Sets and the city of Annapolis

Fans spend a day watching Sarah Jessica Parker

August 12, 2005|By Abigail Tucker | Abigail Tucker,SUN STAFF

Carole Duley's binoculars trembled a bit as she perched on a bench on the State House lawn, scanning the movie set below, where Matthew McConaughey was possibly - please God! - camped out. But even before the cameras got rolling yesterday morning, she had a hunch her hunk wouldn't show.

"I heard he's in Easton," she muttered. "I don't know what Easton has that Annapolis doesn't.

"He could have stayed right here the whole time," the Annapolis retiree said. "We could have had a nice cold drink down by the bay."

Yet, denied her eye-candy, Duley still remained at her post, along with hundreds of other locals drawn by a one-day shoot of a scene for Failure to Launch, a romantic comedy starring McConaughey and Sarah Jessica Parker that is expected to be released next year. The movie is being filmed this summer at various locations across Maryland, including (sigh) distant Easton, where McConaughey was indeed entrenched.

Most of the perspiring onlookers were women, McConaughey-aholics or worshipers of Parker, who is famed for her girlie-girl role as Carrie on HBO's Sex and the City. Some halter-topped fans took shelter from the midday heat beneath trees, shielding their eyes from a sun that made the 20 kilowatt lights baking the set seem like mere three-way bulbs. Some had been stationed there since 5 a.m., when the first of the 150-person stage crew arrived to start setting up, and a few had even staked out the site the day before, when the shoot was originally scheduled. They subsisted on PowerBbars, ice tea and faint hope.

"So is Matthew coming out here without his shirt on?" someone asked. "Because that's the only reason that I'm here."

"Easton," Duley grimly advised.

In a sense, this is what Failure to Launch is all about - a guy who's in the wrong place in life. McConaughey plays a slacker who moves back home rather than start a family of his own. He suspects his parents of employing a pretty entrepreneur (Parker), whose job is to entice clingy sons to fly the nest by dating them.

Parker spent much of the morning on display, but the Lilliputian leading lady didn't look much bigger than she does on the TV screen from the fans' vantage point hundreds of feet away, where they had been corralled on the set's edges by an assistant wearing an "I See Dumb People" shirt. It was all admirers could do to see and dissect her outfit: A black v-neck top and thin white pants, paired with shoes that - and here Manolo Blahnik fanatics sniffed a bit - appeared to be basic rubber flip flops.

The brief segment was filmed on State Circle, in front of Harry Browne's and Paws Pet Boutique - although the latter was disguised as the "Rossignol Bookshop" and bricked up with paperbacks. The dialogue was all but inaudible, although the scene went a little something like this:

Parker emerges from the bookshop with two brown bags, presumably laden with literature. She is stopped by a goofy-looking young man, a former client, who carries two coffee cups, the second of which - we soon learn - is for his new, immensely pregnant wife. The man brags about his happiness as preppy-looking extras prance to and fro.

The minute-long scene was shot from multiple angles many, many times - about three hours' worth of work. The pregnant character could have started a fourth trimester. That coffee was definitely cold.

The natives grew restless as the sun climbed higher, even the Sex and the City loyalists who clutched hot-pink copies of the Candace Bushnell book.

"The woman who sweated the most in Annapolis today is definitely me," said Christine Finall of Edgewater, who had been hovering around the set since 6 a.m. with her 22-year-old daughter, who is also Carrie-crazy.

Parker smiled at her fans and sometimes demurely waved. Even around noon, though, as the action seemed to slow down, no one could get within mobbing distance.

Until Carole Duley made her move. In her beloved Matthew's absence, she started feeling a bit bold, and around 1 p.m., as set workers started to break down the scene, and a silver SUV inched closer to Parker, ready to spirit her away, the retiree surged forward from the sidelines. "You've practiced enough, Sarah Jessica!" she yelled. "Come let us take your picture!" She stormed toward the star.

"Sorry, you can't," said the guy in the dumb-people T-shirt.

"Actually, I'd like to stay, if that's all right," Parker said. And she did stay - for a full 10 minutes, smiling in a crush of sweaty devotees, signing autographs, posing for pictures (even do-overs), sorting out whose pen was whose.

Duley was a little disgusted with herself for having used up her camera film snapping close-ups of a good-looking extra - who turned out to be from Easton, no less. Still, Parker left her mark in Annapolis. Even if the local scene lands on the cutting room floor, she made a fan for life.

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