What an honor to work with Mickey Rooney and Margaret O’Brien!
On March 8, 2014, we started photography on the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It had been a project long on my mind and it had finally come to fruition.
As an educator for many years, I was always deeply disappointed that there was not a “teachable” movie version of Stevenson’s novella. So, ultimately, I decided to make one. The goal has always been to create a true-to-text adaptation that could be used in education but was shot with theatrical sensibilities.
In 2013, the screenplay was written and pre-production began. Somehow or another, we landed the involvement of two Oscar winners — Mickey Rooney and Margaret O’Brien. Simply incredible. I then joined them for a Valentine’s Day dinner to get to know them a bit and shake hands on the project!
What an experience … the food was fine (sushi for dinner and Thai desert) but the attention those two received was amazing. They were approached throughout the night with respect and awe. In return, completely gracious and thankful for the acknowledgement.
So, on March 8, 2014, we had our first day of shooting in Van Nuys. We shot with both Mickey and Margaret in the same scene. Actors David Beatty and Zan Alda had the fortune of performing with them on our opening day of production.
We started off the day with Margaret, shooting over-the-shoulders with actor Hans Hernke, standing in for Mickey. Margaret was the consummate professional and incredible to work with (we shot another scene with her as well) on the film. When Mickey showed up, he was excited to work and ready to go. We shot his scene with two cameras rolling the entire time, and wrapped early in the afternoon. Throughout the day, he shared stories, joked around, and performed professionally. It was a great way to kick off the first day of shooting a movie!
We broke for a meal, for which Mickey joined us. He spent the next 90 minutes sharing Hollywood stories and giving advice for long-term durability in the business. My favorite: “Always have fun.”
He left a short while later and had made arrangements to visit us again on set later on a day in April.
And then, what happened next …
shocked us all. Mickey passed on April 6, 2014, one month after we shot his scene. As it turns out, Jekyll and Hyde would be his final performance. A few weeks prior, he had shot a role for Night in the Museum 3, then he shot for us.
In a strange way, regardless of what happens with the movie, we were a very small part of film history, able to share time with the incredible and legendary Mickey Rooney.
What an honor it was to helm this production and work with him. Everyone involved that day was deeply honored and touched.
A few weeks later, on April 22, we shot with Margaret O’Brien again, this time in Huntington Beach, and the day was fabulous. It was near the end of principal photography and a location shoot. My daughter was in the scene as well! I had the good fortune to direct an Oscar winner, and she had the honor of acting with one on the same day!
It was a great way to close out production after such a saddening event a few weeks earlier.
I hope to have the movie done early to mid-2015.
By Brian Barsuglia