Helena Meade's alarm went off in the morning at four-thirty. She wasn't nearly ready to get up, but it was the first day's shooting of her first significant featured role. She didn't think that there was much chance of waking her two flatmates, but she still walked as quietly as she could to the bathroom, where she turned on the shower.
It was deliberately only warm rather than hot, but she didn't intend to be in there long and the water would hopefully wake her up. After quickly drying herself, she dressed in the casual clothes that she'd laid out last night, put on her trainers, then she went to the kitchen to get herself a bowl of cereal.
Helena was nineteen and the youngest daughter of the well-known husband and wife actors, Christopher Meade and Annabelle Elmley: her older sister, Claire, was also an actress, currently working with the RSC in Stratford, so Helena couldn't say that any of this had come as a shock to her. She had grown up in a household where her parents, either singularly or together, were often gone in the morning before she was awake; or they had left for the theatre before she arrived home from school each day; or they were away on location for weeks or months at a time. But as the cliché goes, acting was in her blood and she never, apart from when she was a tiny girl and wanted to be a mermaid, wanted to be anything else!
After A-levels, she had opted for the Central School of Speech and Drama, rather than RADA, where the rest of her family had attended and her parents had first met. She had been told what time to expect her driver, so she was waiting near the entry-phone for him to arrive.
"Brian Sedgewick for Miss Meade," the male voice said.
"I'll be right down."
A young man, seemingly not much older than herself, stood by the shiny S-Class Mercedes. "Front or back, Miss?"
" ... Mmm ... front, please!"
"Shall I take your bag, Miss?"
"No thanks, I'm fine!" Helena said.
They were soon gliding along the mostly traffic-free streets.
"Brian ... it's okay to call you that, isn't it ... will you be my driver every day?"
"Yes, Miss ... unless you request a replacement ... but some people like the continuity." She looked at his really quite handsome profile and smiled.
"Yes, I can see that! But if you are going to be my driver for as long as it takes, will you call me Helena, instead of 'Miss', please!"
"Yes, of course!"
"You know, no one's ever collected me like this before, and in such a nice car ... it's rather exciting!" Helena exclaimed. "Have you been a driver long, Brian?"
"For nearly three years now: but I don't just drive, I'm also an extra; I can ride motorbikes and horses ... and I'm killed on a regular basis; sometimes more than once in the same production!" Helena smiled again.
"And how did you get into the business, Brian?"
" ... A personal recommendation: someone I knew was a driver and they told their employer about me. They usually use older people, but they needed someone right away, and once I'd started they kept me on. Becoming an extra was much the same: I was driving for a production company, on a film set in the nineteenth century, and they were short of a soldier on horseback to ride past the star's carriage and tip their hat. And, again, someone knew I rode, so they rushed me into costumes and make-up, and an hour or so later they had their shot and I was an extra!"
"And you have no aspirations to do more actual acting?" Helena asked him.
" ... No, Miss ... Helena ... I'll leave that up to the professionals, like yourself! I think I already have the best of both worlds ... and the worst ... long days and lots of hanging around; but it's not a bad life for all that! And is this your first film?"
"No ... but it's my first big part! My parents are both in the business, so if they needed a small child for a scene or two they were in, like you, Brian, I was often it! Have you ever driven for my parents?"
"No, but I have colleagues who have. We are briefed about who we'll be driving for ... we need to know so we can work out the journey logistics ... so I usually look people up on the Internet before hand. With respect, Helena, there's not much on there about you yet; but obviously your parents and your sister feature more. Some people are happy to chat, some just want to sit quietly, or even sleep.
"There's not much further to go now. I may see you around during the day, but please don't feel obliged to acknowledge me if you do; there is an informal etiquette. And when you want to go home, you just tell one of the production staff. Do you have a trailer?"
"I believe so ... another first!"
"Okay! I'll take you to sign in at the gate and collect your key, then I'll take you round there..."
"Well, thank you, Brian: for your help and your experience! And I don't think that I need to ask for a replacement!"
After quite a long day's filming, Brian took Helena home in the evening. And following his suggestion, she travelled in the back of the car and slept for most of the journey. Brian had also had a few background crowd scenes where, although she was oblivious to his presence, he'd had the opportunity to observe her performances. Their paths did cross during the day, and although she didn't acknowledge him publicly; as he'd said, they exchanged fleeting glances and the merest of smiles.
