Old Globe Actors Use Off-Stage Time to Film a Movie

March 27, 2017

SAN DIEGO UNION TRIBUNE – Some actors appearing in Steve Martin’s play, “Picasso at the Lapin Agile,” at the Old Globe, can add juggling to their resumés.

While performing at night, until the play closed March 12, they spent some of their days on the streets of San Diego filming a movie.

Hal Linden, a Paris bar patron on the Old Globe stage, co-stars as Samuel in an indie film, “The Samuel Project,” about an introverted teen who makes an unexpected connection with his grandfather, played by Linden, while creating an animated art project.

So head-spinning was Linden’s transition between productions that one day he quipped to movie producer Steve Weinberger, “Wow, am I Samuel or am I a French guy?”

Fellow Old Globe actor Philippe Bowgen, aka Pablo Picasso, stepped into the role of a burnt-out high school media teacher on the movie set. Liza Lapira, Picasso’s lover, also joined the film cast.

The teenager, Eli, whose eyes are opened when he learns of his grandfather’s boyhood escape from Germany during the Holocaust, is played by Ryan Ochoa. The former Disney kid, who co-starred in “Pair of Kings” and had recurring roles on “iCarly,” is back on home turf. He was born in San Diego and now lives near Temecula.

Students at the San Diego Jewish Academy in Carmel Valley doubled as movie extras as scenes shot on their campus this month unleashed a tsunami of admiring tweets re: Ochoa and fellow Disney star Mateo Arias, of “Kickin’ It,” playing the role of his best friend.

“The Samuel Project” was co-written and is directed by Marc Fusco, who was an assistant to Steven Spielberg during filming of “Saving Private Ryan,” “Amistad” and “The Lost World: Jurassic Park.” Often, though, the script was used merely as a guideline so the veteran actors could improvise and ad lib, playing off one another.

The movie is shot entirely in San Diego County, Weinberger says. Action traveled to the streets of Hillcrest, a pawn shop on University Avenue, the Chuck Jones Gallery in the Gaslamp, Balboa Park, a La Jolla estate masquerading as a Newport Beach mansion, a farm in Ramona, Shelter Island Cleaners, and more.

On the set at Shelter Island Cleaners in Point Loma, film director Marc Fusco discusses the script with former Disney star Ryan Ochoa. (Courtesy of The Samuel Project)

In fact, Point Loma resident Katha Winther innocently walked in on a scene at the cleaners. A man ahead of her in line motioned for her to keep quiet as an upset customer — in reality, “Borat” actor Ken Davidian — was chastising the shop owner (Linden) because his butcher apron was not thoroughly clean.

After the dialogue finished, the director paused to let Winther retrieve her husband’s clothes and jokingly told her he might cast her in one of his other scenes. Another customer entered and asked to talk to Linden, claiming to be a friend. Turns out, she was the sister of Max Gail, his co-hort on the “Barney Miller” sitcom, and she pulled out a decades-old photo of them together to prove it.

There is no shortage of talent. Michael B. Silver, a veteran of “NYPD Blue” and “Shameless,” is also in the film. Weinberger credits Linden for convincing some of his actor friends to join the cast of the small-budget indie film.

Actor Michael B. Silver, a veteran of TV’s “NYPD Blue” “ER” and “CSI: Miami” shares a serious moment with Ryan Ochoa. (Courtesy photo)

Shooting wrapped up Sunday with a 15.5-hour marathon session ending at 10:30 p.m. back at the Jewish Academy, where it began. Producers hope to have the feature-length film ready for a Sundance Film Festival debut in the fall.

Through it all, Weinberger, who grew up in Tierrasanta, marveled at the energy of Linden, who turned 86 last week. (The crew bought him a birthday cake and took him out to dinner.) “On his days off, he played 18 holes of golf,” Weinberger said.

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