Stonington Borough is a place where movie stars seem to excite little interest. After all, Mystic Pizza was filmed here in 1988 without much fanfare (which mainly went to Mystic). But, when Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones showed up in our small village in late last September as part of a $30-million movie production, [Great] Hope Springs, the streets were soon packed as if for a parade.
The borough is a place where residents are as likely to know Tommy Lee Jones as the offensive tackle for Harvard in a famous 1968 football game against Yale as for his dozens of award-winning roles in film and television. As for Meryl Streep, some folks remember her for her parents’ association with Mason’s Island instead of her Oscars. But when the whole place was , things were bound to heat up. Suddenly people who live in lovely waterfront homes wanted nothing more than to rub elbows with the stars and found themselves feeling envious of the young waitress at ) who got to serve Ms. Streep margaritas and chili poppers.
The village acquired several old-fashioned shop fronts, including a cinema advertising a “Foreign Flix Fest” and an artisanal chocolate shop with delicious looking candies. One resident we spoke to was delighted to see that a hardware store had opened on Water Street and was crestfallen to learn that neither the rakes nor wheelbarrows were really for sale. Before each scene, the streets were sprayed with water to enhance color contrast. Huge wind machines helped animate the background, creating eddies of leaves, large plastic bags of which were brought in from elsewhere, since fall hadn’t hit Stonington yet.
The Board of the had been hopeful earlier in the season when the film’s location manager, Ronnie Kupferwasser, expressed an interest in using the for a scene. After multiple visits to the museum by the film’s various production departments and expert advice from the generous staff at , it was agreed that one scene would be shot inside the Lighthouse, the .
The scene involved Mr. Jones, playing the role of a confused, disgruntled spouse who has been dragged by his wife of thirty years to a seaside hamlet for a week of marriage therapy, conducted by a counseling guru played by Steve Carell. Jones’s character was a very reluctant visitor to our little Lighthouse Museum but my great hope was that once inside, the character would find himself unaccountably moved by the time-treasured artifacts there, reflecting as they do so many past lives in this small, beautiful place. Surely, this charming place of local treasures would inspire some kind of flash of meaning, joy, and love of his life.
But, of course, this was Hollywood. We were invited to watch the filming from a monitor set up behind the Lighthouse, inside a small black plastic tent (heavy mist was rolling in from the Atlantic that day). Over and over again, Mr. Jones’s stand-in (Laurent Mullen) walked into the museum and looked around, as lights and sound were adjusted and mixed. Meanwhile, a small crowd was collecting up Water Street, awaiting Mr. Jones’s arrival, but they would be too far away to see much.
Lights, action, camera inside the Lighthouse, and Mr. Jones is suddenly on camera. He acts bewildered and confused by the museum’s array of artifacts, including an early folk art wig-stand with a lovely peaceful face somewhat resembling Ms. Streep’s. We can’t hear the dialog, but clearly, no one is having an epiphany. We want to rush in and tell Mr Jones to notice the new exhibit, “Steaming Out of Stonington,” put together by young museum staffer, Kaitlin deNovellis, or the first-rate collection of local pottery assembled over many years, or the 19th-century Chinese porcelain cups still wrapped in raffia recently discovered inside the wall of a borough house. But alas, he is already gone!
Still, we remain hopeful, if not greatly. The couple will surely rediscover one another in some ironic twist, walking along village lanes, and soon they will decide to move to this quaint New England village, where, happily ever after, they become huge patrons of the Old Lighthouse Museum and the Stonington Historical Society.
Written by Stonington Historical Society Director Mary Beth Baker from an adaption of a story that appeared in the historical society’s 'Historical Footnotes.' '.