OLLIE MCATEER: My acting debut as County Times is transformed into slice of Hollywood

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When I was 12, or 11 (I can’t remember and it doesn’t really matter) I played Friar Tuck in a Greenway School production of Robin Hood.

It was the first time I’d been on stage and, always the attention seeker, it turned out acting suited me very well.

JPCT 280613 Filming outside the new West Sussex County Times office in Horsham. West Sussex County Times reporter Ollie McAteer (who was an extra) centre, with actress Natalia Ryumina. Photo by Derek Martin

JPCT 280613 Filming outside the new West Sussex County Times office in Horsham. West Sussex County Times reporter Ollie McAteer (who was an extra) centre, with actress Natalia Ryumina. Photo by Derek Martin

Finally I had something to channel my over confidence which would normally get me thrown out of the classroom for being ‘disruptive’.

The crowd loved Friar Tuck.

When I left the school one teacher said I was a natural and encouraged me to pursue acting as a career.

So I did. Jim Carrey was my role model - I can still reel off the entire script of Ace Ventura: Pet Detective.

In my early teens I took part in a couple of small productions, nothing major. Then an exciting opportunity arose to move to secondary school and take drama more seriously.

But I failed to secure a drama scholarship - confidence knock number one.

In the months that followed I grew self-conscious. A bout of acne drained my confidence.

I took teachers’ advice on shaping my abilities as damning criticism.

And suddenly I wasn’t making the audience laugh. Teenage angst had grabbed me round the throat and slapped me hard across the face.

I stopped acting.

But I’ve since matured into the confident stallion I am today, and I regret my decision.

So when Horsham-based Fact Not Fiction Films offered me the chance to star in their new movie, how could I resist?

They didn’t bother to go through my agent, I happened to bump into one of the directors in my office loo.

The team are using the County Times as a set for A Dark Reflection - an investigative thriller about a journalist who uncovers something sinister in the aviation world.

“Well, we do need an extra to hold a charity box - do you think you could do that?” asked the director.

Sir, I will be best charity box holder to ever bless the big screen.

Outside the office film crew had transformed a ten metre stretch of pavement into a slice of Hollywood.

The scene is an exciting one.

A spy - played by a former Miss Latvia which I was very pleased about - has infiltrated the Sussex Standard office (the County Times’ historical branding). Upon leaving she runs into the journalist and lead role Rita Ramnani.

My part was to shake a charity box and ask two passers-by for money as the spy and journo swoop past me.

Take one cuts and someone shouts: “Guy with the charity box can you not look at the camera, it’s really obvious.”

Amateur. This time I’ll nail it.

“Cut! Charity guy can you not shake your box, it’s too noisy.”

Take three.

“Cut! Charity guy this time start off by looking in the other direction.”

Take five is ready when a police car speeds past the set and stops by Shelley Fountain.

“Sorry, I need to go and report on this,” I explain.

“But you can’t leave,” replies one director sporting Ray-Bans even though it isn’t sunny. “You’re the charity guy!”

The police car is joined by another, then a riot van. My colleagues are on the case while I stand there, shoes glued to the pavement, miming ‘donation?’ for the 100th time.

Take six, seven, eight. I’ve been here for more than two hours. They experiment with camera angles until I’m convinced my part is cut out altogether. It’s not the debut I’d hoped for.

On my walk home I bump into an old family friend. “Is that Friar Tuck?” she called.

Ten years later and I’m still riding on the back of that wave.