It was the first day of a much-hyped international movie shoot and my first shoot in a foreign country. I was twenty-three and I had arrived in South America two days earlier, after more than fourteen hours of flying. Jet lag, stress and lack of sleep had me on edge. We were shooting at an active slaughter house on a hot day - any words I could write here would not come close to conveying the inescapable and suffocating stench of decay that made everyone on set nauseous. It was a chaotic scene - there were hundreds of crew members scurrying about, dozens of trailers and semi-trucks to navigate between and the ever-present ticking clock that dominates all production sets hounding us to stay on schedule because time is money. Surrounded by the unfamiliar at every turn, I felt completely out of my element and ill at ease.
My walkie talkie squawked as an assistant director alerted me that the lead actress was camera ready (translation: she had been through wardrobe, hair and make-up). He told me it was my job to let the her know when the director was ready for her on set. Normally dealing with actors, especially the world famous sort, is a job that is reserved for an assistant director, not a lowly set assistant such as myself. But it being the first day of the shoot and with crew members hailing from three different countries, getting organized was a massive undertaking. Every production staff member of significance was tied up with more important tasks.
I waited anxiously behind a wall near the actress, following instructions to keep out her eyeline until it was 'time'. It might seem strange, but many performers request that crew members do not to look at them, address them, approach them or generally treat them like a normal person. Within minutes I received my orders to bring the actress to set and I scrambled into action.
Trying my best to sound as professional as possible (while wearing my standard set assistant uniform of overalls and tank top it, mind you) I announced, "Excuse me "Insert Famous Name Here", the director is ready for you on set.
Impeccably costumed and coiffed in her period attire, she looked at me as if I was a steaming pile of poop on her kitchen floor and replied in an obviously annoyed tone, "Where's hair? Where's make-up? And who are you anyway!" She turned back to her costumer and shared a laugh and an eyeroll, as if I was the biggest idiot on the planet and my mere presence was a burden to her existence.
Even in my worst days of high school, I had never before experienced someone so blatantly rude. Momentarily stunned, I stood there utterly useless until one of the assistant directors started shouting for the actress on my radio, demanding to know why wasn't I bringing her to set. The actress pretended not to hear the yelling and blithely continued her conversation, unconcerned that she was making my life hell.
Completely flummoxed and seeing I would get no help from the actress I turned away, sputtering incomprehensibly into my walkie talkie when I heard a raucous belly laugh behind me. The star’s personal bodyguard was enjoying my misery and his laughter only made me feel like more of a nimrod. I lowered my radio and stared at him, baffled by how he could be laughing when I was about to be fired and shipped back home, humiliated.
He shook his head and smiled, "That's what it's like hanging with the big dogs. If you can't handle it, get off the porch."
His glib justification pushed me over the edge. Between the rude celebrity, the assistant directors who were still yelling at me across the radio (there were now two berating me) and this huge mountain of a security guard enjoying my humiliation, I threw up my hands and snapped "I don't care who she is, it doesn't give her the right to be rude." Taken aback, his laughter stopped. He was probably shocked that a “no-one” like me would dare speak in such a way about someone so famous. But my anger had boiled over and I then told the angry assistant directors that the star refused to go on set, that she insisted on seeing hair and make-up again and that someone more important than me had better get up there and take care of her because she wants nothing to do with me.
Shakily, I walked away from the star, catching her staring after me out of the corner of my eye. I was convinced that job termination was imminent and I was close to tears. But part of me also felt relieved that I had stood up for myself. As young and as inexperienced as I was, I knew had done nothing wrong. As a child, I had always been taught to be polite and respectful. It wasn’t until that moment, when faced with a world-famous actress, that I truly understood that the rules of kindness do not stop applying to someone once they are a star. No one, no matter how famous or how rich, has the right to be rude.
For the first time since I had left home, I finally felt like myself. I had remembered who I was and realized my values were important no matter where I was or who I was dealing with. Incidentally, I didn’t get fired. Once the assistant directors talked to the actress, they realized it was not my fault that she would not go on set.
It was an extremely long movie shoot. The actress pulled similar stunts with me throughout the coming months, trying to see how far she could push me before I exploded. But she never caught me losing my temper again because I realized that despite all her money, she was the type of person who liked to use her power to make people jump, make them stress or bend to her will. I decided that with dogs like that on the porch, it wasn’t a place I wanted to be.