June 20, 2001

After the glitz is gone

A pool-playing Judi Dench was among the Hollywood types who endeared themselves to the residents of a Newfoundland hamlet where The Shipping News was filmed this spring

Rebecca Eckler

National Post

The 200 residents of Trinity grew accustomed in recent weeks to hearing a single phrase uttered over and over, no matter where they went. It was this: “Imagine finding this! In the middle of nowhere!”

Trinity is the 17th-century fishing village, a three-hour drive northeast of St. John’s, that for five weeks this spring was home to the cast and crew of The Shipping News, the US$29-million film based on E. Annie Proulx’s Pulitzer prize-winning novel.

For a brief while, such stars as Kevin Spacey, Judi Dench, Cate Blanchett and Julianne Moore called Trinity and environs home.

Mr. Spacey immediately sent four of his five bodyguards home. This was, after all, an obscure outport community and drew something less than the usual media hordes.

But now this influx of Hollywood, which doubled the population from 200 to 400, has left, and life is returning to normal.

And the people of Trinity? They are at once happy and sad. Happy, because the production pulled in $1.5-million for the local community. Sad, because for a few short weeks the community — which has neither a movie theatre nor a Blockbuster — brushed up against movie stardom. It would be an exaggeration to say the town of Trinity is in mourning. But there is a palpable sense of loss, of grieving.

So this is the story of what happens when the cameras leave, after the glitz is gone.

What’s left in Trinity and its surrounding towns? Residual excitement, certainly. A few more dollars in the community coffers. But mostly, fond memories to last a lifetime. Meet just a few of the folks who are missing Kevin and Judi and Cate and Julianne.

THE FISHERS’ LOFT INN

In the nearby community of Port Rexton (five minutes outside Trinity), there are two side-by-side saltbox-style mustard-yellow houses, part of the Fishers’ Loft Inn.

Mr. Spacey and his mutt, Mini, took up two of the yellow and white suites on the first floor, Dame Judi took the second floor and director Lasse Hallstrom was on the third. Ms. Blanchett stayed for just a couple of nights. (Ms. Moore — and her treadmill — stayed at Campbell House in Trinity.)

John and Peggy Fisher will always remember the time the stars came to stay — though Ms. Fisher says she was not thrilled with the idea when they were approached last October.

“We were terribly uncertain. But the anticipation was worse than the reality. We just worried that they would not be happy here. By the time they left, we felt very protective of them.”

Mr. Fisher agrees it worked out fine: “You got the sense they liked the idea they were living plainly and simply. They live in a world where 1,000 people take advantage of them a day.”

The Fishers’ Loft kitchen staff talk fondly of their experience while they work, and proudly show off photos of themselves and the stars.

Helen Fowlow, the wild-haired cook, shows off a snap of Mr. Spacey, wearing a black Puma T-shirt and jeans, his arm slung around her. There’s another showing a beaming Ms. Dench in a white sweatshirt.

The recollections are domestic and affectionate: “Oh, Judi Dench just loved to fill the dishwasher,” says Ms. Fowlow. “For some reason, she knew about Hobart dishwashers and kept calling it ‘Mr. Hobart.’

“She spent the whole evening in the kitchen with me one night. I taught her how to make French bread. She was having a dinner party that night and I brought out the bread she had made and she sliced it. She shucked shrimp with me, too.” After, says Ms. Fowlow, Ms. Dench told her she felt she had a “really productive day.

“They became part of the furniture. They’d come in and ask how your day was,” she says.

Roxanne, who helps around the inn, adds, “Kevin Spacey came into the kitchen and wanted a sandwich. He went to the fridge and I said, ‘No, I can do that for you.’ And he said, ‘No, no, you don’t have to.’ So I handed him the bread and knife and he went at it. Ham and cheese I think he made. He would just go to the fridge and get his own dessert, too.”

Yes, says Ms. Fowlow, “When Kevin came in the kitchen, it was no different than if my mother came in.”

Now they’re gone. “It’s very lonely now. But I tell you, when Judi was leaving and she gave a hug, I was about to cry. I had to run and go have a cigarette to stop myself.”

ROCKY JOHNSON

Rocky Johnson is the owner of Rocky’s, the most popular bar in the area. He’s a real character.

The first time Mr. Spacey came to Rocky’s, Mr. Johnson asked him for his ID: “Kevin just looked at me and said, ‘You must be Rocky. I was warned about you.’ ”

Shuttle buses would run the cast and crew back and forth to Rocky’s: “They were so nice they even drove all the locals home, whenever they wanted,” he says. “And we would party here on weekends until 7 or 8 a.m. when the sun rose.”

