Time was New York was a horrible place to make a movie. Too expensive, too dangerous, too noisy, too … expensive. But these days, thanks to Mayor Bloomberg’s aggressive courtship of the movie industry (the state recently tripled its tax credit for filmmakers, with an additional break given to movies shot in the city), directors are bringing their cameras—and the grips, trailers, craft-services tables, celebrity- wranglers, and assorted hangers-on that accompany them—here by the planeful. Even Woody Allen has been back in town filming a new movie (with Larry David to boot). The next two months are likely to be particularly busy, as Hollywood steamrolls films into production amid rumors of a possible actors’ strike. (See guide, here.)
New Yorkers pride themselves on celebrity-sighting nonchalance. But if we happen to spot Clive Owen and Julia Roberts loitering about—in this case, shooting Michael Clayton director Tony Gilroy’s new spy thriller, Duplicity—our blasé front may just fall away. And so when Gilroy and his team took over a cozy block of Grove Street one quiet evening, it seemed as if the whole neighborhood came out for a peek.
“We figured, let the photographers take the pictures, let this shoot be part of New York,” recalls production designer Kevin Thompson. “I think Julia probably gets the crazed fans a little bit more than Clive, but it’s pretty equal. The paparazzi always come, but if you have a pleasant attitude about it, they’ll respect the rules.”
Thompson and Gilroy chose the Village for this particular scene—in which Owen’s and Roberts’s characters, already in a steamy spy-on-spy romance, go for an emotional walk-and-talk—for the same reason so many of us look longingly upon the neighborhood. “We wanted a small street with lots of trees and history, which the Village obviously has,” says Thompson. “The city puts restrictions on areas they deem ‘hot zones,’ which limited where we could shoot, but Grove Street ended up working perfectly for us.”
For the most part, though, the movie steered clear of locales with even a faint whiff of visual cliché. “We wanted to capture the authentic, true New York, and maybe not the idealized, shiny version you’d see in a Woody Allen film.” That meant shooting at Lord & Taylor—as opposed to the more iconic Saks—and on an unremarkable city block at 38th and Sixth. “It’s a street full of delivery guys and Korean restaurants—not necessarily picturesque in the traditional sense. We found beauty in places that were a little more everyday.”