Pasadena, Calif. — In the middle of a 19-day, all-network television showcase, exhibitors have to do something to catch the attention of critics, and USA cable’s presentation was catchier than most.
First, we got the softer side of Attila the Hun, then a visit from the acting bug.
The bug, a Madagascan hissing cockroach the size of a baby’s foot, was in the house to promote “They Nest,” a USA original scheduled for 8 p.m. July 25.
The “They” of the movie are mutant, flesh-eating roaches; their preferred nesting place is inside human bodies. The film’s less-than-appetizing motto: “You are what they eat.”
But the giant insect that roach wrangler Brad McDonald brought for show-and-tell was merely an actor, not a man-eater. Making a theatrical entrance, McDonald carried the little thespian in in his mouth, coughed it out, grabbed it in his hand and shamelessly announced: “Excuse me folks, I seem to have caught this nasty bug that’s going around.”
In spite of its nightmarish size, the brown-and-black roach didn’t look all that nasty, nor did it hiss, which it reportedly does a lot in its native Madagascar. It just wriggled a little in McDonald’s hand and waved one or two of its tiny limbs, like a party guest who sees a friend across the room right after biting into an hors d’oeuvre.
The cockroach was one of 500 that professional handler McDonald got to swarm over the film’s Vancouver set. His job isn’t so much to train roaches as to keep track of their comings and goings, especially the latter.
Letting them run around inside their on-set bug corral is easy, he said, but getting them back is hard, “especially when you get to 496, 497, 498 and your bin is empty, and you spend a couple of hours digging around in crevices and crannies poking around, trying to find the last little guy.”
” What usually wound up happening, when we decided to pack it in, is that (the missing roach) wound up sticking inside somebody’s shirt, in their pocket, in their pants,” he said. “A couple of nights, I’d be disrobing to go to bed and there would be a cockroach in my pants, who would drop on the floor and run around.”
If anything sounds scarier than a rogue cockroach hiding in your pants, it’s a big, hairy Hun with horns on his head and murder in his heart. But the head Hun has gotten a bum rap, according to USA executive Adam Shapiro, whose network will unveil its four-hour “Attila” in early 2001.
” Most people have a preconceived notion of who Attila was,” Shapiro said, making a case for the Hun as honeybunch. “If you ask, they’ll probably use words like ‘warrior,’ ‘barbarian,’ ‘brutal,’ ‘deadly.’ He might have been some or all of those things, but the truth is, history was written by his enemies.
“We’ve focused on showing his more human side: his love for his family, his love of his people, his design for uniting his country to be a great nation.”
Playing this cuddlier Attila will be Scottish actor Gerry Butler, who found the role a challenge in more ways than one.
In addition to long hours of horseback-riding and sword-fighting lessons, Butler had to work with a voice coach so that his accent didn’t stand out among the mostly American cast.
“I think there was a bit of concern,” he recalled, laughing. ” It looked like I could get the American accent, but there were some times — I think the word that (became a problem) was ‘food.’
“I would go, you know, ‘Why plunder for fuuuud . . . ?’ I have to say, I did work pretty hard on it.”
“The brother’s probably gonna get kicked out first . . . They’re probably gonna get rid of the brother first, then the sister.”
— Teck Holmes, former cast member of MTV’s “The Real World” and host of the cable channel’s new “DFX,” in a joking reference to the two African-American participants on CBS’ “Big Brother”
“I’ve seen wild animals making out now for long enough.”
— comic Jonathan Winters, subject of an August profile on PBS, on why he no longer watches nature documentaries
Copyright 2000 Journal Sentinel Inc.