In the entire 18-year existence of Rocky’s, he says there has never been a busier month. Ms. Dench played pool every Friday night. Mr. Spacey said he “took the best shot in his entire life here,” says Mr. Johnson. When Mr. Spacey went to pay for his drinks, Mr. Johnson refused to take his money. “That way his name’s in my book. He has a running tab here forever.”

Mr. Spacey has a memento of Mr. Johnson, too: a baseball hat with the word “Rocky” across the front, just like Mr. Johnson’s. Ms. Dench wanted one, too. “She was scared to ask me for one, so she got her assistant to ask me,” he says.

What has changed most since the cast and crew packed up and left, thereby chopping the population in half?

“Well, it cut back my sex life in half.”

Of course, Mr. Johnson is just joking. Probably.

RICK AND MATTHEW JONES

“Jeepers, it was different. I was always on call,” says Rick Jones, a fisherman who owns the green longhorn fishing boat the film crew used to carry out the fog machine.

“It’s all about ‘hurry up and wait,’ ” he says, repeating a popular phrase often used to describe television and film work.

Wearing overalls and green rubber boots, Mr. Jones, like most fishermen, is a reserved man. He remembers The Shipping News crowd with fondness: “When they left after so many weeks, it was almost like my best friend left.”

It was a good time for him financially, too, because he was paid about $500 a day for his boat. “I couldn’t believe it. We’d go out and there would be so much fog, and they’d want more fog. But that’s what they wanted, so that’s what we gave him.”

One of his sons, Matthew, 21, was hired on as a security guard. “They basically gave anyone who wanted a job something to do,” he says. “I was paid $14 to basically watch grass grow.”

It was an easy gig because Trinity just has no obsessive fans. Young Mr. Jones, for one, had never heard of Kevin Spacey: “I’ve never seen him before. I had no idea. But he won a big award or something.”

His father will never forget the sheer size of the production: “They arrived in such a huge way. They rented all these black trucks, about 25 of them. And then they left just as suddenly. I don’t think we’ll forget this for five or 10 years. It’s pretty dull again.”

POP

There are eight tables in Nan & Pops restaurant. Frank Bartlett — Pop — sits at a table eating a club sandwich, a framed picture of a moose on the wall above him. He lives across the road. There are cows out front. In addition to being a restaurant proprietor, Pop is a farmer.

Two or three times a week, he says, a member of the crew would drop in and order 150 pieces of chicken or fish — to go.

“You have a pretty good day when that happens,” says Mr. Bartlett. “Real good.”

He reveals Mr. Spacey had a fondness for Nan & Pops strawberry milkshakes, just like an ordinary mortal. “Oh, yeah,” he says, “all those people are like everyday people. They are really easy to deal with. We don’t really know how many times the stars ate here, because many of our girls wouldn’t know them if they walked in.

“We’ll definitely miss their pocket books. Not only their money, but their company.” he said. “And they tip very well.” Once, two crew men came in and left $40 on a $15 bill.

“They would come in for takeout and they’d always say to the girls, ‘How you doing m’dear?’ They really got a kick out of learning how to speak like us.”

THERESA PRINCE

“Julianne Moore came in here all the time,” says Theresa Prince, manager of Dock Marina Restaurant, Art Gallery and Craft Shop. “She was so friendly you’d think she was an ordinary Newfoundlander.”

Ms. Moore bought a hand-knit sweater decorated with puffins (for her son) and sealskin slippers. Mr. Spacey and Ms. Dench, too, bought sweaters, quilts and a particular favourite, pens made out of moose antlers.

“Kevin Spacey’s hairdresser was our best customer. She cleaned up with the quilts,” says Ms. Prince. “If we didn’t have their size, we’d get it made for them. So we have a lot of orders still going out.”

The year 2001 will be remembered in Trinity as an amazing year. Before The Shipping News came to town, Random Passages, an eight-part CBC miniseries starring Colm Meaney, and directed by John N. Smith, was shot in Trinity.

“Newfoundland deserves this,” says John Fisher, of the Fishers’ Loft Inn. “Everyone around the world will get to see how wonderful this place is.”

Now it is over. Ms. Dench is back in England. Mr. Spacey will be in Newfoundland for special-effects recording at a wave tank at Memorial University’s Institute for Marine Dynamics next week, then he, too, will return home. Everyone is gone (save, perhaps, the two crew members who bought houses in the area).

“We hope they come back,” says Rocky Johnson. “All of them Hollywood people were good enough people.”

In Trinity, that is the highest accolade possible.