The Pursued, the Pursuing, the Busy, and the Tired
I joined his assistants and one of the production designers, and Baz arranged us according to the scene. He summoned our cinematographer and began walking us through one of the film’s grandest moments: when Nick meets Gatsby for the first time. He handed out mini-scripts and we studied our lines—I read for a partygoer who runs off with Jordan Baker, leaving Nick to speak with an unknown man who turns out to be Gatsby himself.
Satisfied with our stand-in work after a few run-throughs, he called for the actors to come to set. In walked Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, and newfound talent Elizabeth Debicki, all decked out in glamorous 1920s wear as Jay, Nick, and Jordan. Baz turned to me and said, “Oh, Charlie, and you just do the same thing over again.”
Between the lack of sleep, incredibly long days, and incredulity at the request, my baffled look prompted Baz to continue: “You know, do the same part, now with all of them. Actually, hey, could we get Charlie a blazer?”
I took my position next to Leo and a few steps above Tobey and Elizabeth, and Baz walked the four of us through the scene. I steadied myself against the rush of the moment, and summoned up my resolve to not let a “Mack truck pass” before one of my lines, a lesson instilled by John Reese during many post-performance feedback sessions in the Black Box. The scene prepared, lights and cameras pointed up at us, Baz exclaimed, “All right, ready everyone, and Charlie . . . action!”
I looked Nick in the eye, said my lines, swiped a drink off of Gatsby’s tray, grabbed Jordan, and dashed off. We went through it several times and with each attempt, it came easier; with each joke shared between takes, I became more relaxed. But it was still surreal, and after we wrapped the scene and I carried on with the rest of the day’s duties, the magic of my experience floated like dust in the wake of a daydream.
It just so happened that in-between these two extreme moments during the Playshop madness was my 5th Reunion at Deerfield, and although much was left to do in New York, I had signed up to attend, and mentally prepared to return to Pocumtuck Valley.
Amidst the excitement of seeing classmates for the first time in half a decade, striding across senior grass with my closest friends, entering each of my old dorm rooms and finding my name still carved in the desks, hearing the familiar creak of the doors to the Black Box and the foreign echo of my footsteps against the Koch Center’s walls, jealously gawking at the new squash center, and grinning as I hurled myself off the rope swing into the River, I remembered that I had also returned to the site of my introduction to the mysterious figure stretching his arms towards a green light. Although I felt slightly guilty about leaving Baz’s production for the weekend, I realized that in a way, I was completing my own immersion into the Fitzgerald classic.
When you leave a place, you begin to romanticize it. My classmates and I had returned to Deerfield, a place we had called home, a place that we haunted in our minds, a place imbued with deep and profound traditions, the likes of which Gatsby himself would have envied. We also returned to our former, youthful selves. And even as we reveled in the dormitories together, reliving for one weekend that existence, I recognized the difference between who I had been and who I had become, and the futility of recreating the past. Leaving the Valley that night, I prepared to reenter Gatsby’s universe, and in the cooling twilight I drove towards the continuation of a life made richer by the very past and place receding in my rearview.
Weeks later, I again found myself baking in the summer heat on a downtown Manhattan street, this time loading suitcases into a car for Baz and our producer. New York had wrapped, and we were sending them off to Australia, away from the East. Soaked yet again, I turned to say my goodbyes, offering a hand to spare them my sweat. Baz and Anton laughed at my formality and brought me into a bear hug, leaving me with these words:
“When we return to New York, we expect to be watching your work.”
Charlie McSpadden ’06 graduated from Duke University where he majored in English and received a certificate in Arts of the Moving Image. In addition to The Great Gatsby, he has worked on Whit Stillman’s Damsels in Distress, Steve McQueen’s Shame, and Stuart Blumberg’s Thanks for Sharing. He is currently working on Darren Aronofsky’s Noah and also editing a short documentary he shot in the Cape Verde islands in Africa. He is based on of New York City. The Great Gatsby will open in theaters nationwide next summer.