On the back streets of Lisbon they were talking about a man from Co Down.
Strolling on a hot July evening, we saw legions of police rush in to block several streets in the city’s historic core. Blue lights flashed and caution tape was wrapped around the site. It felt like a large-scale security operation: sirens, crackling radio noise, squealing brakes and an urgent voice from the loudspeaker in the background.
“You think it’s a manhunt?” asked an intrepid child in a tone that suggested he hoped so.
“Let’s find out,” I said.
We ignored any danger and went straight to the cordon sanitaire. For a moment at least, the sight of assertive squad men doing their thing with enthusiasm seemed dead serious. No-nonsense officers with whistles ordered us off the road and diverted cars. But it wasn’t a gruesome scene. At least not in real life. The brouhaha turned out to be a film shoot for a Netflix action thriller.
The film stuff was a distraction for tourists like us, a bit of a nuisance for some locals, and – apparently – the source of plenty of extra duty for all those cops. However, details were sketchy. Cobblestone streets said the production title was Heart of Stone. Apparently the budget is $100 million. Lots of money, all right. But please don’t ask about the plot. Aside from feeling that this particular story was in the nature of a spy story, no one seemed to know.
Always anxious to get the facts from high places, my wife approached an armed officer in a neat uniform. He had a self-confident air, plenty of time and nothing but the first consideration for strangers in his old town. “Any big names in this one?” she asked.
His face lit up, “The Fifty Color Man. I can’t remember his name. What’s his name?”
“I don’t know. Fifty colors?”
A moment of silence followed – and then realization. “Ah,” she said. “Fifty Shades of Grey? Jamie Dornan?”
“Yes yes. Jamie Dornan. Fifty shades of grey. Fifty.”
So there it is. Finally, moving to a screen near you: a suave man from Holywood, Co. Down, on maneuvers in Lisbon with able-bodied Hollywood colleagues. Whether he will be in pursuit of enemies, revenge, truth, justice, refuge or love remains to be seen. All I know is that one of the co-stars is Wonder Woman’s Gal Gadot. According to Vanity Fair, she’s in a league of her own. The mere thought brought us to the general nearness of greatness.
As this is international espionage on a large scale, a car chase may ensue – and it may involve an old van, two cars and a motorbike. At the top of the Travessa da Boa Hora, a narrow sort of thoroughfare that descends steeply, we observed a group of drivers waiting for the call to action. When it came, they sped down the street while a noisy camera drone zoomed overhead in the opposite direction. Since someone was unhappy with the attitude, they slowly reversed up the street and waited for the signal to leave.
The motorcyclist was at the end of this line of pursuers. Attached to his passenger seat was a male mannequin, a distinctive inanimate creature, dressed in a greenish tracksuit, silver hair, and white sneakers. As they waited to scoot off again, a costumed guy suddenly appeared. Approaching the mannequin with all the concentration of a beekeeper at a beehive, he gently pulled up his sleeves and zipped down his jacket. Then, with great attention to detail, he took bracelets out of a bag and placed them on the doll’s wrist. He stepped back, took one look at his work and disappeared.
Shortly thereafter, the signal came and the drivers again sped down the road into the trajectory of the overflying drone. This time it seemed to work out well and there were cheers from the crowd, who then dispersed. The capture might only last a few seconds on screen, but the mood in the place was upbeat, with a buzz of anticipation.
That’s not to say that film audiences were welcome everywhere. In February, a local guide complained that eight consecutive summer nights’ filming amounted to a “massive occupation” of public space, with “noise, filming, car crashes, motorcycle chases up stairs.”
If such carnage is unleashed, it will probably fall to fifty people of color to put things right. We didn’t see him. But I guess he was out there somewhere.