An actor prepares
There was a period when I spent time riding with an LAPD unit in various parts of the city--first out of Parker Center in downtown, then out of Van Nuys Division and later out of Venice. Each area had its unique qualities and each seemed to have its own proclivities. What a citizen might not even register as he or she passed through one of these areas pegged the needle when viewed through the windshield of a patrol car. The very presence of a black and white seems to create an energy shift in which all the players unwittingly identify themselves. If ever one has the opportunity to take the ride, my advice would be to jump at it.
I have a problem with most police fiction. I thought Eastwood and McQueen did excellent character work in Dirty Harry and Bullitt. My favorite literary cop is Hieronymus Bosch as written by Michael Connelly whose depiction of law enforcement most closely reflects the reality I observed while managing to be suspenseful and entertaining. It is what I tried to depict in my movie Bleeder & Bates, an experimental exercise in guerrilla filmmaking that we distributed directly on video, which portrayed a journeyman detective knee-deep in someone's hidden agenda that he might not survive. What most on-screen cops lack is the consequence of the young man's dream in conflict with the adult's pragmatic reality. Some are defeated and others are resolved. None are indifferent to the effect police work has had on them and they make for compelling characters in existential storytelling.
I found myself preparing to do a another film--what the French refer to as a policier, a cop drama--with Patrick Tanzillo, an actor who was also a friend. He had a great personality but knew nothing about policemen or their world. I decide to give him a glance. One night we went out together in his rather plain Ford Torino. I had recently issued a casting notice and had three canvas bags left by the postman full of envelopes containing actors' 8x10s and resumes. From these I selected a 5x7 photo of a an actor that did not have a name and talent agency logo printed on it. At about ten-thirty that night, we ventured forth.
Our first stop was Pink's Hot Dog stand on La Brea Avenue in Hollywood. Patrick pulled to the curb and we sat watching the customers lined up to buy their chili dogs. I held the photograph in my hand. It didn't take long before someone became curious and approached. "Good evening," I said before he could speak. "Have you seen this guy?" I held up the photograph so he could see it. "No, I don't recognize him," he said after studying the picture. "What's he done?" he asked me. "Don't know but I'd like to find out," was my response. Then he told me, "My cousin works Rampart Division." I smiled and said, "Sorry to hear it." He laughed and we moved on to our next destination.
Cruising slowly on 6th Street near Alvarado, we saw a couple of pedestrians. We gave them a good look as we went by and one of them called out, "Pigs!" Patrick was getting the idea. A little later down by Los Angeles and 8th, a fellow approached us. "Have you seen this guy?" I asked him. After staring wide-eyed at the photo for a few moments, he said, "Yeah, I seen him at the bus station about a half hour ago!" I thanked him and as we were about to drive away, I asked, "Have you ever done time?" He answered, "I done time but I made restitution." I asked him what was the charge. "Aggravated assault," he told me with a smile. "What did they wind that down from?" I asked. "Attempted murder," was the answer. I thanked him for his help and wished him a good evening.
Our last stop was on Sunset Boulevard near N. Beaudry Street. We pulled up to a bar that had saloon-style swinging doors like in a movie about the old West. Inside, there was a long bar to the right and pool tables to the left. The jukebox was playing Latino music. We entered and, by pre-arrangement, Patrick slowly walked the length of the bar, glanced into the restroom at the back of the establishment and slowly walked back to where I was standing at the entrance holding the photograph and comparing it to the faces that were staring at me. Patrick and I exchanged a few words before going outside and getting into the Torino. We made a U-turn and as we passed in front of the bar, most of the patrons were peering at us over the swinging doors wondering what the Hell had just happened.
As I left him that night, Patrick enthused that we had done more work that night than the police. It was an interesting adventure and gave him a viewpoint he did not have previously. The movie we ended up making wasn't a cop drama after all, but a love story, Woman on the Beach. Go figure!