When they told me the first day that I needed to read the script, out
loud, to the whole crew, I knew I was in big trouble.
“That is the way we do it here,” they insisted.
Normally this would be only a minor therapy-inducing problem, but here,
with all these eager faces assembled before me in a poorly air-conditioned,
cigarette-smoke-filled production office, it was horrifying. These people
were Argentinean, which, loosely translated, means “they don’t
speak English as their main language.” And I, the American director,
had arrived that morning in Buenos Aires armed only with Miss Clegg’s
junior-high-school Spanish and a script my writing partner Dennis Hensley
and I had written, in English. If I couldn’t ask them
“Can you turn on the air conditioning?” how was I going
to inspire confidence, instill a sense of trust, and motivate these
people to be their most creative?
More importantly, would this South American film crew, as its first
audience, appreciate—no, adore—Testosterone?
Would they understand the clever, sophisticated humor, the dark undercurrent
of social statement, the witty banter? Would they appreciate this magnum
opus now being read if it all sounded to them like lyrics from
a Madonna song?
I read the first big joke. Even though my toes were clenched in my
shoes, I delivered the line with all the training I’d received
from reading the first chapter in each of Uta Hagen’s books. And
Silence. I heard the air conditioner click on. But that was it. Nothing.
Nada, as they say there. It was going to be a long three months in Buenos
But I persevered. I hired a Spanish tutor, I moved into an apartment
in the chic Recoleta neighborhood, and learned how to order a “cortado”
as my coffee beverage of choice. All was going fine. “Barbaro,”
as they say. Until I added a scene to the script.
This new scene takes place the night the main character, graphic novelist
Dean Seagrave, discovered that his beloved golden retriever has died,
and he dreams that his evil boyfriend, Pablo, may have been involved.
The scene goes like this:
INT. DEAN’S LOS ANGELES
BEDROOM – NIGHT
Dean and Pablo sleep like spoons. Pablo awakes,
extricates himself, stands.
Where are you going?
(grabbing a wrapped gift)
Happy birthday. Here’s your gift.
Dean tears it open; it’s a leather artist’s
Wow. It’s great, Pablo. It’s so soft. Is this lambskin?
No. It’s Golden Retriever.
Funny, huh? Well, it was at the time.
I gave the pages to the assistant director and, satisfied, sat down
with my Spanish-English dictionary to figure out how to order more than
pollo for lunch. Suddenly a knock on my office door and in
walks the distraught production designer, Jorge.
“But we’ve already made the portfolio,” says a horrified
“I know, and it’s beautiful,” I reply. Argentine
leather is to die for…
“But it doesn’t look like golden retriever,” he says.
He thought I wanted him to kill a dog. Actually, his dog. He had a
beautiful Golden Retriever named Rocco. They were so dedicated, so interested
in giving me whatever I needed to make this movie, that he thought I
wanted him to kill Rocco to give me what I needed. That was the day
I fell in love with Argentina. That was the day I understood that this
was no ordinary country, and no ordinary place to make a movie.
When I first considered filming in Argentina, my biggest concerns were
about the quality and professionalism of the film crews. But all of
those fears quickly evaporated as this image of Jorge filled my head:
he is standing over Rocco saying, “Adios,” and explaining,
“It’s for the good of the film.”
But the language barrier remained. As with any movie made in Argentina
by Americans who don’t speak Spanish too well, “situations”
would arise. When the fake blood on an actor’s mouth was too runny,
I had no idea how to say “thicker.” So I just chanted, repeatedly,
to the makeup artist, “mas rojo, mas rojo,” which only means
“more red.” But she figured out it meant thicker. Or maybe
she just wanted it thicker and ignored the crazy director chanting “more
red.” I’ll never know.
When unknown officials would show up on set, all I was told was that
a “special” situation had occurred. “Special”
could mean anything from “the minister of culture has paid us
a visit” to “the trucks broke down and three of our drivers
have been arrested.” I learned to stay out of it.
Or, rather, I learned to be in the rhythm of life in Buenos Aires.
Mornings began with everyone kissing everyone else on the cheek. Lunch
was a luxurious hour, with a separate dessert course delivered to your
table, and there was still time for soccer. We never worked on Sunday.
And my favorite, at the end of every day these women would show up
with large silver trays of empanadas. Real ones, not the phony fried
ones you get here. The cast and crew would stand around with an empanada
and a cerveza and it felt so right. So comfortable and carefree. Yet,
we finished ahead of schedule, ahead of budget, and ahead of everyone’s
expectations. And no dogs had to die.
The more I trusted in their system, and in their tremendous abilities,
the more surrounded and supported I became. I would return to Argentina
in a heartbeat, to make a movie or to see friends or to taste a real
empanada again. I never did learn how to say, “Please turn up
the air conditioning,” but when you’re making a movie called
Testosterone in a place like Argentina, you
want to feel the heat.