Hookers. Call girls. Women of the night. Texas ditch ferrets.
Prostitutes go by many colorful names, but their clients have only one: John. People usually assume that “John” is short for John Doe, but it’s actually a clever nod to John Quincy Adams’ famed reverence for the world’s oldest profession:
“Alphabetically, the three things I am least likely to do without during my tenure as president are Hoes, Hoes, and Hoes.”
Some argue that he was referring to the gardening tool “hoe”, as Adams was an avid botanist, but most historians find that assessment unfunny and boring.
Taylor Hackford’s Love Ranch, which reunites director/actor team Hackford and wife Helen Mirren, recounts the rocky beginnings of the first legal brothel in America. Joe Pesci stars as Charlie Botempo, the fiery, mafia-connected co-proprietor of Reno’s “Mustang Ranch”, while Mirren plays Grace, his wife and business partner. Grace and Charlie deal with puritanical protesters and government officials who want to see the ranch shut down, while Charlie’s sideline gig as a boxing promoter threatens their marriage. Gina Gershon and Bai Ling support.
I’ve dabbled lightly in extra-ing, but I’ve never been on a set as large and well-maintained as Love Ranch. As my wife had a featured role in the film in January, I knew pretty much what to expect from the experience, but I was still surprised at the scale of the production. Capitol Films rented out a Philips manufacturing facility in Albuquerque, NM, and nearly the entire structure was filled with cast and crew. When I arrived at the plant cafeteria at 2:30, cast and crew had just broken for lunch; crab legs, lobster, and fillet mignon were on the menu, but I had no appetite, so I sat down with producer Marty Katz while he bitched about unions and funding problems to an associate.
After the cast and crew went back to the set, I was shuffled off to the costume department, where I was outfitted with some sharp Haggar slacks and a powder blue dress shirt. My hair was fussed with, and by the end of it, I looked a little like a low-rent Don Johnson circa 1986. I returned to the “extras pavilion”, which was really just an alley next to some trash bins behind the cafeteria. For the next eight hours, I was regaled with stories both mundane and glorious from experienced, full-time extras, including a fantastic yarn about the horrors of Kilmer. The coolest part of the waiting period was when we watched a hawk dive headfirst into a dumpster and emerge with a large raccoon.
At around 11 PM, we were shuffled off to set by our “handler”, a no-nonsense yet horribly bitchy woman named Roberta. She hated all of us without exception, and I’m fairly certain she tried to poison my cucumber water just so she wouldn’t have to talk to me. Being an extra is a fairly thankless process on its own, but parts of it were made nearly unbearable by the magnetic field of contempt generated from this human sea urchin. On the set, Hackford and the props crew were setting up a lavish Last-Supper-esque Thanksgiving dinner scene, with well-dressed prostitutes and johns populating both sides of an immense table. It was intended to be one of the film’s final shots, complete with a telescopic camera-crane tracking shot down the length of the table toward Mirren, who sat arms-wide at the head. Hackford sat us down at the table individually and ran some lighting tests, and after moving us around for about fifteen minutes, a few of us (myself included) were removed from the scene and placed on the sidelines. “I’ll seat you later,” he addressed to me. “Don’t worry, guy.”
While I never did get to make it into the scene, it was fun watching Mirren and Bai Ling work the table. And, hey, I made a hundred bucks, and I got to say hi to Helen Mirren. And Hackford called me “guy,” which is way better than “nobody” or “pissant,” which is what I think the extras handler called me under her breath several times.