Marco steps out, shakes Devon’s hand, and then stretches his long, lanky frame while we all look around at the work the art department has done so far.
“Looks like things are getting close,” Marco says.
“We’re ready to roll for the first week,” Devon tells us, “everything after that is at least partly under construction, so we’re in really good shape.”
As he speaks, my pulse is machine fire inside my chest. The Community House is directly across from an enormous green field, where a replica of Ellen’s wide-porched yellow Iowa farmhouse has been meticulously constructed, down to the weathering of the clapboards. It looks breathtaking—better than it did even in my imagination.
In the distance, I can see they’re beginning construction on the replica barn—in a few weeks they’ll be done . . . and we’ll watch it burn to the ground.
All around us, activity is buzzing: It seems like hundreds of cameras are being assembled; at least five people are moving various cranes into place. Lighting structures, scaffolds, and temporary sets are being built by a dozen crew members. This is an enormous production—on a scale I’ve never experienced before. I want to bend over and put my head between my knees to catch my breath. The pressure is almost debilitating, but it is also delicious.
Marco puts a steadying hand on my back, and we follow Devon and his clipboard down a soft dirt path toward the cabins. He chats over his shoulder to us, about the weather being unreal, the crew getting settled in the tent cabins on the other side of the hill, the transformation of the Bright Star cabin into the interior of Ellen and Richard’s farmhouse.
“You sure you’re okay staying on-site?” Devon asks, and grins at me because he knows it’s an absurd question; Ruby Farm is spectacular. Most of the time on location, I’m put up in a hotel, sometimes an apartment. I never get to live in a communal bubble like this, and I love that we’ll all be together in this setting: rustic, quiet, away from everything. It’s like summer camp out here. A glance at my phone tells me I don’t even have cell service. Bliss.
I see Marco pull out his own phone and frown down at the screen. The 1st Assistant Director and line producer always have good Wi-Fi, so I know what he’s going to ask before the question even emerges: “Where are Liz and Todd’s trailers?”
Devon tilts his head to his left, indicating up the hill from us. “Just over there, with Gwen and Deb.”
Marco catches my eye, gauging my reaction to the name. I have been dying to work with Gwen Tippett ever since I first stepped into the industry as a wide-eyed eighteen-year-old. Gwen is in the Spielberg and Scorsese stratosphere—a director actors can spend an entire career hoping to work with. But, as is the way of Hollywood, it took Gwen seven nominations for Best Director before she won last year for her film Blackbird, about a son who takes his dying mother on a road trip across the States. Everyone I’ve spoken to about Milkweed has asked whether this will be the one to get Gwen back-to-back Oscars.
“Nick is there,” Devon tells us, pointing to my co-star’s cabin, just north of mine. “I’m past that batch of trees. Our screenwriter is that cabin, there . . .” He points. “Your dad is down the hill to the right, in Clover.” Devon looks at me and winces as if in apology. “I meant to ask: Do you want us to refer to him as your dad? Or would you just prefer Ian?”
“Dad is fine.” I smile through the unease his question triggers. How successful have the gossip rags been? Does the crew know there is tension there? If so, we’ll have to fix that, pronto. The last thing I need when I’m trying to play the role of my lifetime is mini-aggressions from Dad about how I need to appear to love him better.
Devon stops in front of my cabin and gestures for me to head inside. “Obviously most of your stuff is in wardrobe, but they brought a few pieces down they still need to check.” He glances at his watch. “You have about fifteen minutes ’til final hair and makeup consult.” Devon points to a row of trailers back up the way we came and then smiles over at Marco. “Are you staying tonight?”
Marco shakes his head. “I’m headed back to LA after the read, but I can come back up at any point if you need me for anything.”
“We should be fine.” Giving me his bright, dimpled smile, Devon says, “We’ll start at six in the Community House. Sound good?”
The tightness in my stomach returns. I’ve done dozens of table reads in my lifetime, but none will have been anything like this: with the studio heads in town for the first day of shooting, and everyone dying to get a look at Ian and Tate Butler doing their first read together. Some of it will be filmed for marketing and bonus DVD material, which means the room is likely to be packed. Yep, no pressure.
With a wobbly smile, I nod. Marco kisses my cheek and then follows Devon back up the path to gather whatever remaining information he needs before heading back home to LA.
I’ve been dreaming about the smell of Ruby Farm—the fresh tang of grass, the sweetness of the apple trees, the bright wide-open sky framed on one side by redwoods and on the other by the snaking Garcia River—so the last thing I want to do is go sit in a trailer, but fortunately there is also no more joyous place on a set than hair and makeup.
Dropping my purse on the bed just inside the cabin door, I turn around and head back up the hill, toward hair and makeup and the one-and-only Charlie.