I was recently cast — or maybe miscast — as a Persian official in Oliver Stone’s multi-million dollar extravaganza Alexander, which was partly filmed in Thailand. In my backpacking days, sporting a deep tan, I could be mistaken for either an Arab or an Israeli. Nevertheless, being cast as a Persian official, when all the other Persian officials were Iraqi refugees, seemed unlikely. I mean, I’m a WASP; I look like one and I sound like one.

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Scott Murray as a Persian nobleman

But I thought going into this project, which was shot in Saraburi and Ubon Ratchatani, it would be a simple procedure. After all, I was only an extra. But you know that old saying: “If ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ were cherries and nuts, every day would be Christmas.”

My problems began when my moustache, which wasn’t properly glued on, kept falling off. And it would do so every time I Iooked down, which happened quite often, since the costume department had given me size six-and-a-half shoes (my actual shoe size is 11), and these munchkin slippers kept sticking in the mud as we traipsed through muddy trials. So when the assistant director (AD) yelled, “Roll film!” I’d be fumbling around in the mud looking for my footwear and moustache while ox-cart drivers, slaves and Macedonian soldiers would all be bumping into me muttering obscenities in a variety of languages. I could see the headline: “Multi-million-dollar production stalled due to lost moustache.”

Anyway, I never retrieved the moustache and, at the end of the day’s shooting, my feet were bloodied, bruised and blistered. Heading into the make-up tent, I explained what happened and the make-up lady freaked.

“I don’t care about your shoes!” she told me. “You owe me a moustache— it will be deducted from your pay.”

“That’ll be fine,” I yelled back, feebly, as I limped from the make-up tent. “Supposing I ever get paid, that is.”

The problem was that now I had to get all this glue off my face. It had been plastered on to keep the moustache and beard in place, and I was high as a kite, afraid I might end up sleeping in a cardboard box under a bridge somewhere. So I mustered my courage and declared, in a stoned sort of Persian-official way, “Make-up, please forgive me for I have sinned; I have dropped my moustache in the mud trying to put on my thong, and I realize I should be stoned to death.” What the hell; I was halfway there anyway.

Some poor lass eventually took pity on me and sneaked me into a corner of the make-up tent and, using some sort of miracle concoction, stripped away the glue. I felt human again, maybe even in rehab.

So I somewhat survived my first day of shooting without angering anyone else. Things could only get better, right? First thing next morning the bus left without me. And since the shoot is in a national park about 80 kilometres away from Ubon centre overlooking the Mekong River into Laos, I couldn’t just jump on a motorcycle taxi and tell the driver, “Bai Alexander,” or “Go to Alexander.” So I had to call casting and tell them their Persian official had been left behind at his hotel. You just know that I was already being labelled that troublesome extra. So they had to send a van to collect me, this guy who was perennially losing his shoes and moustache and was now missing his 3.15am wake-up calls. Thank God, the make-up lady didn’t arrive in the van to take me to the set. I’m sure she would have impaled me personally.

Then, just as Disaster Two was becoming a distant memory, Alexander’s stunt double started lashing out at the cast of thousands with his sword and everybody start backing away. Except for me, of course. As a naïve (maybe dumb is a better word) ice-hockey player, I saw this as a personal challenge, and determined to stand my ground. I clenched my Persian-official fists and muttered to myself, “Bring it on, Alexander.” But then one of the ADs yelled at me, and I was forced to beat a hasty retreat. Meanwhile, the make-up lady was hollering in the background somewhere, “Smite that Persian rogue.”

I must admit I was at times in awe of two-time Oscar winner Oliver Stone. In his pink golf shirt, white slacks and Indiana Jones hat, he never seemed to lose his cool, maintaining good rapport with his stars through thick and thin. And as for getting thrown in next to Colin Farrell and Val Kilmer … Well, let’s just say my sheltered existence didn’t have me hanging out with this type of people every day.

During one scene, the four Persian officials were supposed to advise the Thai King, but, since the other Persians were really Pers ian an d only spoke Farsi, they had a hard time understanding the AD’s directions about how to properly extend this advice. This brought Stone down from his perch to ask the closest official, “Can you understand English?”

The mute response caused him to turn to me and ask the same question.

Now, I admit I was somewhat star-struck, Platoon, Born on the 4 th of July and JFK being three of my favourite movies, and I was awe-struck that Stone was actually speaking to me. So I merely stammered incoherently.

