Several years ago, I had just gotten out of the hospital after having my knee scoped — another wonderful reminder of the joys of carrying a rucksack with 100 lbs of “lightweight gear” around for years. A torn meniscus, all kinds of loose cartilage and junk floating around in there made Steve a very unhappy boy.
Originally the surgeon told me that they’d make two tiny holes on either side of my kneecap so they could “clear out all of that loose crap,” which had caused my knee to swell up to nearly twice its normal size. “Stay off of it for about two weeks and no prolonged standing or walking for about a month,” he said. Well, that wasn’t to be.
Because I got a phone call that day from a film producer that I had worked with on a war film in Morocco. She’s a wonderful woman and very easy to get along with. She needed two personal security guys for the star of a spy film during two weeks of shooting in Israel. They had been filming in Europe and were originally scheduled to shoot in Israel in about two months. But due to some reason, they were heading for Tel Aviv quickly.
As I was the overall security advisor on another of her films, she was interested in hiring my bosses’ company again with the stipulation that I run the show. Would I be interested, she asked. Absolutely interested, I said. She wanted to know if I could be there and ready to go in five days. Sure thing, I said. She got in contact with my boss to work out the details and I was jetting to Tel Aviv out of JFK in business class four days later. Stay off the knee be damned.
My boss in L.A. loved those kinds of deals: he didn’t even have to bid on it, he just had to say yes and send me and one more guy to Israel. That guy turned out to be my friend, and, 99 percent of the time, boss Jack B. Jack is a former Special Forces officer who began his career as a brand new 2LT replacement with Hal Moore’s battalion in the Ia Drang Valley, if memory serves me correctly.
I love Jack, I consider him part of the family. And he loves me too. Every year when I call him on his birthday or on St. Patrick’s Day, he is invariably surprised and happy to hear from me. He usually sees my number on his caller I.D. and answers with, “WTF do YOU want?” Ah, the warmth of close friends. What would we do without it?
As I arrived in JFK from Boston, I went to the international gate for Tel Aviv and was waiting for Jack flying in from hot ‘Lanta. “Jesus Christ, they’ll let anybody on this plane,” I heard from behind me. Have I mentioned how much he loves me?
We were on a fairly empty flight in Business Class and although the office manager from our company had booked us seats next to each other, the flight attendants said if we wanted more room, one of us could slide over to the seat across the aisle. “Good, I don’t want to sit next to him anyway,” Jack drawled. Slightly taken aback at first the flight attendant winked and said, “well you two obviously know each other.” We all laughed and after a steak dinner and a few doubles of that fine French wine from Monsieur Jacques Daniels, it was sleepy time.
We arrived at the Dan Herzilya resort on the Mediterranean coast the next morning. For the most part, our job was going to be really, really easy. The entire cast and crew, other than our Israeli counterparts, would be staying at the hotel. We’d actually do most of our filming there. So, no long movements to a base camp and then to the shooting site location. We had one day at the Tel Aviv airport and a couple of days at an apartment in town, the rest would be right there at the hotel, on the beach.
We met the hotel manager, the concierge and, most importantly, the security manager. All of them were first-class people and extremely accommodating to whatever we needed. The only caveat was from the security manager who had a small staff and told us that he didn’t have enough manpower to handle all of the paparazzi that would be flooding in. What paparazzi, we asked? “Look out in the lobby now,” he said. The large hotel lobby was jam-packed like the mosh pit at a metal concert.
As we were wondering what they were doing there so early, we learned that the star of the picture, Ms. Helen Mirren, decided to fly in early to get some rest. We weren’t expecting her for several more hours. That threw a monkey wrench into everything we had planned, since no one from her personal assistants thought to let us know that little fact. And yes, she was upstairs in her room.
We pushed and elbowed our way through the throng of paparazzi and it was very clear in about 10 seconds why they have such an unfavorable reputation. Making it to the elevator, we zipped up to her room and pushing past the fawning assistants, we made our introductions. She wasn’t impressed and made it abundantly clear that she didn’t want security, didn’t like security and in fact that security guys, in general, made her nervous.
Trying to allay her concerns, I said that we were not going to crowd her and that we’d give her room so she didn’t feel too hemmed in. We’d keep a low profile. “Hah!,” she snorted. “A low profile, you two fucking gorillas?” Jack and I gave each other a look at her language and couldn’t suppress a smile. Reading our minds, she laughed, “you two have a lot to learn about me.” Indeed. We liked her immediately.
But she turned serious, and told us in no uncertain terms, that she wasn’t going downstairs and refused to leave her room until we cleared the hotel of all of those paparazzi types. “We’re on it,” I said. “You two…you’re on it?” she asked with more than a hint of sarcasm. “Tell John, (director John Madden, the English one, not the American one), that I’m not coming down until they’re gone.”
So, there we were, the two of us and about 350 paparazzi. Who you gonna call? Well, not the Ghostbusters. Jack and I had worked in Israel many times in the past providing personal security for some of our bosses’ best clients. And we’d made some good friends. On the way down in the elevator, I called our buddy, who not only knew just about everyone in the country but was never at a loss for knowing what was going on.
