“The Pages” movie brings Hollywood, local actors to Northwestern and Garrett-Evangelical
The Daily Northwestern
Ben Pope | @benpope111
Alex Weisman turned a corner in the Donald P. Jacobs Center on Tuesday and was hit by a flood of memories.
Weisman (Communication ’10) had walked to his History of the Holocaust class that way seven years ago — and now he was back in the same spot, playing a graduate student at a fictional university in the upcoming CorradoMooncoin film “The Pages.”
“A seven-years-ago deja vu came rushing at me and I’m like, ‘Oh, I know exactly where I am,’” he said.
During filming over the past two weeks around Northwestern’s campus and the streets of Evanston, Weisman has experienced many such flashbacks, and he’s not alone: Much of the movie’s cast, as well as director-producer couple and NU alumni Joe Chappelle (Communication ’86) and Colleen Griffen (Communication ’88), are based in the Chicago area.
Yet the legal thriller movie has also brought a starring list of Hollywood regulars — seven-time Golden Globe award nominee Jamie Lee Curtis as well as Tika Sumpter (known from “Ride Along” and “Southside With You”) and Ben Tavassoli (“New Blood”) — into town.
When working on the movie’s script last summer, Griffen said, she and Chapelle thought to themselves, “‘What do we have at our fingertips that can be part of the story?’”
They realized the answer was obvious, and over the past two weeks, their fingertips have touched nearly every corner of the campus and city.
Scenes have been filmed at the Technological Institute, Swift Hall, Lunt Hall, Crowe Hall and the fraternity quad, in addition to Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, South Beach, the Noyes El station and various other locations.
In casting, Chappelle and Griffen said they focused on selecting actors who were also “at their fingertips.” Deanna Dunagan, a Chicago resident and former Tony Award winner, plays a noteworthy role; numerous members of Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company appear; and Weisman, in his first feature film, serves as the roommate of and, later, co-conspirator to Tavassoli’s character.
“The whole production has just been so wonderful so far,” Weisman said. “It’s a real Chicago community and atmosphere, and everyone … is really devoted to the work and is encouraging and supportive of everyone else. That’s not always the case.”
The movie itself is the brainchild of Chappelle, whose previous experience includes directing well-known TV shows like “Chicago Fire” and “CSI: Miami.”
Chappelle said he was inspired by watching documentaries on Robert McNamara, the U.S. Secretary of Defense during the Vietnam War, and Donald Rumsfeld, the Secretary of Defense during the Iraq War, back to back. In the documentaries, Chappelle said, McNamara expressed regret for the Vietnam War while Rumsfeld stood by his decision to support the Iraq invasion.
“I was struck by the difference (in) the way that both men interpreted the event that they experienced — and, for me, that McNamara learned a lesson while Rumsfeld did not,” Chappelle said. “The movie comes out of that dynamic between the two men, and they basically become the two lead female characters.”
In “The Pages,” Sumpter’s character is a national security adviser with a McNamara-like regret for her past, while Curtis plays a politician with a Rumsfeld-esque attitude. The two are both implicated in “an event with far-reaching consequences,” Chappelle said, that creates the film’s tension and drama.
In real life, expenses related to feeding and housing the film’s 35-man crew and several large trucks of filming equipment — which, on Monday, had transformed Crowe Hall and the driveway on its south side into a Hollywood-like hubbub of activity — are having consequences, too.
Through partnering with local businesses such as Curt’s Cafe, which is providing catering, the movie is expected to bring a minimum of $300,000 into the Evanston economy, city manager Wally Bobkiewicz told NBC Chicago.
“We’ve been trying to cooperate as best we can (with) their desire for locations and getting the word out about extras,” Bobkiewicz told The Daily. “We don’t see a lot of movies in Evanston … so there’s still a little excitement to it.”
Although the North Shore’s movie history is best known for Winnetka-filmed “Home Alone,” a number of films have included scenes in Evanston, including Steve Martin’s “Cheaper by the Dozen” and Matt Damon’s “Contagion.” The former is explicitly based in Evanston, while the latter used a number of local residents as extras in one post-apocalyptic scene.
For at least Weisman and the other NU alumni participating in this summer’s filming, though, “The Pages” will have an Evanston connection too strong for any other movie to match.
“It’s crazy to be back here in a professional setting, knowing how much I owe to this institution,” he said. “To get to be able to do my first big feature film on campus, it just makes me feel like I’ve come home in a way.”