“Oh,” he said. “You don’t speak English either?”

To which I replied, “Salvador, Natural Born Killers, Heaven on Earth, Nixon.”

He wandered away muttering something like, “Great, he doesn’t speak English, but he knows the names of all my films.”

In another scene, Alexander rode in, lying wounded on his horse and, somehow, he ended up in right front of me where I stood with my Persian nobleman staff. (I’d been upgraded by then.) Anyway, the horse stopped, the camera zoomed in, the crowd yelled, “Alexander!” and I was tempted to say in a Monty Pythonesque way, “He’s not dead yet.” Given my track record, however, I decided it was better to converse with the horse, though this did somewhat perplex Alexander.

The thing that struck me most about the whole experience was all the waiting around. As someone yelled during the shooting: “Extras! Hurry up and wait!” You grow up thinking that moviemaking is this one long glamorous ride of excitement. Wrong, it’s boring as hell, and, unless you’re a star, most of your time on set is confined to sitting around waiting for your 15 seconds of fame.

Next time casting calls, I think I’ll tell them to hurry up and wait.

NOTES ON ALEXANDER

Alexander , which purportedly cost US$270 million to film, was predominately filmed in Morocco and is scheduled for a November release. Alexander was really quite a guy. Born in 356 BC, he was taught by his tutor Aristotle to believe that the Greeks were the most advanced people in the world. He conquered 90 percent of the known world, an area stretching from the Balkans to the Himalayas, and including what is now Macedonia, Greece, Turkey, Afghanistan, Syria, Iran, Iraq and Pakistan. He led his armies against the mighty Persian Empire, drove west to Egypt and then eastward to India, completing 22,000 miles of sieges and conquests in just eight years before dying due to fever at the tender age of 33.

The film focuses on his battles, as well as his relationship with his boyhood friend, lover and battle mate, Hephaistion (played by Jared Leto). Alexander's conquests paved the way for the spread of Greek culture facilitating the spread of Christianity centuries later, and removed many of the obstacles that might have prevented the expansion of the Roman Empire.

He was greatly admired by his troops for his leadership and courage. Alexander proudly led his troops into battle on his mighty horse Bucephalus. After conquering Egypt, he was declared a Pharaoh and a god. The Egyptians hailed him as their liberator, and he was crowned with the traditional double crown of the pharaohs of Egypt. He founded two cities, Alexandria in Egypt and Bucephala, in India, during his travels.

Stone, who not only directed the film but wrote the screenplay, worked on the project for eight years. He’s quoted as saying, “When I read the Random House classic book of the 1950s, he took my imagination. The beauty of the man, combined with his dashing exploits and his strong parents — he's fascinating material. He had an idealism I find very rare. He truly believed in the myths and executed them. He outshone Achilles and practically matched the myths of Hercules, in his way. It's an astounding story: a boy who followed his dreams. People don't do that often in life, and when you find them, you want to know about them.”

(Scott Murray has appeared as an extra in the films: A Bright Shining Lie, Two Brothers, Alexander & Rescue Dawn)

* FILMS SHOT IN THAILAND (source Wikipedia)

1920s-70s • Directors Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack were assisted by  Prince Yugala Dighambara in the production of their silent docudrama about a family of subsistence farmers living in the jungle, battling elephants, tigers and other animals. Among the cast is a gibbon named Bimbo.

• Around the World in Eighty Days (1956) – Director Michael Todd was able to borrow one of the royal barges of King Bhumibol Adulyadej when the production was in Bangkok.

• The Ugly American (1963) – Thai statesman Kukrit Pramoj appeared on screen with Marlon Brando, portraying the prime minister of the fictional Southeast Asian country of Sarkhan. He was later elected Prime Minister of Thailand, serving in office in 1975-76.

• The Big Boss (1971) – Bruce Lee portrays a young fighter from Guangdong who comes to Thailand to sort out his life and finds a job working in an icehouse. He tries to be peaceful, but they just keep pushing him.

• Duel of Fists (1971) – David Chiang travels to Bangkok looking for his long-lost brother (Ti Lung), who's a muay Thai boxer in this Shaw Brothers Studio film by Chang Cheh. Pawana Chanajit co-starred as a love interest for Chiang's character. Locations include the Dusit Thani Hotel on Rama IV Road, long before overpass bridges and the Bangkok Skytrain were built, as well as the Siam Intercontinental, since razed to make way for Siam Paragon.

