Jean Marbella: Can Baltimore be made over as Washington?

How to act when HBO comes to town to film 'Game Change'

March 19, 2011|By Jean Marbella, The Baltimore Sun

We've arrived, I think.

The Baltimore area has long been used by Washington politicians seeking outside-the-Beltway backdrops and beating well-worn paths to the GM plant in White Marsh or Jimmy's in Fells Point. But now, Baltimore itself has been cast in something of a role reversal — playing Washington.

That's right: Baltimore has become Washington's body double.

Just as Julia Louis-Dreyfus wrapped up filming the HBO pilot and political satire "Veep" in these parts, another HBO crew is headed here to film "Game Change," based on the wonderfully dishy book of the same name about the 2008 presidential campaign.

I'm not sure if going from the anti-Washington to pretend Washington is necessarily a step up, but I can see why Baltimore makes sense, particularly for "Game Change." There are any number of sites around the state that can stand in for the kind of photo-op campaign stops depicted in the bestselling book by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann. Not to mention, for the powerbroker scenes, we can do marble halls, generic hotel rooms and expense-account restaurants, too.

(Or perhaps we were picked simply because the filmmakers only read through the first few pages of the book? It opens with a scene of then-Sen. Hillary Clinton idling on the tarmac at Martin State Airport in 2004, chewing on pizza as she waits for the weather to clear in Chicago, where she was headed to two fundraisers for a bright young Illinois state senator named — wait for it — Barack Obama.)

Whatever the reason, I have no worries that we can come up with the proper settings to pass as Washington. My real worry is us.

For all our charms — or rather, because of them — Baltimoreans just aren't Washingtonians. We actually look up from our BlackBerrys on occasion, the TVs at our bars aren't set to C-SPAN, we wear clothes that don't come exclusively from Talbots or Brooks Brothers.

But how will we get in any scenes then? Admit it, you're dying for even a bit part — an aide to one of the senators who goes behind Hillary's back to urge Obama to run, or the John McCain operative who decides to bring in a speech coach to work with Eliza Doolittle, I mean Sarah Palin.

I for one am going to be brushing up on Acting Like a Washingtonian 101 in case I get anywhere near the set. Surely I can be part of some scene involving a media scrum; I've been in enough of them down there that I even know the difference between a pool and a pool spray, a gaggle and a briefing. I think.

For practice, I'm going to start by not calling anyone by their actual names. In Washington, they either go all royal-reverent by using titles rather than names, as in, "as I was telling the Speaker at the fourth hole …" or arch-ironic with acronyms, i.e., POTUS and FLOTUS for the first couple. In fact, to add to my Washington cred, I'm going to start calling Malia and Sasha DOPOTUS.

For extra bonus points, I'm going to figure out all the nicknames the punditry class likes to use, like T-Paw or K-Lo (apparently, Minnesota Gov. and potential 2012 candidate Tim Pawlenty and National Review-er Kathryn Lopez).

The thing is, it's pretty easy to fake Washington insider-ness, what with all the online tipsheets put out by members of the media-political complex these days. But you can cheat by reading just one: Politico's Playbook, by Mike Allen. (Or rather — see nickname rule above — "Mikey.")

As D.C.'s own Gossip Boy, the omnipresent Allen offers a daily distillation of what's being said, eaten, drunk, obsessed about, etc., in clubby Washington circles. Which, apparently, is everything from a potential Japanese nuclear apocalypse to the NCAA brackets to which Hill aide is having a birthday and which Republican congressman was seen chuckling as he left a recent LGBT Equality Caucus gathering that he mistakenly wandered into. (That would be Maryland's own Roscoe Bartlett.)

And if you run into me in town and I seem, uh, distracted, don't be offended. I'm just practicing The Scan.

This is in case they need extras for a Washington party scene. I've been opposite The Scan so often, I have this down: You'll be talking to someone and suddenly feel his or her eyes drifting, usually over one of your shoulders, then the other. You think: Dandruff? Baby spit-up? What?

Nope, it's The Scan, prompted by the Washingtonian sense that there's always someone more important in the room to schmooze.

To really nail that party scene, scan before you're scanned.

jean.marbella@baltsun.com

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