Nov. 29, 2006: Part 2: The Blood of Coffin Joe
|I stand beside the swamp, listening to Dennison,
the makeup effects artist and other crew members discuss my
choreography. Dennison, the co-writer and assistant director,
wants me to burst out of the water and stab the priest. The
makeup artist wants me to rise slowly and hit the priest. Other
people toss in their two cents. Everyone has a different
vision. Dennison is getting steamed. He puts his foot
down. He declares I will BURST from the water and STAB the
$&*%^@# priest! End of story.
Well, not quite. They discuss it some more, cross-breeding everyone’s ideas into a hybrid sequence that has me bursting slowly and stabbing/hitting/pushing/pulling the priest. Finally, someone delivers the word from Mojica – I will rise SLOWLY and STAB the priest. Mojica has spoken.
Time for me to get wet.
The pool is about seven feet wide, 10 feet long and about 40 inches deep. It is filled with colored, chlorinated water. There is a rubber skull and a fake skeleton suspended by fishing line to make it look as if it is floating. Three underwater steps lead from the bank to the pool bottom. With crew helping me, I step into the water.
YYEEEOOOOWWW!!!!! It’s f-f-f-freeeezing!
I wade into the middle of the pool, bend my knees and let myself float at chest level. Oh brother, it’s cold. What time is it? Ten O’Clock? Midnight? I see the extras with their burning torches. Boy, that fire looks nice and warm. Brrrr.
We start rehearsing the scene. I have the makeup artist on the left bank, another guy on the right, and Dennison straight ahead. They are all telling me completely different things. One wants me to go slow. Another wants me to move fast. One wants me to grab the policeman. Another tells me to stop six inches before I make contact. Dennison speaks fluent English, but the others do not. I can’t be sure that they are saying what they think they are saying.
I try to submerge. In three feet of water, that is difficult. I take a deep breath and collapse into a fetal position.
Imagine doing this in the middle of the night, holding your breath beneath black-dyed, ice cold water.
I keep floating to the surface. My legs slip out from under me and my feet bob in the water. I try exhaling instead of inhaling when I hold my breath, but that does not help. I am still floating.
The crew puts sandbags on my feet. That helps. I call them “beanbags,” which amuses Dennison. He starts calling them beanbags.
After submerging, I am supposed to count to 10, then slowly lift my right hand out of the water. Once my arm is outstretched, I lift the rest of my body. Slowly, like a zombie rising from the Black Lagoon. Then I tell the priest, “Me de a maldita cruz, Padre!” He hands me the crucifix. I yell, “Para que eu possa crucifica-lo outra vez!” I kill the priest. A villager drags him away. The policeman points his gun at me and wades into the swamp. I stare him down. He sticks the gun in my face and tells me to get my hands up. I smile and start raising my arms. When they reach shoulder level, I grab the policeman’s face and wrestle him to the ground, where I blind his left eye. It’s actually a pretty complicated scene, with dialogue, extras, “stunts,” fighting and special effects. Not exactly entry-level stuff. For a newbie, it was challenging.
I count to 10 and raise my hand from the water. By the time my hand is halfway out, I am straining to hold my breath. Finally, I lift my body from the water and say my line. When the physical action begins, everyone starts slipping and sliding – the priest, the policeman and myself. The bottom of the swamp is a mix of mud and slippery plastic. We just can’t keep our footing.
Mojica yells cut (corte, which sounds like “kutta”). I’m afraid he will be mad, but everyone seems very pleased. The crew is repeating my line, imitating my voice. This is the first time they’ve heard me speak in character, and they like it! Now if we can keep from stumbling around like the Three Stooges, this scene might just work.
We rehearse over and over. Each time, I hold my breath and submerge into the icy “depths.” Each time, somebody slips and falls. The priest is complaining. He speaks multiple languages and uses them interchangeably. The priest says he is freezing, even though he is only standing up to his shins. I am completely submerged!
Then I find out that he and the policeman are wearing insulated wetsuits beneath their costumes. I am wearing only a shirt and pants! Also, the priest does not like me pushing and pulling him. But that is critical to control his position and keep him from getting hurt during the fight. I get out of the water while Dennison talks to the priest. Then Dennison walks over and tells me I will have to control the situation by grabbing the priest and positioning him as necessary. I tell him that is easier said than done, since the priest doesn’t want to cooperate.
Dennison says he realizes that, but remember, “You’re Ze do Caixao!”
Back in the water I go. We do a take. The camera is behind me, capturing a wide shot. Everything goes well until I attack the policeman. I lunge at him, but stop six inches from touching him – just as I was told to do. Corte! Dennison asks if there is something stopping me from reaching the actor. I do not realize he wants me to grab the actor’s face, so I think he is talking about my footing. I tell him it’s just slippery.
We do another take. Everything is fine until I reach for the policeman. Again, I stop short of touching him. Corte! Dennison asks why I am not grabbing his face. Now I realize what I am supposed to do.
We do one more take. I rise from the water, spit my lines at the priest, kill him, then confront the policeman. He points his gun at me. I raise my arms, then lunge at him like Hannibal Lecter in “Silence of the Lambs.” I grab his face. The actor is screaming. I force him onto the bank and push him into the weeds. Mojica yells “Corte!”
Mojica is waving his arms and grinning like a child. Dennison yells, “That was great! That was great!” The crew is excited. Everything is finally pulling together.
Then we break for midnight lunch.
The crew helps me out of the swamp. Like a fountain in a city square, water spouts from my sleeves, between my buttons and out my crotch. Someone puts a bathrobe on me and asks if I want to change into dry clothes. I say no, instead of drying off and then getting wet again, I’d rather stay wet until the shoot is finished.