He picked up on the second ring, “Steve, how are you? So, are you and Jack liking the view from the hotel?” We hadn’t told him we were coming and thought we’d surprise him and take him out to dinner first chance. How did he know we were there? “I heard the film crew was arriving and you guys were the security, so I guess you need help getting rid of the paparazzi?”
He gave me a number and said to call it right away. The man on the other end, asked a peculiar question? “What are you wearing?” When I hesitated, he said, “I want to know who I need to talk to when I get there. Be out in front of the hotel in five minutes.”
Right on time, three small jeeps pulled up and some guys who looked like linebackers rolled out. The man in charge introduced himself to us as David and told us, “I presume that you can’t get much work done with all of these people here.”
He strode into the lobby, blew a whistle, got the attention of everyone there, and told them that A: they weren’t guests at the hotel, B: weren’t members of the film crew, and C: the hotel and crew didn’t want them there.
He gave them 90 seconds to vacate the premises, or things would become unpleasant, he said, drawing out the last word. He told the paparazzi that he would arrange an area down the street from the hotel where they’d be free to take all the pictures they wanted. But if they bothered the crew at the hotel or pushed past the barricade down the street, “things for you will become unpleasant,” he said again. To drive that point home, those big dudes started to ominously line up along the wall.
The Israelis have this polite, pushy way to tell you to go pound sand that is so unique, so effective, and so utterly Israeli, that it defies description. In a snap, the lobby was clear. The paparazzi went outside and already other men from David’s unit had placed sawhorses down about a block from the hotel. The paparazzi set up behind there and didn’t give us any more trouble.
We thanked David and asked him what unit he was in, because although they wore olive-drab uniforms, there were no unit patches or rank, on anyone. He just smiled, and said, “well you have my number, if you need us, anytime, day or night just call and we can be here in less than five minutes.” With that they hopped in their jeeps and drove off, stopping briefly to speak with some regular Israeli cops who were now at the sawhorses.
Jack and I looked at each other and laughed…. “That was easy,” we both said at the same time as we walked back into the lobby. The security manager came out and smiled, “I guess it pays to know people.” Indeed it does.
So, we hopped in the elevator and zipped back up to Ms. Mirren’s room. We told her the hotel was clear and she was now free to begin work as soon as the crew was ready. She didn’t believe us and wanted to see for herself, so we rode down in the elevator together. The lobby was empty save for the staff and a few actual guests at the desks.
Stepping back inside the tiny cramped elevator, she glanced up at both of us — as she’s tiny, barely 5’4. We smiled and said nothing. For a few seconds, we rode on the elevator in silence before she smiled and said, “Okay who exactly are you two assholes anyway?” Jack answered and that broke the ice. She loved his Alabama drawl and after that, she’d talk mostly to him. Of course, reporting back to our boss in L.A. I painted a much more descriptive picture of it all, for which he called Jack and gave him a ration of good-natured shit about.
And thus began the Israeli version of the “Great Escape” in Tel Aviv. Every night, she’d try to give us the slip and sneak out of the hotel. And while I’m not giving away any sources or methods here, we were onto her at every turn. One night when her husband came into town, the two whisked off for a long walk down the beach over to the marina where there was a slew of restaurants. They didn’t know it but they had company walking in the dark.
We followed just discreetly enough until they entered and sat down and we appeared at the table. We said that we hoped they would enjoy dinner and we’d be right at the door, and wasn’t it a lovely night for a walk on the beach. Her husband, who is not in the film business, laughed and told us that he appreciated us watching out for her. She replied, “don’t encourage those two gorillas.” Ain’t love grand!
When we moved to film in downtown Tel Aviv, Ms. Mirren, her co-stars Tom Wilkinson, who is a wonderful gentleman, and Ciarán Hinds, would walk together to the set, along with us. Mr. Wilkinson would invariably strike up a conversation with us and it looked like a bunch of people having a leisurely walk for about a block. But on-site we would have a slew of Israeli cops blocking all access.
Of course, Jack and I got along famously, except that this time I was in charge, which I reminded him of at least once a day. Our Israeli crew members didn’t quite pick up on the sarcasm. Finally one of the girls asked, “are you two guys related? You’re always picking at each other.”
“He’s my grandfather, and do me a favor, he’s going deaf on his right side from shooting too many weapons in the Army. He’s very sensitive about it, so try to talk to him on his left side so he can hear you,” I replied.
Well, sure enough, word spread through the crew and for two days everyone tried talking to Jack by pushing up close to his left side. Finally, he had enough and asked what the hell everyone was doing. The girl said, “well your grandson…” Jack cut her off. “Stop right there, that damn Yankee is NOT my anything. No one would claim him.” He glared at me and then both of us cracked up. Our Israeli crew members were now even more confused by the idiot Americans who picked at each other constantly.
But behind us, Ms. Mirren and Mr. Madden, the director, were smiling. ”I told you they were assholes.” See, I knew she loved us.