Actors Boil Under Sun
By Janet Boyle
June 28, 1977
The Intelligencer Staff
Actors Boil Under Sun
By Janet Boyle
Dressed in heavy winter coats and hats, 100 "millworkers" on the set of "The Deer Hunter" in Mingo Junction Monday perspired profusely in the hot summer sun.
The bearded man in brown corduroy levis, a khaki hunting vest and heavy work shoes looked like most of the others assembled and few paid much attention as he made his way through the Commercial Street mill gate to the area where cameras were set up.
Slowly, though, word passed through the crowd "That's Robert De Niro...over there, with the beard."
Oblivious to their stares, De Niro casually checked the script for the opening scene, talked with Director Michael Cimino and waited calmly while he was wired for sound by set technicians.
De Niro and fellow principal actors John Savage, Christopher Walken, John Cazale and George Dzundza climbed a flight of stairs and entered a red brick building.
"Quiet, please," shouted a man with a bullhorn "Background Here we go Roll it Action!"
The door at the top of the stairs burst open and the five actors trooped out, laughing and joshing one another as they ran down the steps. "Cut." Cimino walked over to talk with the men.
The scene was repeated half a dozen times. With each take the horseplay got a little rougher until Cazale once was knocked to the ground.
The sun beat down on the extras, waiting for their scene to be filmed, but not a man complained as the scene was repeated.
"I'm just glad to be here," Richard Byers of Mingo Junction said. "I'm not even a millworker but I just wanted to be in the movies."
Byers said he did not register for a part in the film when casting directors interviewed prospective extras in Aracoma Park several weeks ago but was "discovered," much like Lana Turner, as he sat at the bar in the American Citizens Slovak Club.
"They took my picture and asked me if I wanted to be in the movie," he said. "I think it was the brush cut they liked," he said, running his hand over his crew cut.
Harry Rensi of Steubenville said he was happy to be in the film even though it means a substantial pay cut from his usual mill salary.
The men turned their attention again to De Niro as he downed a paper cup of orange soda between takes. Several eyed the cup as if they were tempted to snatch it for a souvenir but no one made a move.
They watched as De Niro removed the Mack truck baseball cap he wore and smoothed his hair, turned to scan the crowd and spoke to Cimino.
The extras saw nothing particularly outstanding physically about the man who has been called the "new Laurence Olivier." Of average height and build, De Niro has soft brown eyes, short cropped brown hair and a well-trimmed beard.
His manner is quiet and thoughtful, whether he is discussing a scene with Cimino or signing autographs.
It's not until the cameras roll that De Niro really seems to come alive and every eye on the set follows him.
"He's a genius," one member of the film crew said reverently. "I could watch him all day."
Most of the people on the set did get to watch De Niro at work all day - extras worked from 8 a.m. until late afternoon to earn their $25.
The scenes shot Monday called for the extras to enter their cars and leave the mill parking lot, according to Tony Gaznick, atmostpher and casting director. The men were coming off the midnight shift at 7 a.m., he said.
Shooting today and Wednesday calls for 100 extras, he said, and about 45 will be needed for scenes in Welsh's Lounge to be filmed Thursday.
The crew will leave Mingo Junction for Weirton, Follansbee, Steubenville and McKeesport after Thursday but is scheduled to return near July 12.
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