Encounters with a legend: two Islanders recall working with Lauren Bacall

A decade after doing what many actors would die for — acting opposite Lauren Bacall — Cameron Bright says he’s finally going to start watching her classic films.

“I was only 10 when I did that, but I remember she was pretty amazing,” said the Victoria-born actor, recalling his experiences working with Bacall on Birth, director Jonathan Glazer’s eerie psychological drama. Bright won accolades for his performance as Sean, a mysterious youngster whom Nicole Kidman’s character Anna, a fragile widow, believes is the reincarnation of her dead husband.

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“I don’t like Sean much,” says Eleanor, Anna’s skeptical mother, played by the sultry movie star who died last week in New York at 89.

Bacall’s trademark bluntness, rapier wit and diva-like demeanour were evident, recalled Jacqui Kaese, the founder of Nanaimo’s Spotlight Academy. She spent three months in New York on the set as Bright’s acting coach.

They were among those permitted to address the Hollywood icon as Betty, the birth name her late husband and co-star Humphrey Bogart and friends would call her.

While Bacall’s on-screen character didn’t have much time for Bright’s wise-beyond-his-years character in Birth, it was a different story off-screen, recalled Bright, whose other credits include roles in Godsend, Thank You for Smoking and The Twilight Saga: New Moon.

“There was a huge age difference,” Bright said. Bacall was 78 when they filmed Birth in Manhattan and at New York’s Silver Cup Studios.

Bright, now 21, and his mother, Anne, were invited to Bacall’s “inner sanctum,” her luxurious Upper West Side digs in the venerable Dakota apartments, whose residents have included John Lennon and Yoko Ono.

“Doing that whole movie was great and Nicole was amazing,” he said. “I might have been a bit intimidated [by Bacall] at first but I had so much support from people, her included.”

There was never a dull moment when Bacall was around, Kaese said with a laugh, recalling how Bacall’s beloved dog, Sophie, an adorable papillon she insisted be nearby at all times, got the most respect.

“Betty never went anywhere without that dog,” said Kaese, adding Bacall got a kick out of watching Sophie as she playfully mounted Humpy, her dog toy.

“Betty would laugh and go, ‘C’mon, hump the dog!’ ” she said. “That dog was royalty.”

“Miss Bacall,” as most crew called her, was so particular about her hair and makeup she would fire those who didn’t fulfil her wishes, reducing them to tears, Kaese said.

However, she would show her appreciation to those whose skills were essential to help her recapture the look from her glory days, rewarding them with elegant silver hairdressing sets.

Kaese remembers being particularly moved by a scene in which Bacall’s elderly character asks 10-year-old Sean: “What’s it like to be dead?”

When rehearsals began, Bacall was refreshed, prepared and impeccably coiffed, but was weary and irritable by the time Glazer got his money shot.

“What he got was such a truthful moment between the aging screen goddess and the up-and-coming boy.” While Bacall pulled many “hissy fits,” Kaese said, “in fairness, she’s earned it. She’s Lauren Bacall.”

A classic was in 2004 at the Venice Film Festival, when an interviewer described Kidman as a “screen legend,” incurring Bacall’s wrath.

“She’s not a legend,” the husky-voiced actress snapped. “She’s a beginner. She can’t be a legend at whatever age she is . . . you have to be older.”

While Bacall and Kidman were friends, the screen veteran made it clear she wasn’t getting the star treatment she was once accustomed to, Kaese said.

“Nicole was very gracious, but Betty did not like being second fiddle,” recalled Kaese, noting Bacall would hold court with stories about the glory days.

“She told stories about how Bogie always had 12 roses in her dressing room,” Kaese said.

Although Bright couldn’t appreciate how iconic his talented but temperamental elderly co-star was 11 years ago, he said he’s now honoured to have had the experience.

Bright, whose recent credits include Jeremy Lutter’s Floodplain and a recurring role as Manny, teenage son of homicide detective Angie Flynn (Kristen Lehman) in the CTV crime series Motive, will soon be seen in Final Girl, Tyler Shields’s thriller starring Abigail Breslin as a resourceful young woman who turns the tables on three homicidal teenagers.

“Now that movie is going to be unreal,” he said.

mreid@timescolonist.com

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