May 29, 2011
Dear Annette Bening,
As they say—it’s all in the details. I learned this watching you film the HBO film “Mrs. Harris.” It was 2003 and it was the first major motion picture my 16 year old daughter got to work on. I tagged along as her “stage mom.”
As you remember, “Mrs. Harris” was the film you portrayed Jean Harris, the private girls’ school headmistress who murdered famed “Scarsdale Diet” doctor, Dr. Herman Tarnower. My daughter portrayed one of the students at the private girls’ school.
One of the scenes she worked on was on the lawn of the school. The time period that day was the late 1970’s. Walking onto the set, I felt like I was transported back in time. The cars in the parking lot, the school books the girls carried, the clothing the teachers wore, was all reminiscent of the late 1970’s—which I remember very well.
My daughter was to be playing lacrosse in the background of your scene. Your character, Mrs. Harris, was upset with someone who left orange peels on the grass. You were speaking to your secretary. Then you opened your handbag and put the orange peels in. By this time in the film, your character, Jean Harris, was clearly addicted to medications that Dr. Tarnower was administering to you.
As I sat off camera, watching the scenes being rehearsed and filmed, I was amazed at the careful attention to detail. Near where I was sitting, there was a prop master peeling the oranges so the peels could be used in the scene. Each time the scene was filmed a new set of peels had to be placed carefully on the grass.
More details were checked. Everyone had a job to do. There was a rather eccentric costume designer upset with her workers for having one of the teachers carry the wrong purse. Some of the wardrobe staff were measuring the knee socks my daughter. They had to be exactly one inch folded down…no more and no less. I’d never seen anything like it. My daughter, wearing a darling private girls’ school uniform, had to have her sweater buttoned just so, and her hair pulled back just so. No earrings, no lipstick, no tattoos, no highlights in her hair, etc. So many rules about the details!
Now, may I be perfectly honest with you, Ms. Bening? I can tell you that as a movie goer, I wouldn’t have noticed those details. I remember watching that scene on HBO. All I watched was you, picking up the orange peels and placing them in your handbag. Then, of course, I looked behind you and there was my daughter.
I did get to cross paths with you one day on set, Ms. Bening. You were lovely. Our eyes met and you smiled at me. Remember? No? Ok, that was a day they were filming the girls in an auditorium. And I was one of the many stage moms. My daughter told me on the way home that day, how nice you were. She told me what a great actress you were. You made such an impression on my little 16 year old. You made an impression on me, as well. I saw how hard everyone worked to make sure everything was perfect.
The whole experience of being on the set of “Mrs. Harris” changed the way I look at movies. I hope you had a very Happy 53rd Birthday Saturday.
From a fan who now looks at the details!
Regards, Mrs Love