Dirt Barbie #tbt
When I was fourteen, I flew to South Africa to film a movie called Prey. Here are two wild stories and pictures from the experience. Also if you plan to watch Prey, keep in mind that for safety purposes the lions had to be CGI (computer generated images) after the first day of filming. Also note that the lions were not CGI’d into every scene they were scripted to make appearances in… so we might be running from nothing during certain scenes. Haha So just eat your pizza, drink your beer and be entertained.
The first Day of Filming:
On the first day of filming, Bridget Moynahan & I were introduced to our feline co-stars: Three enormous lions (2 female and 1 male) that were brought over from California that were apparently “trained” and camera ready. I fell in love with these big kitties and when the trainers had their backs turn, Bridget and I both pet them between the large bars of their cage. The
trainers told us to give them space. Sorry! Next thing I knew, we were on set getting into our safari vehicle with the director Darrell Roodt and the cinematographer in the trunk. Bridget (who played the new stepmom), Connor Dowds (who played my younger brother) and I were in the backseat. In the scene, the lion was suppose to jump onto the hood of the vehicle, then onto the roof, paw the window and then jump off as we panic in the backseat. Simple enough right?
The frame was set and the film was rolling as Felix, the 500 pound “trained lion,” leapt on to the zebra striped Land Rover. The Safari car’s suspension protested with angry squeaks. The whole vehicle bucked forward. The vehicle violently shifted as the lion transferred its weight from one side to the other. Once on the roof, his enormous clawed paws smacked the seemingly fragile glass of the side windows. Paws the same size as my round 14-year old’s face. Once he was back on the hood, Darrell directed us to start “flipping our shit” in the scene. All three of us kicked our screaming into “DRAMA QUEEN” status, which instantly attracted the attention of the lion. Darrell yelped with joy because of the footage he was recording. Felix crouched down and peered through the front windshield as we locked eyes. His big brown and gold flecked eyes focused on me with ferocious intensity I’d only seen once before on the National Geographic channel.
Seized with fear, I swear my heart stopped beating. Goosebumps covered my body and the hair on the back of my neck stood on end. I could tell I was no longer acting at this point. You can’t fake certain reactions even if you’re giving an oscar worthy performance. After a moment of silence, the unbroken eye contact started to have a hypnotizing effect on me, (much like the snake in Jungle Book) luring me into a false sense of security. Without warning, Felix let loose a low, guttural growl and put both of his front paws on the windshield. Leaning his weight forward, the glass slowly started to crack. Darrell’s encouraging words for more drama quickly turned to hushing noises and nervous whimpers. I remained silent, still holding the gaze of the lion, wide-eyed and shaking, I couldn’t look away. Just when I thought the lion was going to bust through the windshield, the trainers stepped in and as if this was routine, dangled a chicken on a rope to regain the attention of this clearly, still very WILD animal.
Later I was told, looking a lion directly in the eyes is seen in the animal kingdom as a display of dominance and can be taken as a challenge by an alpha. Sure would have helped to know that beforehand right?
ATV Safari Tour:
While I was filming, we stayed on a farm on the South African border. The farm girls recognized my adventurous side and invited me to join them for a night out in the jungle
riding the quads around in the moonlight. The first night they took me out, the three of us rode into an open field and watched the full moon through the wickedly twisted branches of the bare trees. Airborne red earth gave the voluptuous moon a strawberry tint. Once again reminding me of a Disney movie. “Circle of Life” from the animation “Lion King” started to play in my head. (I live in my own little world, why not have a decent sound track playing, right?) Bella Luna shed her red tint as she moved higher across the star freckled night sky.
Going full throttle, warm wind whipped our hair. We tore across the dirt paths chasing warthogs all night through marshes, bogs, and bushes. Warthogs are hilarious to chase on a quad. (PETA HAVE MERCY! None were harmed) They act real tough till you get up close. Squared off and facing you with their tusks jutting from their face menacingly they would snort or paw at the earth. I giggled as I sneaked up on them with the lights off, then, when the moment was right, flip on the brights and charge. Head low, grunting and displaying their tusks, they would stand their ground till you were 10 feet from them then they would jump straight up landing the opposite directions and legs moving at maximum speed before even hitting the dirt. Head raised and tail completely vertical, the wild pigs BOLTED; Snorting and squealing. Laughing like a kid again and maneuvering like a Nascar driver, I chortled, “I’m gonna getcha Pumba!”
Kudu darted through the shrubs all around us and every once in a while, jumped out onto the trial. If you aren’t familiar, a Kudu is a deer the size of a horse. The locals tend to joke that it got its nickname from the noise the males large external sex organs make when they hit each other when it gallops. (They laugh, making close fists and clap them together, “Kudu-Kudu-Kudu”). Anyway, not something you want to run into. The fact is though, they are far more likely to run into you, which happened a different night, driving home from set in the Land Rover. (FYI the Kudu was fine. It just dented the back door. Impressive.) I howled at the moon and explored their 2,000 acres till we nearly ran out of gas, only then retreating back to their farm house. There was no way I could sleep after that, so we rolled out our sleeping bags, popped in my DVD of Legally Blonde, grabbed some chocolate bars, peanut butter and pretzels and talked and snacked till the sky started to glow with grey and light pink, the classic hues of dawn.
We woke back up around 11 and were back onto the ATVs by 12. The blazing heat cause my skin to condensate and pulsate sightly as it burned in the aggressive rays. Even the wind was hot. A dry heat though. Not like the humid heat of the Bahamas I had acclimated to for three months prior to moving to South Africa. “Ever heard of ‘Croc Pulling’?” One of the farm girls asked smiling at me. I shook my head no. “It’s where you try to pull the tail of a crocodile and try to to get bit or die,”she explained. OH HELL NO. I quickly realized they were messing with me, but for some reason I don’t think they would have stopped me if I hadn’t realize it was a joke. I looked to the river where the menacing prehistoric reptiles lay along the river banks basking in the sunshine. Their mouth hung ajar with their teeth exposed and a hiss emerging from the depths of their gut. Yeah, No. I refused to go anywhere near a crocodile.
At one point, I did cross the border “illegally.” The river bed, apparently being the territory boundary. I rode my ATV out of the country for almost 15 seconds. Between the girls yelling at me to comeback and loud noises that sounded strangely similar to gunshots, my butt was flying through the mud and river back to safety. Completely forgetting for those 15 seconds what dangers resided in the muddy river. The rest of the day was spent chasing herds of giraffes as they galloped gracefully all around me. Dust rose up as I blazed across the trails, surrounded by wild animals. I couldn’t get rid of this silly grin I had plastered on face. Pure happiness.