Peasants by Jeremy LoCurto
That morning we were hanging the peasants in the trees by the edge of the lake. Every time we hung them the peasant women would come rushing toward the barricade wailing. We grabbed and tossed them to the screaming crowds, then returned to our posts to guard the bodies dangling in the dead trees.
On the first day there had been a mix up and they wanted me to be a peasant. But I told them I’d been fitted as an evil knight in the King’s army, so they finally handed over my costume and I undressed in a corner of the dirty white tent with all the women in line for their costumes watching. I had to hold onto the railing of a costume rack to pull on my tights. I enjoyed wearing the black velvet jacket of a killer with its ruffles and oversized buttons.
We’d been filming in the mountains of Wicklow for a week. It was more than an hour outside of Dublin and the last twenty minutes of the journey it was all winding gravel roads, dense green forests and rolling hills sprinkled with muscled grey boulders. The production camp was set up in a clearing encircled by mossy yew forests. There was a steely blue lake, its banks covered in swaying reeds and slender white swans that I sometimes walked beside on my lunch break.
After all the time we spent riding the buses back and forth on the rickety dirt roads from Dublin I got to know a few of the other knights, and some of the peasants too. There was one ginger guy I knew with a long beard, about six foot seven who was born to play the role of the peasant. His red hair was the texture of a horse’s tail and dangled onto his shoulders, pinched at the tips by pieces of string that tied his flaming locks together. From his canvas trousers to his muddy smock, to the medieval hoe he carried as a makeshift weapon to brandish in the rebellion scenes, the accoutrements of peasantry seemed tailored to him to the point that it was unnatural to imagine him in modern clothing. It was hard to assess what role he might play in a film set in a non-agricultural society, or one that took place after the 19th century. In his future in the film industry, I could only envisage a dreary life spent bouncing from one peasant role to the next – as the Tudor peasant, the Russian serf, as a barbarian or a cave dweller, as a Moravian warlord.
Every morning as I was pulling on my polished leather boots and being given a heroic glow by the makeup people I watched the peasants getting ready. The makeup artists covered their faces with dirt and applied artificial grime to their fingernails. They put them in oversized, badly fitting smocks. Afterwards most of the peasants would wander around the tents in confusion, apparently not knowing where to go. They loitered beside the morning buffet filling their pockets with pilfered fruit and asking when the free lunch would be served. The second these people were in peasant garments even the production assistants treated them with less respect. I wondered how it would feel to be typecast as a peasant. “Yeah,” the casting director would say “he’s got a real peasant look to him. Looks like a real peasant. Got a big peasanty face –”
After a week dressed as a knight you started to look down on the slothful peasantry. They had a special look to them, like they were a race apart – the result of centuries of breeding, like greyhounds or Arabic racehorses. Every day in the lunch hour they lounged in the fields in their loose fitting sack-for-clothes outfits, their long legs stretched out, yawning in the sun, running around in the grass tackling one another down, smoking cigarettes, stealing bread from the caterers baskets and walking barefoot through the camp like gypsies. You almost expected them to put their caps on the floor and beg. They were always asking the production staff for autographs from the big stars to give to some cousin or brother-in-law in the country. I could smell vodka on some of them whenever they came close enough to breathe on me. They were so damn sloppy and lazy, you just wanted to beat them, rob them and toss them into the lake to drown. Sometimes you looked at a plain-faced peasant woman with a good body and the evil thought of raping the wench would cross your mind and haunt you all day until everyone was back in normal clothes and heading back to the city on the buses again and you’d taken off the velvet vests and remembered you weren’t in the King’s army.
Unlike the peasants, the knights weren’t allowed to lounge in the fields because it took too long for us to take off our armor and put it back on again. The only way for us to be comfortable was to sit in upright chairs. After getting our gourmet lunch from the caterers, the knights always sat together – a crowd of evil looking bastards in our black velvet trousers, battered blood flecked silver armor and helmets, and cruel looking boots, sitting around the white plastic tables in stiff plastic chairs, like the knights of the fucking round table. There was only one knight who didn’t sit with us. He kept a ziplock plastic bag stowed away in his breastplate and in between scenes he’d take it out and remove its contents: a beat up copy of Brave New World, a moleskine and a pencil – one of those short pencils without erasers. When a scene finished he’d walk to the edge of the forest, sit on a moss-covered boulder and read his book and write. He was a novelist and screenwriter and claimed he was writing the greatest story ever told. Though pompous, he was respected by many of the knights because a lot of them were aspiring screenwriters and actors themselves. The major problem with the novelist was that he kept his pompous dreams all to himself – he refused to partake in the communal dream of success that the professional extras discussed feverishly between takes. He did not want to take part in the non-stop retellings of vanished dream auditions, of brief brushes with celebrity producers, of chances lost and won, of connections squandered and regained, which the others reveled in. No, he did not allow his dreams to be added to the greater dream, like another pail of water scooped from the bottom of a boat and thrown into the ocean. He did not discuss his failures and allow these to reinforce the atmosphere of accepted failure; he did not want to join the milieu of actor-knights who lived for the discourse of pursuing an acting dream. He kept his hopes and dreams separate from theirs, and that was why the actor-knights despised him when they saw him walking off to pen another scene in the greatest novel ever written. (more…)