But...long story short...apparently I had to have my O1 Visa processed abroad. After researching possible US Embassy options, Canada and the Caribbean offered the best options...and the US Embassy in Bridgetown Barbados seemed to offer the soonest appointment and processing times. After over a dozen phone calls and emails back and forward with the US Embassy in Barbados (including a phone call, where after exhausting all possible interview options, I was told there was absolutely no way they could fit me in for an interview to process my O1 Visa in March), I then received an email to say that they could accommodate me on Monday 18th March...this was on Friday 15th March. After a quick sanity check phone call to my mum (at 3am her time, thanks mum), I booked a last minute trip to Barbados.
Sunday morning I set off to JFK with a phone book worth of my O1 paperwork and swimming costume in hand. Happy to swap the snowy and wet NY conditions for some sun. And boy did Barbados deliver the sun. Landing in BGI airport the first thing you notice is the aquamarine blue waters and white sand that surrounds the island. And good bye NY winter jacket and hello 30 degree heat and sun.
While two days were eaten up at the embassy I managed to squeeze in plenty of beach time in the morning and evening. And I cannot describe the rush of relief when I finally held that visa in my hands! Of course I celebrated that evening with a piña colada by the sea. A little sad to be alone but a moment in time that I will never forget! And thanks to Facebook, I at least was able to digitally share the moment!
Barbados is a fun place that centers around the beach. There are lots of colorful characters and friendly faces...some trying to sell you things (like Handy Andy with his aloe vera potion) and some just genuinely keen to wish you well (like Neil who I met taking sunset photos on the beach and we chatted away about cameras until the sun dipped beneath the waves). My first evening I ventured out and while I was waiting for my fish to be grilled (and before I over confidently slathered my meal in Barbados hot sauce ... aka lava), I met Junior who was a young local artist, who had sadly been left paralyzed from the waist down due to a car accident when he was nine years old. His artwork depicted folk stories and tributes to Bob Marley and reggae music.
I booked a day trip on a catamaran to go snorkeling. We sailed across the water with schools of flying fish projecting themselves out of the water and zooming through the air for over 30 meters. We then stopped to swim with the sea turtles. One of our guides jumped in the water with some food to lure the turtles and swiftly they came swimming over. Incredibly tame and majestic. They came close enough to touch and weren't at all phased by us visiting. We then headed to a second site with a ship wreck and snorkeled the spectacular reef there. After all that swimming we worked up an appetite and indulged in a delicious caribbean lunch of fish, jerk chicken, salad, macaroni pie and fruit punch. We then sailed the day away dancing on the decks.
With visa in hand and a smile on my dial I was headed back to NYC to sort out my first tax return, work for a couple of days and prepare for my first acting commercial acting gig, including hair and make up trials.
So, let me back up a little bit and explain how I scored my acting gig. When I first arrived back in NYC and was in visa limbo, a producer friend of mine posted on Facebook that she was casting for "tourists" to acting in a promotional video, commercial and online content for a European company called the Compulsive Traveller. And the shoot would be happening in St Vincent and the Grenadines in the Caribbean. Since, I LOVE to travel, I thought I have nothing to lose...and some time on my hands so why not audition. I applied and got an audition the day of the blizzard. So after trekking through the icy streets I had to do some improv around tropical island themes and chat about all my summer activity hobbies and travel stories. I had a lot of fun but after summing up my competition in the waiting room, I didn't really think I had a chance. That afternoon the city went into semi shut down as the blizzard rolled in and covered my world in a thick blanket of white. At midnight my house mates and I headed outside to play in the snow...snowball fights, snow angels and the boys couldn't wait to pee their names into the snow....beware the yellow snow.
Several weeks later I got an email and phone call advise me that I had been selected for one of the tourist roles. I was in the middle of Union Square and I squealed! I couldn't believe it. I think I reread the email a dozen times. We had a preproduction meeting a week later where i met the other three actors (two girls and two boys set up as couples) and had wardrobe fitting. There was my partner, Dean - an ex-airforce pilot turned stuntman (MacGuyver type), Thomas - an actor and school teacher and Heather- an actor and director. Here I also discovered that I would be getting married and what's more, the wedding would end with me swimming in the dress. So I went wedding dress shopping all over the city, trying on about 20 dresses. It was extremely amusing to walking into a bridal salon all alone, and matter of factly try on wedding dress after wedding dress, snapping quick pics with my phone as groups of women around me oo'd and arrh'd their brides as the selected the dress if their dreams. I'm sure I seemed like a bitch to them all. In the end I got a Dennis Basso dress from Klienfelds (the salon featured on Say Yes To The Dress).
Amusingly that night I had a first date (which was terrible) but I had a lot of fun scaring him when he asked about my day and I told him I spent the day shopping for a wedding dress :-p
Sooo....back to where we were...
