CANNES — It must have seemed a great wheeze at the time: Get a few craz-ee young actors to toss fake dead pigeons around in the water off the Majestic Beach in order to publicize “24 Hour Party People,” the upcoming Michael Winterbottom film about the Manchester music scene in the 1980s.
Problem is, the actors, impersonating notoriously uncontrollable band Happy Mondays, were just a bit too deeply in character. And the pigeons, with real feathers and scaly feet, were a tad too realistic.
The result: Diners at the Majestic Beach restaurant found themselves being pelted by what they thought were real dead birds.
A pigeon landed on the table of a top French TV honcho. Security guards threatened the actors with cans of mace. Joel and Ethan Coen, also lunching at the restaurant, reportedly were highly amused.
The Majestic management had agreed to the stunt, but this wasn’t what they had bargained for. They rapidly ejected the actors, the film crew and the delighted entourage of Brit journalists who had been summoned by uber-PR outfit Freud to witness the “happening.”
Winterbottom and his producer Andrew Eaton had brought the five actors down to the south of France to shoot a scene for the movie.
The idea for the Cannes stunt was based on an episode in the early career of Happy Mondays singer Shaun Ryder (played by Danny Cunningham) and his brother Paul, who were imprisoned as teenagers for poisoning 3,000 Manchester pigeons in a single day.
The pigeon stunt was filmed — by Eaton, not by Winterbottom, who had wisely slipped out of town — and may be used for the end credits of the movie, which is due for release early next year.
During their short stay in Cannes, the actors lived down to the Mondays’ reputation by getting themselves thrown out of several bars. One actor had submerged himself so deeply into his role that he went AWOL for whole day, declaring he was quitting the band over musical differences.