Helena wasn't required to work every day during the production; but on those days that she didn't, she returned to the Central School to try and catch up on her work. But when she was working, Brian never failed to appear at the expected time of morning ... although the same couldn't be said of Helena Meade!
He pushed the button and waited. He was used to hearing her usual, ' ... Morning ... down in a minute!' practically straight away; but this particular morning there was no response. Brian tried again, and after a few minutes, again.
" ... Oh, God!" the panicky voice said, " ... I'm so sorry ... come on up, Brian!"
He pushed open the front door and climbed the stairs. Helena wasn't about, but he could see a light and hear the sound of a shower running. The water stopped, the door opened, and a naked figure clutching a towel rushed out.
" ... Flatmates away ... overslept," she exclaimed, " ... give me ten minutes!" It was more like twenty. " ... Right! Shall we go!"
"No ... not until you've eaten something!"
" ... But I haven't got time!" she protested.
"You have..." he insisted. He led her into the kitchen, where a bowl containing cereal was waiting, together with a spoon. Opening the fridge door he took out milk, which he handed to her. " ... And eat slowly!"
"Thank you, Brian!" she said afterwards, " ... But aren't we awfully late, now?"
"It happens to everyone occasionally ... some more than others!" he said, calmly, "This time of morning I can usually make some time up ... and if anyone asks, which they probably won't, tell them I was late!"
" ... But I can't!" she exclaimed, "I can't let you take the blame for me, Brian!"
"It's really not a problem! What's worse, do you think: you being a few minutes late on set; or the whole production schedule being held up because you've fainted, because you haven't eaten!"
" ... I suppose so," she said, "Thank you again! And by the way ... the nudity..." He smiled:
" ... It was essential to the plot..." Helena chuckled.
Nothing was said about them being late: Brian did make up some of the time during the journey; and by the time she'd been in make-up, Helena was still ready for the first run-through.
There were no more mornings of oversleeping and the film's shooting was completed more or less on schedule. The film itself was a critical success, and Helena Meade's reputation was significantly enhanced because of her role in it. She graduated from the Central School, and went on to work regularly in both films and the theatre. Brian also continued to work continuously in both of his capacities.
Several years passed before Helena was cast for a film by the same production company again. By this time she had earned enough to buy a house of her own in a different part of London. It was another first day of shooting: this time at the Leavesden Studio, just north of Watford. Her doorbell rang.
"Good morning, Brian! It's very nice to see you again: how long has it been?"
"About four years I believe, Miss Meade!" She frowned at him.
"Now you know better than that, Brian ... it's still 'Helena' as far as I'm concerned! I'm ready when you are..."
She went straight to the front passenger door, which he held open for her and closed when she was in. The Mercedes had been replaced with an Audi A8.
"So how have you been, Brian?" she asked, "Do you have any work as an extra on this one?"
"I've been very well, thank you! There's been no shortage of work: the industry seems to be in quite a healthy state. And, yes, I've been hired as an extra this time, too. I've been following your career with interest: you've been quite busy yourself."
" ... Mmm ... that's the way it goes sometimes: the more you're in the public eye; the more people want you! I'm fortunately still at that stage where I get more offers than I've time to do them; but I still feel reluctant to turn things down, knowing how precarious this career can be."
"And did you enjoy working in Hollywood?"
" ... You have been following my career, Brian!" she exclaimed, " ... Yes, it was very enjoyable; but ten months there was enough for a while! I'd rather work here for less money, I think!"
"And your sister is doing very well, too..."
" ... Yes, and I'm now an aunty as well! We have a project in the pipeline for next year ... it will be the first time that we've worked together, professionally; I hope it happens, but money is always the determiner!"
"Here's our junction: it's not such a long journey this time; but I know that there's some location work coming up soon. Have you worked at Leavesden before, Helena?"
"No, first time ... you?"
"Yes, you don't have to physically sign in here: we just let them know that you're here, then I'll take you to the production office."
"Thank you! You are once again your usual efficient self, Brian ... I'm glad I asked for you this time!"
After the end of the first day's shooting, Brian stopped outside Helena's house and opened the car door for her.
"Would you like a coffee, Brian, or have you got to get off home?"
"Yes, please! I have time."
"I've never asked whether you have a family," she continued, "If you have, it must be hard on them: the hours you work; whatever time I have to get up in the morning, you must get up even earlier!"
