The following is an account of what transpired last Wednesday, January 11.
Scene of the crime.
Midway through the morning's incredibly long Special Senses lecture, our professor broke his momentum and uttered the most unexpected of thoughts.
"You're wondering why traffic was so bad earlier? They're shooting a couple of blocks from here."
Emphasis - and for many, a question mark - on the word they're. Of course, as I follow Jessica Zafra online, I knew what he was talking about. Academy Award-nominated Hollywood star Jeremy Renner was in town to shoot some scenes for The Bourne Legacy, that fourth installment of the film series previously topbilled by Matt Damon. His leading lady: Rachel Weisz, whom a few out there might still remember from The Mummy films with Brendan Fraser.
Not, of course, that film shootings are that big a deal. Local companies doing their shoots are not an uncommon sight along the Pasig River-Binondo area which is basically next to home. It just so happened that this one - with two Oscar denizens at that - were shooting three, maybe four blocks away from where we were seated in a lecture hall.
Days before, I had already contemplated on making my way to the Manila Peninsula where Renner was staying and just finding some random, unthinkable trick of having my picture taken with him. I'd later find out, based on Zafra's blog chronicles, that he doesn't do pictures because 'it causes a stir'.
But even without that input, I'd have still dismissed the idea as ludicrous, impractical, and chosen instead, as I would given such situations as a choice, to get on with my mundane existence. The class, it seemed, thought just that. Seemed - because I later found out only a tiny fraction actually knew who Renner was. And from that fraction, an even smaller number who admired him as an actor (yours truly in the lead, of course). I guess most everybody was busy with an exam or something nerdy when The Hurt Locker or The Town (the more deserving one of an Oscar in my opinion) came out.
Sad, I know. Which is why I chose to have lunch after class with one of my great friends whom we shall call Cassius (in case he reads this).
"Can you imagine they're actually shooting a few blocks away from here?" I said as we lined up at the counter of some fast food chain (it was 12:30 and the next class was in thirty minutes, so forgive us, health buffs).
"What? Who's shooting what where?" he said, apparently lost.
"Jeremy Renner," I said, blankly.
"You're kidding me. Who's shooting where?" he replied.
"Weren't you listening earlier?"
"No. I was asleep." (That's the other classroom activity in med school, if listening is one.)
"But don't you know?" I asked, already confused.
"No - what is it?"
"Jeremy Renner is shooting The Bourne Legacy here in Malate. Come on, you're kidding, right?!"
And he wasn't. Which meant that upon realizing that I also wasn't, he went into a semi-berserk state. Which spelled a good thing, I think.
"THEY'RE HERE? Like a few blocks away? Let's go there! We have to see it!" he matter-of-factly declared.
I knew the decision was already made even before I gave my overt agreement. And so there we were - two guys in white uniforms, looking slightly and ineptly young to be med school students, making our way to the San Andres Market area, potentially wasting the Filipino people's money by risking being late for the next class. (Yes, I know I'm risking getting attacked online with that last bit.)
After ten minutes and asking a couple of policemen for directions, we found ourselves in a crowd. It was difficult to tell who was just an overly eager spectator and who was an extra for the film (they'd put out an announcement the week before for three hundred extras who looked class B, C, D).
"If I'd known earlier, I'd have auditioned," Cassius said. He played a beggar in a video project last year, and was quite convincing, we all agreed.
The place, for lack of a better term, was a market - literally and figuratively. People of all shapes and ages were present: working men, vendors, bread store employees, tricycle drivers, loud-mouthed and gossipy neighbors, high school students, rowdy Hobbit-sized kids. Everyone was saying something to someone else or to no one in particular, as is common practice for our culture (you know, say something and everybody gets a laugh). It was straight out of those Pinoy flicks where the onlookers are as interesting as, maybe even more interesting than the main stars.
But the attention was all at one spot: A narrow alleyway where several White men (sorry for my temporary inability to evade sounding racist) were fixing the set. Along the main road where everyone was, trucks were parked - dressing rooms, we were told. I suggested just banging straight at the doors.
For the most part, we were just standing around and looking around and waiting for something cinematic to happen. We had found three other classmates at the site - one of them, we shall call the Chinese in honor of his most dominant features. He had his DSLR camera, which was a far cry from the huge, mounted ones of the big TV companies around to take footage for the evening news. (Possible headline: Mga estudyante ng UP, nahuling hindi pumasok sa shooting ng The Bourne Legacy - UP students caught absent from class at the shooting of The Bourne Legacy - yep, the Tagalog version is quite misleading.)
After much waiting, the attention shifted to the adjacent alleyway. Finally, some action! They were doing test shoots for the stunt scenes. The stuntman clambered out of a second-floor window, over the ledge, onto the roof. Bravo! He did that about three times - the director's instructions, I surmised.
But that was just about the action that we saw. And celebrity blondes? Some of the crew were stationed along the main road, some would go in and out the set; they were the closest giddy photo-hungry onlookers could have for glamorous Tinseltown superstars. Meanwhile, the crew from the second floor of the set took their pictures of the wide-eyed hundreds - something to show off to their friends back home.
It was 1:45PM. We had strayed long enough. We decided it was time to leave. Cassius and I resigned ourselves to the fact that it wasn't just time yet to meet Renner.
And then, it happened. As I walked, already a considerable distance from the site, a blonde-haired figure crossed the periphery of my eye. He had a baseball cap and sunglasses on, and he was walking slowly at the opposite side of the road. His companion, most probably an assistant, walked just as quietly by his side. I knew I had to make the move.
"JEREMY RENNER!" I hollered.
He spun around, saw my exasperated face running up to him, and I swear he broke into a sort of smile, probably amazed at the effort.
"Hi. May I just say, I'm a huuuuge fan!" I forced out, starstruck.
"Thanks." he said.
"I know you don't take pictures, but I'd kill myself if I don't leave this place without proof that I've met the best thing that ever happened to The Town."
That made him chuckle. And then, he motioned for me to follow him between two parked cars. There, he removed his sunglasses.
"Just... be silent with this. I'm no fan of fanfare," he half-whispered.
So I took out my camera, and the shot was made. Cassius, having followed us to the cranny, had his as well.
"Thank you for this! We're eternally grateful. You're awesome!" was all I could say.
"No problem," he said cooly.
He put his glasses back on, and with his assistant, having stood guard and as cover earlier, headed silently for the crowd.
I guess Rachel will have to wait some other time.
But as is often the case with literature, none of that happened. Renner was never there, and the photos were never taken. We only walked back to school, spirits not the least bit dampened; in fact, we walked back knowing we cut class for one of the best possible reasons. The hunt is still on.
As captured by the media.