“Do you want the chickens in the scene, or out?” I asked the director of the new American TV series Tyrant, being filmed in my front yard in Jaffa. The director’s chair and her entourage were parked less than a yard outside my front door at the spot where the dog normally naps and eats her food.
“Out,” she said.
That was my cue to start chicken chasing.
Though I wasn’t cast as an extra for the show, currently filming its first season in Israel, I couldn’t help but feel like I was an extra in my own private movie as my friend Ofer and I tried to corral my five hens and one rooster toward their coop. On Sunday when they were preparing the house, the production crew chief had said, ‘Chickens, yes; dogs, no.’ But the director ruled otherwise.
So there we were, chasing chickens with no interest to return to their coop. Ofer had ulterior motives, as he was hoping to steer one under the legs of the Israeli beauty Moran Atias, who has also appeared in Crash and Mother of Tears.
The setting was supposed to look like the home and yard of an Arab sheikh, and in Jaffa, this made sense –– home to a 50/50 split of Arabs and Jews. Many of the homes here still look authentic, as does ours built in the Ottoman period about one hundred years ago.
As Ofer chased chickens in one direction, I was thinking about the male lead, Adam Rayner (playing the role of Barry Al Fayeed), and wouldn’t have minded if the rooster ran toward his legs, which at that point were relaxing in a plastic chair beside the director on my stoop.
The TV series portrays the life of an American family caught up in the Middle East conflict. That’s about all I got from Wikipedia and a trailer. When a film crew comes to your home, it’s pretty much on a need-to-know basis.
Dig, another American TV series about archeology, is also filming in Israel. Tyrant normally films at studios in Kfar Saba. On this last day in June around 3pm, the yard was full of people, mostly extras — about 75 men and women dressed in traditional Arab gear and speaking mainly Arabic. It looked like they had been hired from the mosque around the corner.
The executive staff was all American, it appeared, as English was the main language on the set.
We got a kick out of this one: There were also two extra “hairy” males in vested galabiyas holding machine guns inside our front gate. My husband, the perennial comedian, urged me to take a photo. Not because he cared about TV or getting close to fame but because he wanted these pictures for future use. On a day-to-day basis, our home houses a non-profit organization that gives a stage to world music. We normally see more musicians than machine guns. “No one has to know they were part of a set,” he joked.
About a third of the bodies moving between takes were Israelis, brought on through a local production company. Filming movies and TV in Israel clearly has a positive effect on the economy. And for a culture that normally doesn’t live by the clock, this crew ran like a Swiss train schedule. Each played a very specific part.
But they had no idea how to move chickens.
One had tried enticing them with seeds that we give them for breakfast. Another tried clucking. Mainly though, the crew and some actors were caught taking selfies with the chickens.
With a camera boom coming down in full swing toward me, preparing for the next shot, I gave up chicken chasing. But as I went inside, leaving Ofer behind for his magic moment with Moran, I managed to find a spot on the stairs to walk by Rayner, who lifted his leg for me to pass.
Blushing like a Beatles fan from the ’60s, I told my husband about how dashing this man looked.
“Go back out, catch one of those chickens, stand in front of him and ask him how he likes it cooked,” was his reply.
And I actually considered doing it.
As a former foreigner to this country, I still have a lot to learn about Israeli chutzpah. But you’ll see some of it on Tyrant, which was set to debut on the FX Network June 24.
And watch for my chickens!