June 7, 2001

Newfoundlanders Treat Movie Stars As Ordinary Folk
by Roger Bill

ST. JOHN’S, Newfoundland (Reuters) – When actor Kevin Spacey arrived in
Trinity, Newfoundland, to film “The Shipping News,´´ he was accompanied by five security guards, but within a few days four of them were sent back to the United States.

The Oscar-winning Hollywood star discovered that he could walk the quiet
streets of the 17th century eastern Canadian village without being pursued by the tabloid press or obsessive fans, and even enjoy a game of pool in the village’s only bar without being hounded for an autograph.

When Trinity, population 200, was selected as a location for the $29 million Hollywood movie, director Lasse Hallstrom said: ”It feels like the last untouched part of the world.” The fact that the people of Trinity were also unaffected by the presence of Hollywood stars turned out to be a bonus.

“The Shipping News,´´ based on E. Annie Proulx´s Pulitzer prize-winning novel, is the second movie shot in Trinity in the past year. John Fisher, who owns Fisher´s Loft inn, estimated that the production will leave more than $6.5 million in Newfoundland, the poorest of Canada´s 10 provinces.

“They took every hotel, motel, and B-and-B room within 50 miles. Seventy people were employed to shovel snow. … A fisherman was on the payroll to make fog, of all things,´´ said Fisher, who kept the chef at his inn on call 24 hours a day.

But he said his guests were “extraordinarily good at being ordinary people.´´ Spacey would sometimes eat dinner in his suite and in the morning “he would bring his dishes to the kitchen,´´ while British actress Dame Judy Dench went one step further and ´´put her dishes in the dishwasher,´´ Fisher said.

Trinity, a former fishing community that hosts a summer theater, seems to take the stars in its stride. Rocky Johnson, owner of Rocky’s, the only bar, talks matter-of-factly about shooting pool with Spacey.

Fisher, who protects the privacy of his famous guests, had only one thing to say about pregnant Australian star Cate Blanchett — that she was “gorgeous.´´


A Newfoundlander on the crew told Reuters his favorite moment was when a fisherman “walked past Spacey to shake (veteran Canadian actor) Gordon Pinsent´s hand, then turned around and walked by Spacey again and never made eye contact.´´

He said Spacey “smiled … he is just an average Joe.´´

Other Newfoundland members of the crew were impressed by the scale of
the production.

“There were 75 vehicles, 30 drivers and departments that we’ve never seen before,´´ one technician said. “There were trailers and trailers of equipment,´´ said another who worked on the shoot with crews from Los Angeles, Vancouver and Toronto.

Shooting on “The Shipping News´´ has now moved back to Halifax, Nova Scotia, for two weeks, before the stars return to Newfoundland for some special effects recording at a wave tank at Memorial University’s Institute for Marine Dynamics.

“The Shipping News´´ production team seems to have appreciated their reception in Trinity.

Production designer David Gropman told a tourist industry meeting that working in Newfoundland has been “the most fabulous, wonderful and enriching experience for all of us. Everyone has been incredibly wonderful and accommodating. I have been so impressed with everyone’s wit, wisdom and grace.´´

“Random Passage,´´ an eight-part miniseries shot in Trinity, is showing on Irish television and is scheduled for release in Canada by CBC-TV this fall.

Between them, the two productions are largely responsible for an estimated $13 million boost to Newfoundland’s economy this year. “There is no question it’s been an economic boom to the local area,´´ said Donna Butt, artistic director of the Rising Tide Theater Company.

“The Shipping News´´ used her theater as an operations center and as a studio for a publicity photo shoot. Butt, who lives in Trinity and runs the summer theater, confirmed that residents were not star-struck.

“They talked less about the stars and more about if they made any money off of the movie. I didn’t hear any profound discussions about the script among my neighbors,´´ she said.

“I don’t think people really knew who they were,´´ she said of Spacey and his fellow cast members.

For actors who live in the spotlight, Butt said, a visit to the small, peaceful village was a welcome change. “I think they were quite relieved to be in a place where they felt safe.´´

Copyright © 2001 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.