A love scene with gorgeous Baywatch actor David Chokachi shouldn’t seem like hard work, or something to be dreaded, but when CormanI returned from my honeymoon the thought of it had me shaking in my new bridal shoes. As a poor impoverished actress working in the Punchbag Theatre in Galway I did what actors all over Ireland did and auditioned for every job going. In Galway this always included auditions for the film company called Concorde Anois Teo – owned by infamous Hollywood director Roger Corman. Roger Corman is famous for never losing money on a film and many famous Hollywood actors – such as Robert de Niro, Martin Scorsese and Ron Howard got their start with him.
He – with state funding – opened a studio in Connemara and proceeded to churn out B-movies at a rate of one every six weeks – most of them straight to video. The film crew were all supposed to be Gaelic speakers – which accounted for the funding. This was during the heyday of Michael D. Higgin’s arts ministry and there wasn’t an artist in Galway who hadn’t worked on the film set in some capacity.
However, poor Roger was constantly getting bad press from the Liberal arts media back in Dublin. His films were said to be ‘exploitative’, badly-produced B-movies with ‘immoral’ themes. Actors who worked with him were constantly being asked at Equity Union meetings to explain why they accepted such low wages. And of course there was the sex… Every Corman movie had a certain level of gratuitous sex to match the amount of gratuitous violence in it. There was enough exploitation of women in the country without it being subsidised by the state in Co. Galway, roared the critics.
However, hungry actors can’t afford to have morals so we would all dutifully line up to be humiliated whenever auditions were called. Then when we got the part we would start making excuses to our mothers.
Humiliation is something that actors are well used to – most of the Union approved TV stations tended to treat actors with a distain bordering on abuse. However, Roger Corman humiliation was supposedly of a different variety. According to the moral majority it was nasty, dirty, degrading and badly-paid humiliation. I feared the worst and spent a considerable amount of time during my honeymoon reflecting on the ramifications of allowing myself to be treated in this manner. The new husband of course thought it was hilarious.
On the day of the shoot I was collected from my home and driven to the studios where I was immediately given my own ‘personal assistant’. Seemingly all this cute eighteen-year-old boy had to do on set was satisfy my every desire. Things went from good to very good when I realised that I had my own personal trailer where the director visited me to explain what he needed from the scene. As I was a shy Irish girl I agreed that a closed set would suit me better when we filmed the actual bedroom scene even though all we were to do was ‘play around’. I had also been assured that everything would be done very ‘tastefully’, and if I had any questions or problems I should not hesitate to raise them.
Luckily it had rained the entire time myself and the hubby were on honeymoon as seemingly the make-up lady had been worried about ‘bikini-marks’ – something which had never occurred to me. What an innocent I was… I was then introduced to my partner for this scene – the very sexy David Chokachi – (from very good to fantastic!) who asked after my recent wedding and thought it was very handy that my new husband had the same first name as him – just in case I got carried away on set!
As everyone who has ever filmed a love/sex scene will tell you, it’s bloody hard work. It’s impossible to be spontaneous, or keep a straight face, when the director is shouting… Up… Over a bit… A little to the left… Can you move that leg please? And the make-up people keep running over to spray both of you in ‘sweat’ that you’re supposed to have worked up through your exertions. It’s even worse when most of the crew are mates who keep giggling and asking if your honeymoon was this good? And yes, I know that all the girls – and probably a few of the boys – were mad jealous of the fun myself and David had during the filming. (The actor that is – not the husband.)
The reason that I had agreed to take this role – apart from the money – was that it had a very good three-page monologue which I had to deliver to the star American actress who was playing the local detective. My character was unaware that her lover with the body of a Greek god was actually a raving misogynistic serial killer and she was the only one of his recent conquests who had escaped a very messy death. I delivered the lines in what I though was a suitably restrained manner and was told by the director to put more ‘ooomph’ into it. Hurt that he had not appreciated my quiet sincerity I proceeded to go completely over the top, fully expecting that he’d tell me to stop taking the piss –but of course he loved it. Well, they never pretended it was Shakespeare.
Nearly all the films were supposed to be set in Los Angeles, yet they were filmed on the narrow streets of Galway. Rahoon Flats, (now demolished) were supposed to be LA high rise apartment blocks. Wardrobe always dressed us as if it was 30 degrees even though it never stopped raining. And we practically never had to go for a second take – which was why Corman never lost money. It was however, an extremely professional set-up. Actors on set were called ‘talent’ and treated like royalty. The directors were usually American – James Brolin, Barbra Streisand’s husband was one I worked with. Actors who worked on the films while I was there included Mia Farrow, Keith Carradine, Angela Lansbury and Patrick Bergin and they aren’t usually regarded as poor exploited actors.
Many Irish actors working today cut their teeth on Roger Corman films. Many more will refuse to admit that they have. Should I feel ashamed of that fact that I enjoyed working with them? No. Was I exploited? I certainly didn’t think so. They were professional, supportive and – seriously – when else would you get paid to go to bed with a Baywatch stud with the full approval of your new husband?