“SWAT Team” Swarms Sheridan; Weisselberg Flees

by Paul Bass | August 21, 2006 4:40 PM |


School rebuilding chief Sue Weisselberg, uncharacteristically dressed as a lunch lady, prepared to flee a hallway of Sheridan Middle School Monday as a SWAT team swarmed in. Fifteen year-old Julia Rusatsky (in top photo) burst into uncontrollable tears — on cue. It was Day One of the New Haven filming of Uma Thurman’s new flick, In Bloom.

Fountain Street was closed to traffic Monday — and filled with extras who came from as far as Delaware, or in the case of Weisselberg as close as Westville, waiting for their chance to step on camera in a feature film.

Many, like Rusatsky, who lives in Branford, hope to launch acting careers. She kept weeping and weeping as she and other extras prepared for the cameras to film their reaction to a Columbine-like shooting at the school. “No smiling here. No laughing,” instructed First Assistant Director Doug Torres. “You’ve heard gun shots. You don’t know if you have friends who got shot. Shock and fear — all right.” No one else could keep up with Rusatsky’s reaction. “You can cry on cue?” asked another assistant director, Craig White. “Yeeeeessss,” Rusatsky responded in between sob bursts. White: “You’re scaring me.”

Some of the extras were Screen Actors Guild members with genuine acting credits to their name, like Patrick Reale, aka “Officer Perna” of the Briar Hill police force in the film being shot at Sheridan. Reale has played the heat on Law & Order. He plays an undercover cop in Criminal Intent. “My best friend is a cop,” so he learns a lot about the role from talking to him, said Reale, who’s 37. He was hoping the director would throw him a line Monday — as in, allowing him to speak in the film. “Usually they pay you $200 for the day” without a line, he said. If he speaks, he gets $750.

His “partner,” Phoenix Thomas, who’s also 37, was hoping the same thing. Thomas played a cop in Superman III.

As he was fitted for his police uniform inside Sheridan’s auditorium, Don Cevron spoke of how penny-pinching producers robbed him of speaking pay when he played the head coach of the New York Giants in the filming of the just-released film Invincible. He was told to ad lib. Then someone else’s voice was superimposed over his. He ended up making between $400 to $500 a day for 14 days acting that role; if he had had official lines, he could have pocketed $800 a day, he said. His biggest gripe Monday, though, was with Mapquest. “I got so lost coming here. It took me to Ridgefield. I saw Danbury.”

Kelsey Gangnath wasn’t complaining, even though she was covered with blood. Actually, that’s why she wasn’t complaining. The 14 year-old aspiring actress from Trumbull thought she was going to be just another face in the crowd as a $75-a-day non-union extra. “Then I heard everyone bickering: ‘The redhead! The redhead!’ I changed clothes, and I became the bloody person.” The blood was paint, she said.

Sue Weisselberg took her high-school-aged son to an open casting call for extras. She brought along her own photo — and landed a spot. When Weisselberg usually visits Sheridan, it’s in her capacity as head of New Haven’s $1.5 billion school rebuilding program. Monday, she was told she would be playing the part of a teacher in the crowd. Then she was pulled out to dress as a lunch lady.

The order was: Run! Which Weisselberg did, down Fountain toward Westville village, away from the Sheridan “massacre.”







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