Film wraps production in LaPlace

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 30, 2001


PHOTO: ACTOR BILLY BOB THORNTON relaxes between takes at the filming of his new movie “Monster’s Ball,” partially shot at a home on River Road in LaPlace. (Staff Photo by Amy Szpara) LAPLACE – An aged blue Crown Victoria LTD pulled into the long driveway leading to the quaint white cottage set back from the road. It picked up speed, and kicked up dust and gravel as it neared the house. Before the driver could shut the engine off, a piercing “Cut!” came from somewhere, slicing through the hot, still Louisiana afternoon. The driver floored the car in reverse back to the end of the drive to try it again. “Quiet!” the director called, and the production assistants echoed him one after another. The old, beat-up car flew up the driveway once again. That was just one of many shots that actor Billy Bob Thornton had to get before he, the other actors and the film crew could call it a day last Tuesday afternoon, a week before shooting at that location was scheduled to end. Filming for “Monster’s Ball,” a contemporary movie about an executioner who falls for the widow of an executed death row inmate, was completed at the River Road spot yesterday. The cast and crew are now moving on to film in other parts of Louisiana, including Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola and in parts of Gretna. An interesting couple of weeks for LaPlace residents, the movie filming brought a little taste of Hollywood to town. With star-spottings at the LaPlace Winn-Dixie of actress Halle Berry, Thornton’s love interest in the movie, and a local’s home turning famous overnight, the past several days have been thrilling. Executive Producer Mark Urman of Lions Gate Entertainment Corp., said the film is due to wrap in mid-to-late June. “Monster’s Ball” is expected to play in New York and Los Angeles in late December, and it could make it here by February. That is if everything stays on schedule, said Urman. Working in conjunction with the Louisiana Film Commission, Lions Gate Entertainment chose the white house with green shutters which sits away from busy River Road as the perfect spot for some of the movie scenes. “We were just driving past on this very road. We saw it and said, Oh, that looks good,'” said Urman. “It fit the character.” According to Urman, Phil Seifert of the Louisiana Film Commission had earlier told him, “I think the kind of house we’re looking for, you can find in LaPlace.” Marie Verrett, who owns the house and who has lived there all her life, couldn’t have been more surprised to find out her home was needed for a movie. “I had just been at church. It was during Lent, and I said, Dear Lord, I’m going to need a new roof on my house. How am I going to get it?’ The next day they came and said they needed my house for a movie,” said Verrett. Thornton, who is probably best known for his role in “Sling Blade,” plays a corrections officer. Heath Ledger of “The Patriot” plays his son, also a guard. Peter Boyle, who plays Raymond’s father in “Everybody Loves Raymond,” plays Thornton’s father, the original executioner in the family. Set in small-town Georgia, “Monster’s Ball” is based on the original screenplay by Will Rokos and Milo Addica. Urman said the script had been floating around for five years when he read it. At one time, Robert DiNiro was going to star in the film, and it was to be directed by Sean Penn. “It kept floating around. No one ever got together all the elements to make it work,” said Urman, adding that was when his company picked it up. Urman was talking with Marc Forster, who is now directing “Monster’s Ball,” about another project when Forster became attached to the script. He gave it to Urman to read. “I read it and was just blown away. Billy Bob loved it and said he’d be in it,” said Urman. “It’s such a great script.” Urman explained the title, “Monster’s Ball,” comes from an 18th Century English ritual. Before someone was executed, they would receive a last meal and a big celebration called a monster’s ball. In the opening scene, in which Berry’s husband is electrocuted, Urman said the whole issue of what execution does to the family members and those who have to carry out the act is seen. Though Angola no longer uses the electric chair, Urman said the warden is dusting it off and getting it ready for filming. Shot in no particular sequence, all scenes at the LaPlace home were shot one after another during the weeks the cast and crew were here. “Everything that had to be shot in the house, had to be shot now,” said Urman. “It might be a scene that happens at the beginning, then a scene three months later. I’d say one-third of the film was shot here.” The producer of “Monster’s Ball” is Lee Daniels. His first production job, Daniels has managed plenty of actors, including Hillary Swank. Urman’s company decided to finance “Monster’s Ball” after becoming excited about the script. The independent film company has also done “Gods and Monsters,” “Dogma” and “The Red Violin.” They have won three academy awards, and their most recent productions include “American Psycho” and “Shadow of the Vampire,” which was nominated for two academy awards. In “Monster’s Ball,” Thornton and Boyle both play characters older than they, so a lot of makeup and hair preparations had to be done each day. Berry plays a woman who has had a difficult life, said Urman. “She could be one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen,” he added. “We had to tone her down.” Urman said the neighbors have been really helpful, and one family has let some of the crew use their front porch for a base camp. One group of locals camped out, near the levee across the street, for several hours daily. “We’ve been out here every day for three days,” said Angela Jones of LaPlace. “We’ve been the only ones out here. We got to meet Billy Bob and ask him questions.” Along with Jones, Mihram Naljayan and Jenny Crose sat on a quilt across the street, hanging out with the security guards and chatting with the crew as they came and went. And for now, the stars have come and gone, along with their crew. The town of LaPlace will just have to wait to see them and the little house on River Road, next year on the big screen.