|Making Milk: view of Harvey Milk Plaza in the Castro
photo: Eric Nielson (TroublePup, Observd)
[previous: Emile Hirsch as Cleve Jones]
During one take, I marched past two extras dressed as macho riot cops in vintage police uniforms and white helmets. (Tangentially, as a sign of how times have changed, the actual San Francisco police officers guarding the set were two women with butch hairstyles.) One of the extras was perfect as an obnoxious cop, raising one eyebrow and sneering at us — as if he were thinking, Look at all these queers. What are these criminals planning? We need some law and order to protect decent society from these freaks! (Many of the protestor extras were convinced that these were actual police officers — probably because of their realistic portrayals.) Another cop, however, was smiling and looked as though he was about to burst out laughing.
At the end of the take, on the way back to ‘One,’ I said to the obnoxious cop, "You’re perfect! I’m scared of you!" He smiled at me, demonstrating that he was indeed an actor and not a homophobic cop.
"But you!" I said to the other extra, "You keep cracking up! That’s not right!"
He replied, "Well, you guys are like, ‘Gay! Rights! Nee-ow-ooh!‘!" He danced to emphasize our silly version of chanting. "You guys can’t be smiling! You’re supposed to be angry. I can’t do my job if you’re smiling. Don’t be smiling, don’t be smiling!" he joked.
After that, during every filmed march in that direction, I thought of the cop dancing to Gay! Rights! Nee-ow-ooh! and felt the urge to laugh. A funny extra named Walter was no help. Carrying a No Hate sign, he chanted, "Smoke some dope! Shut your trap!" How could someone not laugh at that? Laughing in such a situation was natural; after all, in the classic science fiction film The Blob, teenage extras could be seen smiling and laughing as they were fleeing, supposedly terrified and hysterical, an alien menace in a movie theatre.
I reminded myself that telling the story of Harvey Milk was serious business, even if I didn’t feel very serious, and I squelched my natural response. It wasn’t easy. When you watch these scenes in the movie, you may be riled, or even moved to tears. You will have no idea that we were laughing hysterically and enjoying a uniquely sublime night in modern-day San Francisco, at what is now known as Harvey Milk Plaza.