4am Sunday morning filled me with a partial sense of déjà vu as I headed to the airport with a suitcase and wedding dress in hand. As I lined up at JetBlue the attendant smiled at me and politely asked, "are you getting married?" To which I replied, "Sort of". He looked at me puzzled and asked how do you "sort of" get married. I laughed and explained it was for a commercial shoot. I met the other actors, Heather, Tom and Dean, as well as the make up artist, Nati and we headed to Barbados.
I endured the most surreal conversation between the couple next to me who discussed their marriage issues for the entire journey. I don't think they knew I could hear but they had both cheated on each other and he was a therapist but they were both seeing other therapists. They discussed the physical, the mental and philosophical dimensions of their relationship and aired their mother issues and a million other details that seemed very personal for a max. Capacity JetBlue flight. He had a voice like Kevin Spacey and she was German. And their two daughters were sat just across the aisle. I couldn't help myself, the writer in me started taking notes...definitely intriguing research for a movie scene.
With a 6 hour layover in Barbados we decided to head to Acra beach and found a great tapas bar over looking the ocean. We indulged in some nibbles and then hung out at the Acra Beach Resort. My Aussie accent caught the attention of a fellow Aussie and another man basking on the beach. The other man was the famous Jamaican cricketer, Chris Gayle and the Aussie was his physiotherapist. I had a great afternoon joking around with the bravado of Mr Gayle who was trying to convince me to stay the night and when i explained that i had a call time of 6am he told me not to worry about that and he would get me there on time with a private jet. This even included a phone call to the Prime Minister to St Vincent...which I tweeted about and Chris replied, "how lucky I was" to meet him. Hahaha
That night we jumped on a Liat flight to St Vincent and arrived at the Paradise Beach Hotel in the darkness, unaware of how spectacular the view ahead was. After a quick dinner of a Caribbean version of pumpkin soup with a coconut cream twist and a conch stew, it was off to get some beauty sleep...I was getting married the next day after all. Hahaha
So a 6am wake up call and we were jetted across in a boat to Bequia in the Grenadines. I don't think I stopped smiling the whole trip...it felt like a dream...and I almost left my wedding dress on the boat. Haha
We caught an open air taxi to the resort where we met the crew and sat down to a divine breakfast of cereal, fruit, yogurt, freshly baked bread, meat and cheeses. All overlooking pure white sand and azure waters.
Then the beautification process began with hair and make up. Nati, our make up artist is so talented and just a joy to be around. She made me feel amazing. It was soooo much fun. Although, im sure she was tempted to strangle me with my super long locks. I cannot tell you how surreal it is to prepare for a fake wedding. The ultimate dress up game I suppose.
First scene was me walking with my "father". The father of the bride was actually the agency producer Chris. The scene was walking by the pool, trying to be a graceful and as happy as possible...while mastering the train on the dress and not falling in the pool...yet, at least.
We also filmed the cake cutting and more importantly, eating. Then we set up a fake lunch and toasts. Spent the afternoon joking and laughing with our fake guests. Followed by real lunch where they covered me in napkins to protect my white dress. Haha. Lunch was lobster salad and fresh fruit...star fruit, melon, mango, papaya and pineapple...I'm drooling just thinking about it.
After lunch was the ceremony. A simple set up on the beach edge with the Swedish property owner playing the celebrant. I got married about 8 times...hahaha. Then we moved to the pool where my groom threw me into the water and I performed an underwater "ballet" in the dress. Trying to be as graceful as possible in a dress that felt like lead once it was drenched with water. But I loved every minute...incredibly fun!
The crew then packed up and we headed back to the dock for our catamaran ride back. Watched the sunset over the ocean and the moon rise over Bequia and then spectacular orange, pink and grey clouds roll in to deliver a light shower of rain. I laid down on the front net, feeling the seaspray and rain trickle over me. Trying to absorb and process the day that I had just experienced. I don't know if real marriage is in my destiny but as far as weddings go, this would pretty much be my dream...with a real groom and my family there of course.
The next day Dean and I, along with AD Kim and Camera Operator Marcus headed to Ouia salt pools to film. We were there alone and it was spectacular. We climbed the rocks and jumped into the pool and floated serenely in the water. Not a bad way to start the day. We then caught up with the rest of the crew at La Soufriere, the volcano hike. We met them about 3/4 of the way up just in time to watch the mist and rain move in. A spectacular sight to see the clouds and mist literally descend upon us. We huddled under a small shelter and ate lunch. Then we spent the afternoon filming Heather, Tom, Dean and I hiking different areas of the track.
After our day of hiking, we headed back to the hotel to film cocktails over the sunset. They used the colors in my dress to inspire the cocktails. They looked beautiful...but tasted hmmm...interesting. It was very strange to have all the lighting set up around us, as I'm so used to being behind all the equipment. I cannot tell you how lucky I felt at every moment on this amazing job.
I couldn't resist sacrificing sleep and getting up every morning just before sunrise to go for a run on the beach and through the streets, often being joined part of the way by stray dogs and even a goat or two. And of course cooling off with a swim or snorkel to admire the spectacular reefs on our doorstep. The underwater world is like another planet, so many amazing plants and sea creatures, I could have spent a lot more time under the waves.
