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Like something out of Hollywood, Sigourney Weaver scoots out of the prop tent to join a parade procession every time an ear-piercing horn roars. Except this isn’t Tinseltown; this is Royal Oak – or, rather, 1984 San Francisco, the setting for the Lifetime tele-pic “Prayers for Bobby.” Which means digital cameras and cell phones are out – but cutoffs? Leg warmers? Primary colors? Totally in.
“I’m not used to wearing shorts this small,” says Mark Boyse, a 21-year-old from Rochester who sports a plain tee and white, thigh-high gym shorts.
Cast as a “teen” extra, who is to follow Weaver and the PFLAG members heading the march, Boyse spends 14 hours on June 17 as one of almost 1,000 extras in the parade, and then joins the throng in a funeral scene shot later that evening at the First United Methodist Church in Royal Oak.
“Back in the ’80s, the lifestyle wasn’t as accepted as it is today, so it puts a different perspective on how much someone can change,” he says. “I grew up in a very Christian household, where people have – they’re very set in their own ways and beliefs.”
That’s Weaver’s character, Mary Griffith, an ueber-conservative mother whose closeted gay son commits suicide after the church’s pressure to change him mounts. After his death, Mary questions her faith, begins embracing the gay community and partakes with PFLAG in San Francisco’s International Lesbian/Gay Freedom Day. The real Griffith was there to watch her triumphant moment being replayed.
“It’s interesting to see that someone can come from such disapproval of the lifestyle to walking in a parade like that,” Boyse says.
Hours before the extras join Weaver and Co. for the climatic scene on Washington Street between Fourth and Seventh streets – trying to deflect the cool air by doing warming exercises – they assemble in the Royal Oak Farmers Market. Vibrant hairpieces are placed on the “wig boys.” Tight, tiny outfits are picked up by the “flamboyant men” from an outside trailer.
Cynthia Bond, who fitted Weaver for five hours days before, tailored costumes, which were designed by L.A.-based Janine Isreal. “They didn’t want it to be totally screaming ’70s and ’80s, with the big bell-bottoms or shoulder pads,” says the Clarkston stylist. “So, we’ve kind of had to modify things. It’s been fun.”
Except for the waiting, which couldn’t have been pleasant for the heeled drag queens.
“The gays are like dairy: We go bad real quick,” local extra Joe Fitrzyk quips inside the market, waiting for his face to be powdered and head to the shooting location.
Since May 21, the “Prayers for Bobby” team – including Weaver, director Russell Mulcahy (“Queer as Folk”) and a quintet producing crew – has used Royal Oak, Beverly Hills, Bloomfield, Birmingham and Ferndale as shooting locations.
“It had the look,” producer Damian Ganczewski says of the area, which was recommended by a buddy. Also, the new Michigan tax break for movie projects, which has lured several filmmakers and actors (reportedly including Drew Barrymore and Clint Eastwood), was another incentive.
On this particular day, movie cranes shift through the streets, local shops have street booths set up – and the wind threatens the vibrantly elaborate set.
Tents topple over and a balloon banner flies away, yielding “oohing” from the crowd while Weaver stares at the sky-captured prop – and that was all before the cameras began rolling. Once they did in the early afternoon, several hours after extras are told to report to the farmers’ market, the fall-like weather doesn’t deter the mood of the participants. Drag queens hoot, “flamboyant men” shake it to Donna Summer’s “She Works Hard for the Money,” PFLAG parents wave and cast members – including Ryan Kelley, who plays Bobby, and his on-screen boyfriend Scott Bailey – chill in the production pit. When they aren’t shopping.
“Did you get something for me?” producer Ganczewski asks Bailey after stepping out of a Royal Oak store with a bag. “You can get a discount.”
Bailey jokes: “What’s that – the Flash-My-Grin Discount? It’s a myth. It doesn’t work – especially with cops.”
Around 5 p.m., the parade wraps and Weaver, surrounded by extras, tenderly embraces a boy who looks like her late son, sitting atop a mailbox. It’s a quiet, poignant moment that no doubt will be, for regular, weepy Lifetime viewers, like giving a dog a bone.
“It’s a really sweet moment,” says Daniel Sladek, who’s an executive producer along with Stanley Brooks (“Broken Trail”), David Permut (“Face/Off”) and Chris Taaffe (“Thank Heaven”).
Local Johannah Scarlet, 21, shoos passersby from the surrounding shoot area, ‘fessing that though it’s a hassle to keep people off the set, it’s nothing compared to dealing with 70 teens when they filmed at Ferndale High School. Now finished with production (they wrapped over the weekend at Backstreet nightclub in Detroit), the tele-pic, which was cramped into a 20-day shooting schedule, is set to air in February. And Scarlet, an Albion College student who served as a production assistant (which she admits, includes coffee runs), is – despite those kids – in awe of scoring her first film gig.
“I did an internship in New York with NBC Universal just reading scripts – office work – I loved it,” she gushes, “but this is totally different. I’m like, ‘Look at this!'”
Indeed, there’s plenty to feed the eyes, including Kelley and Bailey, both still standing on the sidelines. Bailey’s donning dressy attire underneath a black trench coat for the funeral scene, and continues joshing with the crew, including Kelley.
For Kelley, playing Bobby – even after reading Leroy Aaron’s 1995 non-fiction book, the basis for the film – was his hardest role yet. The 21-year-old actor, who starred in the indie drama “Mean Creek,” had to find the emotional struggle within, fully immersing himself in a conflicted character with constant internal wars. Playing gay, though, was a cinch.
“It’s nothing,” he says from the set. “That’s just like asking me, ‘What’s it like playing a brown-haired kid?’ … I would play a dog as a role if that was an opportunity I was given – or a giraffe. As an actor you want to take on as many challenging roles that help you grow and build.” Not to mention, working with Sigourney Weaver isn’t too shabby – especially when the A-list actress is asking someone practically a third her age for tips.
“When she first asked me, I was taken aback. A lot of times, people of her caliber have it stuck in their head, and that’s how it’s gonna be, but, no, she was open to my opinions,” he says.
Bailey, standing in back of the director’s tent where crew members are watching playbacks of what they’ve just shot, chimes in: “It needs to be seen. They’re allowing marriage licenses for same-sex couples (in California) and there are still people protesting in San Francisco outside the courts. … It’s ridiculous to me, so even more important that a story like this gets told.”
He glances over at his co-star: “And he’s a handsome devil, too.”