Thursday, June 11, 2009

"Bet Your Life"

Five years ago, NBC tried to ride the reality wave with a series meant to pick the next action star. The winners got to be in a movie, which proved to be "Bet Your Life," shot in Cleveland, which played both Cleveland and Las Vegas. My 2004 Beacon Journal column about the making of the movie is after the jump.
Cleveland comes off better as Las Vegas than as Cleveland.
The city plays both locations in Bet Your Life, a forgettable action movie starring Sean Carrigan and Corinne van Ryck de Groot, the winners of NBC's Next Action Star reality-TV competition. The movie premieres at 8 p.m. Wednesday on NBC.
The production pumped close to $3 million into the local economy, said Chris Carmody, president of the Greater Cleveland Film Commission. While other movies have been shot in the area, Carmody said this was the first full-blown action movie to be done entirely there.
"Los Angeles decision makers have seen some great period architecture used in films," he said. "But few have seen modern Cleveland on film, and what we can accommodate for an action film."
In other words, it's a good place for explosions, car chases and fancy stunts. And when asked if the city wants more of that kind of film fare, Carmody said yes.
"Our job is not art, it's commerce," he said.
The city also benefited from producer Alan Schechter's working on Next Action Star and Bet Your Life. Schechter has done other films in Cleveland, such as the Rob Lowe vehicle Proximity. And Carmody said Schechter preferred Cleveland to Toronto for the movie shoot.
Getting to serve as Las Vegas as well as Cleveland was "something of a sales job," Carmody said. But one of the attractions of Cleveland is "a real diversity of architectural locations. Playhouse Square . . . easily doubled for a Las Vegas casino."
The city is first seen as Las Vegas (including in a scene where Cleveland Hopkins airport has suddenly sprouted slot machines and an Elvis impersonator). Carrigan is playing Sonny Briggs, a down-on-his-luck gambler whose debts to a loan shark have put a bounty hunter (van Ryck de Groot) on his trail.
Sonny has other problems. He witnesses a murder and then gets drawn into a bet with a mysterious gambler named Joseph (Billy Zane). If Sonny can stay alive for 24 hours while Joseph tries to hunt him down and kill him, Sonny will collect $2.4 million.
Evading the hunt, Sonny catches the next plane out of town -- to Cleveland, where you can see many local flourishes, such as a boat named for former Mayor Anthony Celebrezze. You also get to hear some lame snipes at Cleveland.
Echoing a famous line from Apocalypse Now, Joseph declares, "I love the smell of Cleveland in the morning. It smells like -- Cleveland."
When Sonny asks a cabdriver to take him somewhere low profile, the driver replies, "This is Cleveland. Everything is low profile."
Carrigan's own experience in Cleveland was much happier, if considerably secretive.
"Cleveland was very good to me," he said in a telephone interview. "I fell in love with Cleveland." He especially liked the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, shopping in Cleveland Heights and the clubs in the Flats.
"I want to come back," he said. And this time he will be able to operate under his real name.
Bet Your Life was made last fall, after Next Action Star was done but before it aired. So extra steps were taken to keep the Star winners under wraps.
"I had an assumed name," said Carrigan, who was "Sonny Hopkins" during the shoot. If news media were around, he said, "Corinne and I had to stay in our trailers. And neither one of us could take pictures with anybody." He even signed an autograph as Sonny Hopkins.
Of course, at that point he was already used to evasion, hiding that he had won the show from his friends and family. "I had to lie a lot, man," he said.
But he was happy to be in the film, the next step in a career that has taken him from work as a boxer and bouncer to pursuing acting full time. Just as Cleveland had to prove it could host an action movie, so Carrigan is trying to prove he's more than a TV contest winner.
He talked more about being an actor than being an action star, pointing to leading men like Ed Harris and Denzel Washington as inspirations.
Reminded of a recent walk down a red carpet with other NBC stars, photographers clicking away as the Next Action Star cast went by, he said, "Those are the perks. I just want to become a better actor."

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