It’s true—I stood next to a mostly naked Matthew McConaughey. I also dined with Penelope Cruz.
|CSUM – often referred to as Cal Maritime. I lived and worked on that ship during the summers while I attended that school.|
I had two questions for him: “Is it okay that I don’t know one thing about the movie business?” and “Can I bring my wife?” He said yes to both, and we boarded a plane three days later.
This was an amazing experience, exploring mountain lakes above Marrakesh, and little known villages along the Moroccan coast. I, of course, was in fake-it-till-you-make-it mode. Harry trusted that I had enough common sense to not screw it up.
Eventually the whole crew came to Morocco. They built sets and got everything ready, and then the actors showed up. I was stationed at the port town of Azemmour, where the Er-Rbia River meets the Atlantic Ocean. One day, I was eating with a coworker at our hotel when he suddenly kicked me under the table. I looked up at him, pissed about the pain in my shin. He signaled me to look to my right. Two women sat at the table next to us. (Outside of the U.S., restaurant tables are placed close together, so the women were only inches away.) I looked back at my coworker and motioned: So what? Why did you kick me? He mouthed the words, “Penelope Cruz,” which was when I noticed the famous movie star sitting next to me.
It was my job to familiarize Matthew with one of our jet boats. He would be filmed in one scene driving the boat. When I and my fellow crew members welcomed him aboard, he was very kind and professional. He was also dressed appropriately for the cold and windy winter weather. Like the rest of us, he wore multiple layers for warmth. After introductions and a walk around the vessel, we set off up the river to show Matthew around the area where we would be filming. That’s when things got weird.I silently mouthed back the words: So what? Don’t kick me. I was desensitized to movie stars, as I had spent that afternoon standing next to a mostly naked Matthew McConaughey.
Not two minutes after leaving the dock, Matthew McConaughey began to strip off his clothes—right there next us. My fellow crew members gave each other perplexed looks, as if to ask: What is he doing? When Matthew finished undressing, he wasn’t wearing much. It became clear that he wanted to work on his tan while we were out on the boat. We knew he must have been freezing, yet that was how the whole day went—us standing next to the exposed body of a movie star.
I can say with certainty that Matthew was all business when it came to his job. He worked hard and did not complain. I tell that story a lot, because when people hear I worked on that movie they typically ask about the two stars.
The real reason I bring up my experience in Morocco is not to talk about movie stars. It’s to tell you about the locals.
I loved Morocco, but not because of the sights (although I saw some amazing things). It was because of my interactions with the local people. To give you an example, when I went to a coastal village ahead of the production crew, there was just my wife and me, one other coworker from the marine department, and our driver, who spoke no English.
I just needed to hire one person, so I began to see them one at a time. I discovered that they all spoke some English, but my pathetic inability to understand their accent kept us from communicating.There were no other crew members anywhere. No one around who spoke any English. Yet I needed to accomplish a lot in a short period of time, so I told the head of the Moroccan movie crew that I wanted to hire a translator as soon as possible.
The next day I came out of our makeshift office to find a queue of about 20 men standing outside the door. They were all there in hopes of getting hired as a translator. I don’t think this town saw many foreigners, and they must have known the pay would be decent. They all seemed excited about the opportunity.I asked them only one question as they sat down in front of my desk: “Please say and spell your name.” Seems simple enough, right? But I had a heck of a time understanding or pronouncing their names. Trying to follow along as they spelled them was a nightmare.
I was awfully discouraged until the last guy sat down and introduced himself. He almost sounded American when he said his name—“Amir”—and spelled it out for me. I looked up at him and said, “You’re hired.”
I complimented him on his English, and asked how he learned to speak it so well. He said that he ran the music stand around the corner. He sold pirated copies of CDs and tapes. Much of what he had in his collection was American music. He smiled and sang a couple of verses from Snoop Dog. He’d been listening to American music every day for the last decade, so his English was pretty darn good.
I spent a lot of time with Amir. Every day he was by my side, helping me give directions to the crew members. He laughed with me when I did something silly, and he even started to anticipate what needed to be done. He would take care of things before I asked.A few days after I hired Amir, he helped me hire other locals to prep the site and get ready for the delivery of boats and production sets. They all worked very hard and never complained.
Amir accompanied me when the crew members invited me to their homes for a meal. I loved these visits, because I could see how they lived. I learned more about the people who worked next to me each day. They didn’t know the popular actors working on the movie. To them, I was the movie star. I went out of my way to show them respect and appreciation for their work, their home, and the meal. They almost burst with pride when I sat down at their table for a meal. This, in turn, made me feel like a celebrity. I would glance at Amir with a look that said, “This is amazing.” Amir would smile back as he enjoyed the experience with me.
I was in Morocco for more than three months, and I got to know many of the local crew members well. They were some of the kindest and loveliest people I’ve ever met. I wouldn’t trade those experiences for anything.
I don’t know how best to describe it, other than I got a glimpse of how it feels to be a movie star.