Wednesday we headed across the bay to Young Island where Johnny Depp and some of the other Pirates of the Caribbean cast stayed. We were made up to the nines and enjoyed cocktails in the bar and strolls along the various path ways and majestic ocean views. I had a strawberry mocktail that was to die for.
Then it was time to get wet. They had a floating bar on a pontoon out in the water where we had more drinks...some delicious local ginger ale and we indulged in some liming...the art of doing nothing. We were mesmerized by some hypnotic swinging coconuts and then had some fun doing jumps and flips into the water.
After lunch we headed to a place called Montreal Gardens. This place blew my mind. I imagine the garden of Eden looked something like this place. There were endless tropical plants and flowers all the colors of the rainbow with lush green and misty meadows and mountains in the background which them blended into the sea and sky. Dean, who was forever on a hunt for fresh fruit, discovered an orchard of grapefruit trees and began to pick and cut them for everyone with his trusty pocket knife. Im not a huge fan usually but they were the juiciest and sweetest grapefruit I've ever eaten in my life. Dean ate nine.
We stopped at a hilltop bar on the way back to the hotel and watched the sunset over Kingstown. Another amazing sunset, watching the red orb dip below the blue horizon. Dean bought 8 of the best bananas ever from a local vendor for about 70c...and later made comment that consuming that much fruit in an afternoon had consequences on the body.
The next day was a long rollercoaster drive to Dark View Falls. Another breath taking location with two sets of waterfalls. The crew and local production helpers were amazing at carrying all the gear up the step stair climb then more rugged riverbed. We swam in the pool below the waterfall which was great and showered under the falling water which wasn't quite as relaxing as you'd think. The water felt like stones, a rather rough massage. But I thoroughly enjoyed myself. We also filmed a scene where we are shampooing our hair looking like we are about to head out to the daily grind, feeling slightly depressed about the NYC subway journey ahead but then we pull back to reveal the waterfall and all our troubles melt away. In the afternoon we filmed some footage of us crossing a handmade, bamboo suspension bridge.
Good Friday was probably the best Friday i have ever had! Friday's itinerary had us lapping up luxury, starting the day heading to Buccament Bay Resort. We began with some tennis, then changed into our resort attire and had lunch prepared for us. A sushi chef called Santa made us the most beautiful platter with sushi rolls and a sashimi rose. All over looking a multitiered infinity pool which then overlooked the aquamarine sea.
In the afternoon, Dean and I were sent to meet Marcus and Kim at the Botanical Gardens. We got to feed Amazon parrots which are the national bird. Despite the numerous signs saying "do not pick the plants or fruit", dean was on a mission again to find something edible. He found a lumpy looking mango type fruit on the ground and asked our guide what it was. The guide told him it wasn't edible but it did smell delightful, kind of a cross between a pineapple and mango. So Dean cut it open and licked it. He then spent the rest of the afternoon spitting, desperate to get the taste and floury texture out of his mouth. Most amusing.
Back to the hotel for a quick costume change and then sailing into the sunset. There was our captain, Manu our DP and Marcus onboard. They were phenomenal to watch. They sailed the ship, set up GoPros and took still and video photography. It was a lot of fun until I got seasick. I was professional and kept it together with smiles and cheer until the sunset. Then I wanted to die. The journey back I went into a trance, desperate not to let the seasickness win. And I won....just. A quick swim before dinner had me feeling A1 again. The hotel put on an amazing BBQ dinner with fish, shrimp, lobster and steak along with a buffet of salads and sides, the ultimate surf and turf! We then headed out for drinks (including some rum of course) and pool. An absolute dream day!
Then the final day was upon us. Saturday we went to a black sand beach near George Town where the art department set up a volleyball net made out of a fish net. We played volleyball which was extremely hot on the black sand. We then refreshed ourselves by drinking straight from fresh coconuts. Mmmmm! We then moved to Georgetown for lunch and bike riding through the streets and shooting a scene at a rum bar with a local musician. Ultimately, ending by the beach for a rainbow and sunset, where we were directed to look amazed and contented...no acting required!
We headed back to the hotel for a final dinner and drinks. And then out to a couple of bars and nightclubs for some more pool, dancing and karaoke. I was determine to savor ever last minute so I stayed up the entire night, watching the moon and the stars and eventually the sunrise. There was time for one last morning swim before a final pack and breakfast with the most amazing end to end rainbow across the bay.
The only glitch for the week was having my bag lost on the trip home but with inspiration from a bumper sticker in St Vincent, I decided to adopt the Vincy mentality, considering myself "too blessed to be stressed".
This was definitely the best job I've ever had. Amazing crew, cast and location. I hope it's the first of many more, "best job I ever had's"! :)
Despite returning to the rain and cold, I am excited to tackle my next project which is Assistant Director on Dani Zarndieta's first feature filming in Seville and New York City. I'm in last minute preparations, organizing callsheets and final location scouts and the myriad of other minor jobs that come up...loving all of it!