• The Man with the Golden Gun (1974) – Filmed around Bangkok and Phang Nga Bay near Phuket. Bond attended a boxing match at Ratchadamnoen Boxing Stadium in Pom Prap Sattru Phai district. One of the islands seen in the film is known as the "Nail" island (or Ko Khao Tapoo). This island houses the solar panels. The hideout of Scaramanga (Christopher Lee) is actually Ko Kow-Phing-Khan. Both islands are now tourist attractions. The "nail" island is referred to as "James Bond Island" in tourist literature. The location was extremely hard hit by a tsunami following the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake.

• The Deer Hunter (1978) – The Russian roulette bar was in Patpong in Bangkok, while the POW camp was in Sai Yok, Kanchanaburi Province. 1980s

• The Killing Fields (1984) – Locations in Hua Hin and Phuket stood in for Khmer Rouge-era Cambodia. Actor Spalding Gray recounts the film's shoot in his monologue, Swimming to Cambodia.

• Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985) – Sylvester Stallone's super soldier goes to Cambodia (actually Thailand) looking for his POW buddies. Followed by Rambo III', set in Afghanistan but actually made in Thailand.

• Good Morning Vietnam (1987) – Thai actress Jintara Sukapat portrayed the love interest for Robin Williams' character.

• Off Limits (1988) – Christopher Crowe's Vietnam War crime thriller featured Willem Dafoe and Gregory Hines. The film is also known as Saigon.

• Casualties of War (1989) – Brian De Palma's Vietnam War saga was filmed around Phuket.

• Kickboxer (1989) - Jean Claude Van Damme's movie about a westener who learns muay thai. [Thailand] 1990s

• Air America (1990) – Mae Hong Son Province in northern Thailand stands in for Secret War-era Laos. The film later attracted tourism to the region and was featured on the cover of Conde Nast Traveller in May 1993.

• Heaven & Earth (1993) – Oliver Stone's Vietnam War-era drama was made in Thailand.

• Operation Dumbo Drop (1995) – Walt Disney Pictures' Vietnam War comedy-drama features Thai elephants.

• Cutthroat Island (1995) – Renny Harlin's swashbuckler was filmed on location in Maya Bay, which would later be used for The Beach.

• Mortal Kombat: Annihilation (1997) – Tony Jaa worked as a stunt double and went on to become a major Thai action star. Filming was in historic old Ayutthaya, where a minor stir was caused when scantily-clad foreign women were filmed dancing on top of some sacred ruins. Mortal Kombat also was made in Thailand, around Sukhothai historical park.

• Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) – Another Bond film and another Bond. Michelle Yeoh co-stars, as Bangkok stands in for Ho Chi Minh City. Scaramanga's island is seen, as Phang Nga Bay substitutes for Halong Bay, Vietnam. 2000-2003

• The Beach (2000) – Environmentalists protested the film because the production crew altered the beach of Ko Phi Phi Leh. A 2006 court ruling held that 20th Century Fox was among the parties responsible for damages.

• In the Mood for Love (2000) – Wong Kar-wai's love story starring Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung Chiu Wai is set in 1960s Hong Kong but exterior scenes were filmed in Bangkok.

• City of Ghosts (2002) – Matt Dillon's noirish thriller was set in Cambodia and mostly filmed there, but some scenes were shot in Thailand, and many of the crew were Thai people.

• The Medallion (2003) – Jackie Chan's action picture was filmed in Thailand under the working title, Highbinders.

• Belly of the Beast (2003) – Steven Seagal portrays a former CIA agent who searches in Thailand for his kidnapped daughter. Co-stars Thai actors Sarah Malakul, Pongpat Wachirabanjong and Chakrit Yamnam. [3] 2004

2046 – Wong Kar-wai's follow-up to In the Mood for Love was filmed partially in Bangkok, and the film underwent post-production processing at Bangkok's Kantana Group labs, where the director made last-minute edits to the film before delivering it late to the 2004 Cannes Film Festival.

• Two Brothers – This family-friendly story about two tigers had some scenes made in Samut Prakan Province, at a tourist site called Mueang Boran (Ancient City), which has scaled-down replicas of many of Thailand's important structures. The tigers used in the film were from the Si Racha Tiger Zoo near Pattaya. The film was set in neighboring Cambodia and many locations were used there was well.