"No, there's just me," Brian replied, "And I don't mind getting up early, if that's the price of having a job that I enjoy! I had my share of late night socialising when I was younger ... it was fun then, but I don't miss it. And I've had girlfriends, but it's very difficult to sustain a relationship when you work the sort of hours we do. I think that's why a lot of people in your profession, and doctors, etc, marry others in the same job ... at least they have an understanding of what's involved. And whenever I've seen pictures of you, 'off duty', so to speak, you've always been with other actors."
"So what do you do in those rare hours when you're not working, Brian?"
" ... You mean apart from sleeping! Well, since I saw you last, I've finished an Open University degree: I now have a Bachelor of Arts in Humanities. I'm trying to decide whether to keep going towards a higher degree."
" ... Oh, that's wonderful!" Helena said, "If you enjoy it, I really think you should!
"Brian ... as you are now a man of letters; there's something that perhaps you can help me with! This is quite a tricky script, and I have quite a large part ... I was wondering if you could help me to learn it! I get the next days shooting schedule every day, and although I have a reasonable overview of everything, I'd really appreciate some help with each day's part. If you could spare a couple of hours every evening when you drop me off, we could go through it together, and then you could listen to it in the car the next morning ... I'll even supply supper!"
"Of course, I'd be happy to help! Have you got a way to copy your lines?"
" ... Mmm ... I have a computer printer that makes copies. Can you organise that, Brian ... I'll have a quick shower then get the supper on."
"Will you be streaking again!" Helena laughed.
" ... Oh, you remember that, do you!" she said, grinning, " ... Only if it's absolutely essential to the plot!"
Brian made himself a copy of the next day's script and sat down to read through it while Helena was busying herself elsewhere. She was right: at some points she had lots of dialogue ... almost monologue ... compared to the actor who was playing her husband! He now appreciated all of the six years study he'd done to achieve his degree: he wouldn't have been able to do this before then!
"Are you ready to eat now?" Helena asked him. He took his seat at the table. "It's only something simple: did you eat at the studio today?"
"Yes, thank you! I often only eat there and don't bother when I get home ... but it looks very nice!"
"I'd offer you wine or beer; but perhaps I shouldn't if you're driving! But there's coffee in the kitchen, or I can make tea..."
"No, I never drink if I'm driving, thank you! Coffee will be fine!"
"So have you had a chance to look at it?"
"Yes, I see what you mean: I hope it's not all like that!"
"No, thankfully not! But you can see why I need help."
"So what do you usually do?" Brian asked her.
" ... Just repetition: reading and re-reading! It's surprising how much you do remember ... and of course, that's why we spend all those years training! Mummy and Daddy used to get Claire and me to read with them; and I suppose it kind of rubs off on you after a while!"
"Do directors give you room to manoeuvre, or do they know exactly how they want it done and you follow? As extras we take direction: but it's usually just when to start, when to stop, and when to fall over!"
"Well, I don't think there are any Cecil B DeMille or Erik von Stroheim types any more! Directors obviously have to interpret a script; but most are flexible about the best way to get what they want from actors. It helps enormously if you trust a director's judgement, though. With a stage play you usually have more time to work out details in rehearsal; but as you know, films are usually made in fragments and out of sequence and time is always a consideration! And to be honest, the edit can compensate for a lot of less than perfect performances! I'm sure that you have just as much pride in what you do, as I have..."
But it seemed to help: after a couple of hours of working together, Helena thought that she was much better equipped than she had been, and Brian also had a much better appreciation of what real acting was all about.
"Thank you so much, Brian!" she said, as she saw him to the front door, "I don't know about you, but I'm ready for my bed!"
There were some days during the filming when there weren't a lot of lines to learn; but Helena found that she always enjoyed Brian's company and so he usually had coffee when he dropped her off and before he went home. She also soon realised that, not only was he word-perfect on her lines, but those of the other characters as well! So, from the time that they got into the car in the morning, the journey was practically a full rehearsal. They even sometimes left her home a little earlier than necessary; so that they could travel by a slightly longer route if she had a lot of lines that day. And not only were they going through the lines together ... but he was also driving at the same time.
They were now more than two-thirds of the way through the filming schedule. Helena didn't think that she'd ever enjoyed a production so much ... she was also acutely aware of the reasons why. Not only was Brian her regular supper guest, but she also invited him to shower and change when they got back in the evening, and she often saw him without a shirt ... and she did like what she saw!