In the lunch room, I eat a vegetarian meal of beans and greens. It reminds me of the food I eat at Café Brasil, a restaurant in St. Louis. I always order the same thing – beans and greens.
Everyone is telling me how much I look like Mojica. Cro says this is an interesting experience for Mojica, because when he looks at me he feels like he is revisiting his teenage years. I pretend I’m Mojica, beat my chest and say, “Ah, I’m young again!”
Before we resume filming, the wardrobe people put me in an insulated wetsuit. It is skintight. In fact, I teach them that word – skintight. They want to know how to describe it in English. “Skintight,” I tell them, or “form-fitting.” I put the black Ze clothes on over the wetsuit. Surprisingly, the makeup is completely intact. I worried that it would wash off in the water, but no. It’s perfect.
I have a talk with Dennison. I tell him that there are too many people giving me conflicting instructions. I need to listen to one voice and only one voice, and that needs to be him. Dennison agrees. From now on, no one else will give me instructions except him, translating for Mojica. I will listen only to Dennison.
Filming resumes. The extras are gone. It is just the priest, the policeman and I. The angle is now reversed so the camera is facing me. It is no longer enough to hit my marks and keep from falling. My facial performance is now critical.
After all the trial and error before lunch, I am now determined that everything go smoothly from this point forward. I am going to hunker down and get this right. Most importantly, I am determined to please Mojica.
We do several takes. The water has dissolved the adhesive on my fingernails, making the claws fall off underwater. Imagine Coffin Joe rising menacingly from the water, only to reveal that half his trademark nails are missing. That will never do. The makeup people wrap waterproof tape around my fingertips to hold the nails in place. It helps, but some of the nails keep falling off. The effects artist takes off his shoes and wades around in the swamp, trying to find the nails with his feet. Surprisingly, he finds them! But then the nails start breaking in half. We consume three sets of nails. Now we are on the last remaining set. If these break, there are no more.
Everything seems to be clicking. After one take, Dennison runs up to the swamp and yells, “Man, you ARE Coffin Joe!” After another take, Mojica yells, “Amazing!”
The effects artist puts a prosthetic appliance over the policeman’s left eye. It is filled with red-orange jelly and looks ghastly. He cuts my right thumbnail in half and sands it down. I am supposed to stick the tip of the nail in the jelly.
We do two or three takes. The actor playing the policeman is screaming as if he were really being murdered. His authenticity makes the moment 10 times scarier. I had difficulties with the priest, but the policeman and I really hit it off. We both “get it.” We know what we are supposed to do and we get on with it without complaining. We are able to improvise and play off each other’s body language.
I stick my thumbnail in his eye and contort my face in gleeful rage. Mojica yells “Corte!” Dennison runs up and tells me how happy the director is.
“Mojica said, ‘He has the blood of Coffin Joe,’” Dennison says.
That was the best compliment I heard all week.
Next, they shoot three close-ups of my eyes. One when I’m killing the priest, one when I’m blinding the policeman and one that will be used for the trademark “bloodshot eyes” moment before Ze unleashes his wrath. It will be a moment right out of the original 60s films, only now Ze’s bloodshot veins will be CGI.
Finally, they shoot a close-up of my right hand slowly rising from the water. Dennison says it has to look like “living death.” Thankfully, I do not have to completely submerge for this shot. That gives me much more control over my body language. I do my best “monster hand,” with a little bit of Lugosi’s tarantula fingers thrown in. As my hand breaks the surface, Mojica yells, “Rise, rise, rise, rise, rise, rise, RISE, RISE, RISE, RISE – CORTE!”
The swamp scene is finished!
The crew helps me out of the water and puts another robe over me. With Dennison translating, Mojica thanks me for my performance and tells me he was very pleased. I tell Mojica, “Obrigado,” and humbly clasp my hands and tip my head to the maestro.
Mario Lima stands up, points at me and yells. “He says you will be a great artist,” Dennison says. Then Dennison gets everyone’s attention and announces that I have completed my shooting. The cast and crew applaud. It is a great moment.
Now I have three interviews to do – one for the magazine, one for the DVD documentary and one for Cro, who writes a daily set report for the official Ze do Caixao Web site.
First, the magazine photographer shoots several photos of me in the swamp, brandishing the crucifix, groping toward the camera, screaming, snarling, etc. Then the policeman and I reenact our fight for the photographer.
I go to the wardrobe and makeup room where the magazine reporter interviews me while the DVD documentary camerawoman videotapes me. The reporter asks how I became involved with the project, why do I like Ze do Caixao, and what is it like working with Mojica. I tell him Mojica is like “a big papa.”
After a shower, I sit down with Cro. He tells me everyone is very impressed with me. “If you were not an actor before, well, you are one now,” he says.
I feel like Sally Field. They like me! They really like me!
It is 5:30 a.m. when I arrive back at the hotel. I am much too wired to sleep. What an experience I have just had. I need to hit the street. At 5:45, it starts raining. I don’t care. I bought a little travel umbrella at the airport. This is my chance to use it.
I don my red leather jacket and walk five blocks past the prostitutes to Bella Paulista, where I drink watermelon juice and eat papaya. It stops raining. I exit the restaurant and head for the hotel.
Walking alone on the wet sidewalks, the sun still hidden below the horizon, I experienced a moment that I knew would stay with me forever. At that moment, I was legitimately an international film actor strutting down the streets of a big city on the far end of the world.
It was just one heady moment, a moment that I knew may never come again. But at least I got to experience it that one time.
That’s one moment more than most people get, and one moment more than I ever thought I would have.
(Special thanks to Marcelo Colaiacovo and Bruna Marcatto for taking Day Three photos.)