• Alexander – Oliver Stone's epic starring Colin Farrell as Alexander the Great was filmed along the Mekong in northeastern Ubon Ratchathani Province and in Saraburi Province. Royal Thai Army soldiers were used as extras. Thai actors Bin Bunluerit and Jaran Ngamdee portrayed an Indian king and an Indian prince respectively.

• Around the World in 80 Days – This Jackie Chan/Steve Coogan remake of the 1956 film was also filmed in Thailand, with scenes shot in Krabi that were meant to take place in a rural village in China. Sammo Hung makes an appearance as Wong Fei Hung.

• Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason – Made in Bangkok and Phuket, including Bangkok's Soi Cowboy. Tabloid reports that Hugh Grant was chased by bargirls were false. 2005

• Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith (2005) – The approach to Kashyyyk, the Wookiee homeworld, was filmed around Krabi Province by Santa Film International.

• Stealth (2005) – Jamie Foxx, Jessica Biel and Josh Lucas portray high-tech US Navy aviators. Rest and relaxation scenes are set in Thailand and were filmed on The Beach island, Ko Phi Phi Leh. Neighboring Myanmar is the setting for a missile target, but those scenes were filmed in Australia.

• Blackbeard (2005) – with Angus Macfadyen, Stacy Keach, Richard Chamberlain, Rachel Ward - was filmed in Suratthani and Nakorn Si Thammarat in southern Thailand by Living Films. The story depicts the exploits of English pirate Edward Teach, better known as Captain Blackbeard. Blackbeard roamed the Caribbean in the 18th century. The swashbuckling adventure story appears to take place primarily in the Caribbean city of New Providence in 1717. 

2006 • Journey from the Fall – Unable to make his film at home, Vietnamese director Ham Tran came to Thailand to make his drama about Vietnam's re-education camps and the experience of boat people. • Tsunami: The Aftermath (2006) – The HBO-BBC joint production came to Phuket in April-June 2006 to film mini-series about the December 26, 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and the resulting tsunami that hit Phuket. [edit] 2007 • American Gangster (2007) – directed by Ridley Scott and starring Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe, the story of an American heroin smuggler was filmed in November 2006 in Chiang Mai.[5][6]

• Croc (2007) - This Thai Occidental Productions movie about a large man-eating crocodile, was filmed in Thailand in 2006. Michael Madsen, who plays a crocodile-hunter in the film, was in Thailand for the filming. The movie has played on Sky One in the U.K., the Sci Fi Channel (United States) channel in the U.S., and Star Movies in Asia.

• Rambo (2007) – Sylvester Stallone returned to Thailand to make the fourth installment in his Rambo franchise, directing and starring as the Vietnam War veteran who takes on a mission to protect Christian missionaries delivering aid to the Karen people in Myanmar. Filming was due to start in January 2007.

• Rescue Dawn (2007) – Werner Herzog came to Thailand in August 2005 to direct this true story of pilot Dieter Dengler and his escape from a POW camp during the Vietnam War. Stars Christian Bale and Steve Zahn. 

2008 • Bangkok Dangerous (also called Big Hit in Bangkok or Time to Kill) (2008) – A remake of Bangkok Dangerous by the Pang Brothers, it stars Nicolas Cage and Charlie Yeung and started shooting in Bangkok in August 2006. Production was delayed by a coup d'état‎.

List of films set in Thailand Several films have been set in Thailand, but were made elsewhere. These include:

• Anna and the King of Siam (1946) – The first film adaptation of stories written by Anna Leonowens. The film is banned in Thailand for historical inaccuracies and because Thai authorities feel its depiction of King Mongkut denigrates and trivializes the monarch and the royal family. It was filmed in California.

• The King and I (1956) – The film of the musical, it is banned in Thailand for the same reasons as Anna and the King of Siam.

• The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) – Based on a novel by Pierre Boulle, David Lean's highly fictionalized account of work on the Death Railway contains many historical inaccuracies. It was actually filmed in Ceylon.

• Anna and the King (1999) – With a Thai adviser and many Thai actors in the cast, Andy Tennant's remake of the 1946 film went through several rewrites in an effort to win approval by the Thai government so the movie could be made and shown there. However, the screenplay still contained too many inaccuracies, so the production was moved to Malaysia. The film is banned in Thailand, though home-video copies have found their way into the Kingdom and the film has gained a following.

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Bill Paxton on set in Bangkok for A Bright Shining Lie.

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