Today is a critical scene between Terry and Cole. I don’t want to reveal too much about it, but I’ve been waiting for this one.
Philip carries Cole’s weight—all that he can’t say—in his body language and his eyes. There is a sadness and longing in him. He loves much in his life, but he’s suffocating too—he wants something different but doesn’t know what that is.
Cosmo is not exactly how I initially imagined Terry, Cole’s troubled best friend from adolescence who’s come back home, but this no longer matters: he is Terry Rose: unpredictable, tragic, funny, and dangerous. He wears a baseball hat and little puffy vest, and believes he’s the coolest guy around and yet there is a hole in him. I’ve already watched a few scenes between Terry and Cole, and their chemistry is intoxicating. Terry is all charm and desperation, with a smile that bristles with violence; we all feel it, watching Cosmo’s electric performance: it’s easy to see why Cole can’t walk away.
Cosmo Jarvis is British, but I haven’t heard him speak in his actual voice since he’s arrived to Harlan a few weeks ago—I don’t think any of us have. He’s only been talking in his Eastern Kentucky accent, even when he’s not shooting. The first day I met him was early on, outside Charlotte’s trailer, when he was talking to Tiffany Williams, the film’s wonderful Dialect Coach. Tiffany also is a beautiful fiction writer, and a singer-songwriter living in Nashville (she’s originally from Eastern Kentucky). Tiffany gives him advice on particular words, but she says he sounds amazing.
Cosmo speaks in his Kentucky dialect all the time, whether on set or when he’s out to dinner. He’s been “passing” around here. Sometimes he’ll tell people he’s from London, and they assume he means the town in Kentucky, not the capital of England.
This scene between Cole and Terry is shot on Pine Mountain, the second highest peak in Kentucky, in Letcher County. It takes about 40 minutes to get there—a long line of movie trucks, vans, trailers, and cars driving up the winding mountain highway on a beautiful but very cold autumn day.
The crew parks at the parking lot of the Overlook (it’s an incredible view of the mountains), arriving around 2pm. Set up of basecamp and getting everything over to the shoot takes a few hours. Catering starts up the generators. There are a couple of Porta Potties. Crews load camera and grips’ equipment from the rigs onto vans, and crew also must be transported.
The shoot is just down the road, across the highway. We load into vans, PA’s driving us down a dirt driveway, through golden autumn trees, passing a few plastic pink flamingos. This is Jim Webb’s place. I never had the chance to meet poet and community organizer Jim Webb, who died October 18, 2018, but he was a legend in these parts. We’re on just a small sliver of the property, at the old rock quarry.
The rock quarry background is strange and beautiful. Reddish, orange hulking rocks sparkling under the sunlight. A small sign posted to a tree says Welcome to Mars.
Root beer and rusty oak leaves cover the ground, leafless branches reaching up to the sky, and a forest of rhododendron undergrowth is still green. Buzzards circle far above us, move slowly, a dream.
After the teams block the scene, set up the camera dolly and the monitors and warming tents, and after the actors rehearse the scene, it’s dusk and bitter cold.
Night falls. Cole and Terry stand by the bonfire, logs crackling, faces glowing. I stand with a few of the crew members, huddled around a monitor, trying to stay warm. We use Hot Hands—in our boots, tucked in the fold in our hats. I’m wearing long-underwear, double-socks. Our breaths make tiny clouds. It’s a beautiful night. Clear sky, explosions of stars, a sliver of a moon.
I’m freezing cold, but enthralled by the scene before me: tense, tender, nuanced. After the final shot—the martini—we wrap after midnight, and Braden gives a shout-out to Cosmo—it’s his last night, and in a few hours he’ll be flying over the Atlantic. Everyone claps and cheers for him, and without skipping a beat, Cosmo speaks in a actual voice for the first time, and it’s like we’re hearing Terry Rose suddenly break out into a British accent. It’s funny, disconcerting, and the perfect end to a long but beautiful night.