Los Angeles, December 2014. Hollywood starlet Hadley Baxter on set as aviator Marian Graves.
Today is my last day of filming for Peregrine. I’m sitting in a mock- up of Marian’s plane that’s hanging from a pulley system and is about to be swung out over a giant tank of water and dropped. I’m wearing a reindeer-fur parka that weighs a thousand pounds and will weigh a million once it gets wet, and I’m trying not to let on that I’m afraid. Bart Olofsson, the director, took me aside earlier, asked if I really wanted to do this stunt myself, given, you know, what happened to my parents. I think I want to confront that, I said. I think I could use the closure. He’d put his hand on my shoulder, done his best guru face while he stared into my eyes. You are a strong woman, he’d said.
Closure doesn’t really exist, though. That’s why we’re always looking for it.
The actor who’s playing Eddie Bloom, my navigator, is also wearing a reindeer-fur parka and has waterproof blood makeup on his forehead because he’s supposed to be knocked out by the impact. In real life, Eddie usually sat at a desk behind Marian’s seat, but the screenwriters, two aggressively cheerful brothers with Hitler Youth haircuts and Hitler Youth faces, thought it would be better if Eddie came up front for the death dive. Sure, fine, whatever.
The story we’re telling isn’t what really happened, anyway. I know that much. But I wouldn’t say I know the truth about Marian Graves. Only she knew.
Eight cameras will record my plunge: six fixed, two operated by divers. The plan is to do it once. Twice, at most. It’s an expensive shot, and our budget was never enormous and has now been exhausted and then some, but when you’ve come this far, the only way out is through. Best-case scenario, it takes all day. Worst-case scenario, I drown, wind up In Memoriam, wind up like my parents except in a fake plane and a fake ocean, not even trying to get anywhere.
“You’re sure you want to do this?”
The stunt coordinator is checking my harness, all business as he digs around my crotch, feeling for the straps and clips among bristly reindeer hair. True to type, he’s got a leathery face, a leathery wardrobe, and a stop-action way of walking from a few imperfect repair jobs.
“Totally,” I say.
When he’s done, the crane lifts us up, swings us out. There’s a scrim at the end of the tank that makes a kind of horizon with the water, and I’m her, Marian Graves, flying over the Southern Ocean with my fuel gauge on empty, and I know I can’t get anywhere other than where I am, which is nowhere. I wonder how cold the water will be, how long before I’m dead. I think through my options. I think about what I’ve promised myself. A gannet plunge.
“Action,” says a voice in my earpiece, and I push on the fake plane’s yoke as though I’m going to fly us down into the center of the earth. The pulleys tip the nose, and we dive.