GOOD MORNING from Rome, where, for the first time in 50 years of set-hopping, I stopped production. The location was in the Etruscan museum of the 16th-century Villa Giulia; it’s doubling for a Boston museum in Rysher’s “The 18th Angel.” Tucked away in a corner, off the Borghese Gardens, the villa and museum stand in peaceful contrast to the Romans racing nearby on their noisy motor scooters. Filmmakers William Hart and Douglas Curtis greeted me warmly in the museum courtyard, where yellow tulips crowned the gorgeous gardens. They led me into the museum proper, where William Bindley was directing the scene with 16-year-old Rachael Leigh Cook as she was approaching a sixth century B.C. sarcophagus, which shows a dead couple “at the eternal banquet.” As I started to look about the set, director Bindley motioned for me to step outside as they stopped shooting. The problem? “Your jacket,” said Bindley. “It’s purple.” I was wearing a purple Planet Hollywood jacket, a souvenir from emceeing the eatery’s Miami Beach opening two years ago. “Purple is bad luck on a movie set in Italy,” he said. “It means death — it’s worn by priests at funerals.” I asked about the purple wisteria growing all over the walls but was told that’s different. Not wanting to cast a pall over a Hollywood crew locationing far from home, I agreed to return in a happier ensemble. I returned to a funeral sequence the next day in the Valdese Church in the Piazza Cavour. I wasn’t wearing purple — the priests were, but that was OK: It was a funeral.
IN A PULPIT, PERCHED HIGH above a churchful of mourners (Italians doubling for Bostonians), young thesp Cook looked down at a casket containing the body of her mother, played by Wendy Crewson (Tim Allen’s wife in “The Santa Clause”). Cook asked her real mom to move out of her range as she delivered farewell words, shedding real tears. This is a dramatic change from her last movie, “The Carpool” with Tom Arnold. “I spent eight weeks in a car full of kids,” she laughed. “The 18th Angel” is “a crossover movie,” said Jim Burke, exec VP of Rysher and the movie’s exec producer, along with screenwriter David Seltzer (“The Omen”). “It’s a suspense thriller, scary!” Producers Hart and Curtis showed me a reel prepared for Cannes. The scenes range from Prague in a snowstorm (filmed earlier) to establishing shots of Boston, and Italy’s Etruscan countryside, with sets built by Stefano Ortolaji that go up in flames at the finale. “Jumanji” cinematographer Tom Ackerman captures it all; the cast includes Oscar-winner Max Schell as a priest unlike any seen on the screen before. “It’s a nice profession, playing a priest,” Schell laughed. “I’ve played them up to the pope; I even played a saint!” In “Angel,” he’s a man of the cloth “who thinks God is vain,” said Max. His character fights spiritually with Christopher McDonald, who plays Cook’s father. Although pic has no gore or creatures, there’s plenty of special effects in a story that spans centuries. McDonald called Cook “a (young) combination of Winona Ryder and Julia Roberts!” Ever busy, McDonald stars for Rysher again in “The Seventh Scent,” a comedy … Cook is tutored between scenes by Wesley Staples, president of the Studio Teachers IA Local 884. He added his compliments to the youngster … Stanley Tucci, who co-stars, was a Sundance winner for his script of “Big Night.” He now has a two-year production deal with Rysher; the next is “Ship of Fools” (will need a different title, natch). He’ll script, co-star and direct for Keith Samples’ company.
WITH A BUDGET OF $25 MILLION, “Angel” has 270 scenes, and Burke said it is the first “soup-to-nuts” Rysher film to be made in Europe. “We lose a little in the currency exchange,” he volunteered, but said it is worth it. The alternative was to shoot it in Northern California, but director Bindley felt strongly about Italy. Now that we see what he’s getting on film, we agree. “Six serious studios are already asking to see” the presentation at Cannes. Along with other Rysher films –“Turbulence,” “Going West in America,” plus “Kingpin” with Woody Harrelson, Bill Murray and Randy Quaid — MGM will release their “Two Days in the Valley” this fall. Burke believes “we have a great team” with the veteran Hart and Curtis and young director Bindley; Rysher has plenty planned for them all. Bindley and his brother Scott also have “Snow Day” skedded for TriStar and MPCA. “I don’t want to direct,” claimed Burke, while Rysher CEO Keith Samples is now readying to direct the feature “A Smile Like Yours,” with Jay Thomas joining Lauren Holly, to film seven-eight weeks in San Francisco. He and Rysher president Tim Helfet will make an appearance at Cannes as well. Meanwhile, the Cox-financed Rysher this week also starts the Howard Stern starrer “Private Parts” for Par, with Betty Thomas directing, Ivan Reitman producing. They anticipate it will be PG-13, with no nudity but scantily clad women, of course. And yes, they expect Stern to ad-lib a lot. If I visit Stern’s set, I promise not to wear purple.