'One And Only' City

In Renee Zellweger film 'My One and Only,' Baltimore proves it can play many parts

July 20, 2008|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,Sun reporter

Nearly every day, Roxanne McCalla sits on the steps of her East Oliver Street home and tracks the comings and goings of her struggling neighborhood. She's witnessed a lot - the good, the bad, the just plain crazy - of life in Oliver. But McCalla has never seen a day like this.

The modest but well-kept block is swarming with people. Trucks are everywhere. And workers are putting up old-fashioned street signs, swapping plastic porch chairs for aluminum ones and paying residents to temporarily take down their satellite TV dishes.

Coming out of the apartment building across the street is a familiar face. McCalla smiles and waves. It's not a neighbor, but Renee Zellweger.

Things can start to seem surreal when your neighborhood winds up as the backdrop for a Hollywood movie. Oliver isn't the only neighborhood featured in the filming of My One and Only, a romantic comedy starring Zellweger as Anne Deveraux, a '50s-era divorcee searching the country for a rich husband and father for her two sons. Virtually the entire film was shot in and around Baltimore. It wrapped up yesterday.

But not a single scene is actually set here. The city shows its versatility, playing a mean Boston, an understated New York and even a pretty convincing Pittsburgh.

"We're doing all those towns here. It's been remarkable, how many images you can get if you're fairly clever about it," says director Richard Loncraine, whose previous movies, including Wimbledon and The Gathering Storm, have been filmed largely in Europe. "It's a very photogenic city in many ways."

Charm City, producers say, is one eclectic locale - a fact brought home in East Baltimore, where the sound of firecrackers brings nervous looks from some crew members. It's a big contrast to the tonier and more tourist-friendly Mount Vernon.

Mount Vernon is one of the most popular, and versatile, locations for the film. The Engineers Club, on Mount Vernon Place, gets to play a Boston hotel and restaurant, while a block of Washington Place gets to stand in for New York's Upper East Side. Today, the Spotlighters Theatre on St. Paul Street doubles for a Pittsburgh nightclub.

Such transformation means hard work - and even some inconvenience for city dwellers. The closed-off streets, the late-night shooting, the electrical cables and lights everywhere, the crew running in and out of the buildings all the time, the occasional errant piece of trash. McCalla even pitched in when the crew asked her to turn off her air conditioning and keep her dog inside to cut down on background noise during a shoot. She was eager to help.

Hollywood, it turns out, makes a pretty good neighbor.

"When they mess up, they clean up and everything," she says. "If everybody cleaned up like they did, this neighborhood would be fine."

Young actors Logan Lerman and Molly C. Quinn - who play Zellweger's younger son, George, and his newfound girlfriend, Paula - walk along the sidewalk during a break in filming. McCalla greets them, saying how cute they look and wondering aloud if they are becoming an item for real.

Lerman smiles shyly. Quinn's pale complexion betrays a hint of a blush.

Memories of Baltimore

For some stars in the movie, shooting in Baltimore is a kind of homecoming. Kevin Bacon, who plays a one-hit-wonder singer once married to Zellweger's character and father to her two sons, credits Baltimore with bringing him his first big Hollywood break, as one of the stars of Barry Levinson's 1982 Diner.

"I've got a real soft spot in my heart for this city," Bacon says. "You can't picture that movie being anywhere else but Baltimore. Even though people feel that there's a universal quality to the film, to me, it will always feel so Baltimore."

Bacon has come a long way since Diner, in which one of his most memorable scenes involved getting drunk, stripping to his skivvies and substituting for the baby Jesus in a Christmas manger scene ("That was a funny night," he remembers with a laugh, "cold as hell, being stuck out there in my underwear"). More than a quarter-century later, he's looking much more respectable for this role, even natty, in a black-and-white tuxedo, hair cut short, shoes buffed to a blinding shine.

Breaking for a few minutes between scenes, Bacon enjoys a brief trip down Memory Lane. The Philadelphia-born actor sees Timothy Fenwick Jr. as a career-making role for him, after small parts in Animal House and Friday the 13th. And, he says, it's nice to have been in a movie that has remained an important touchstone in so many people's lives.

"One of the greatest thrills," he says, "is when people, regular entertainment customers, stop you on the street. A lot of times it's, 'Oh, you're so-and-so,' or 'I saw you in that movie.' But sometimes it's, 'That movie meant a lot to me.' If I could bottle all that up and put it on my mantelpiece, that's the thing that I think I'm most proud of."

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