, and then I would flap mine in response, and we would nod in agreement, and occasionally look into our cups. We were afraid to try drinking out of them or even move them for fear of a spill or making noise—in one take Mark accidentally hit his spoon with his hand and made a big clattering sound. After a while I got tired of nodding at everything Mark was pretending to say and decided I would switch it up, so he “said” something and I shook my head “no” before mouthing a response, and he looked flummoxed. After “Gearradh!” (“Cut!) he asked me, “WHAT WAS THAT?!?” I told him I figured in most conversations people don't agree about every single thing! Eventually I was mouthing meaningless sentences like “I would imagine if we get there by five the salad will be OK” and “I don’t think it matters what the piano wants” because it felt less weird than just randomly flapping my gums like a Muppet.

I have no idea how many takes we did—fifteen?—but Mark seems to think that even within the scene, bits were shot out of order to cut down on how much the cameras had to move around. At some points the camera felt like it was literally about 12 inches away from the side of my face, which was awkward! Pól (Mack) spent a lot of time by the door between takes, and his running commentary and asides to us were funny and interesting. He’s a very entertaining and likeable guy, and Mack is one of my absolute favorite characters, so I was very happy to get to spend some time with him.

One of the words I kept hearing throughout the day was “leanúnachas,” which means “continuity.” As you probably know, continuity involves making sure everything looks consistent from scene to scene and from take to take within a scene, keeping in mind that things can be filmed out of order. This involves a lot of the crew checking the monitors and watching tape back to make sure that, say, the part in Colm’s hair doesn’t switch from side to side during the course of a conversation, or that a salt shaker doesn’t appear and disappear on a café table. To avoid a lot of these problems, many of the knickknacks and other props are nailed down or glued in place! During our afternoon scene there was a lot of discussion of Mo’s collar and trying to make sure it was exactly the same from take to take so it didn’t flip up and down or fold under distractingly during a conversation. Hair and makeup also need to look identical take after take, which was tricky, for example, in our exterior shot when the rain and wind moved in and poor Marie/Mo was getting blown about between takes. This also meant some running around with umbrellas to make sure the actors stayed as dry as possible, the cameras didn’t get water on the lens, and so on. I expect the whimsies of the climate in Spiddal keep the crews and actors well on their toes, especially since it can change with little warning when you’re in the middle of a scene.

Next time: The People of Ros na Rún!

I’ll wrap up this installment of “My Day in Ros na Rún” here. Next time I’ll talk about all the people we met and hung out with and what it’s like to find yourself surrounded by and interacting with people you’ve seen on TV. We'll find out which actor babies love, which character's wardrobe rack is dazzling, and which actor we almost got hit by a car with! See you then!

EDIT: Find Part 2 here!

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