TV host Jeanne Beker finds magic on set of St. John’s film

Published on January 16, 2012
Jeanne Beker (centre) poses with writer/director Ruth Lawrence and cinematographer Scott McClellan on the set of “Two Square Feet” in St. John’s. — Submitted photo

From a drab, brown wool coat and grey scarf to two-piece grey pyjamas and slippers — “Fashion Television” host Jeanne Beker has probably just spent three days in the least fashionable clothes she’s worn in a while.

It was all part of one of the most magical and fun projects on which she’s ever worked, she says.

Beker was in St. John’s to tape the starring role in writer/director Ruth Lawrence’s short film, “Two Square Feet,” in the downtown area.

The longtime fashion journalist plays Pearl, a woman who, after raising her children and living for years in a joyless marriage, decides to leave her husband and stays with a friend, Lucy (played by Janet Edmonds).

“We see her on the day she leaves, and we see the doubt that creeps in after someone’s made a big decision like that,” Lawrence explained.

“It’s about self-worth and independence; those are the overriding themes.”

Lawrence said she felt Beker was perfect for the role after reading her memoir, “Finding Myself in Fashion.” In the book, Beker writes of a life not entirely dissimilar to Pearl’s.

“My marriage broke up 14 years ago next month. It was a different situation in that I wasn’t struggling to get out; it came as a total surprise. My husband basically told me he was leaving,” Beker told The Telegram.

“I had to face the world with a whole new mindset.”

Short film evoked parallels with Beker’s life

Lawrence, who’s known Beker for about four years, having met her at the Woody Point Writer’s Festival, which Beker attends annually, was intrigued by Beker’s parallels with Pearl.

“After I read (her memoir), I knew emotionally she had been where this character was, and she had been able to write about it in an eloquent and quite truthful way,” Lawrence said. “I asked her if she’d be in the film and she said yes before she read the script. I didn’t want to take yes for an answer until she had read it so I e-mailed it to her and I didn’t hear back from her right away. I wrote her back and told her it was ok if she didn’t like it, and she wrote back a couple days later and said, ‘I’ve been away — I got it, I read it, I’ll do it.’”

“I’ve gotten to know the charming and talented person Ruth is,” Beker said. “She said, ‘I’m working on a short film and I really see you in the lead role.’ I thought, ‘What? How flattering.’ It was a great excuse to come back and connect with all this magic.”

“Two Square Feet” is a magic-realist film, and it’s the magical elements, and Pearl’s response to them, that makes the script great, Beker explained.

“The fact that she’s open to magic, even though she’s terrified and so full of self-doubt, is amazing. Some very bizarre things happen to her while she’s staying with her friend,” Beker said.

Beker started her career as a professional actress and trained mime, and lived in St. John’s during the 1970s while her then-husband was studying at MUN. Without much available work for mimes (apart from regular gigs at the children’s library), Beker took a job in radio, first at CJON and then with the CBC. Although she’s done some big Toronto stage productions lately, “Two Square Feet” is her only recent film project.

“You forget the amount of painstaking attention to detail and the patience one has to have to work in film, and I’m wondering if at this stage in my life I have that kind of patience,” Beker said, laughing. “It’s a lot of hurry-up-and-wait kind of thing, but when the magic works, and it does, because you’ve got this amazing group of people working on the project it’s just a wonderful, wonderful feeling.”

Lawrence won the 2011 RBC Michelle Jackson Emerging Filmmaker Award for the script for “Two Square Feet,” which she’d been working on for at least three years. Named in honour of St. John’s filmmaker Michelle Jackson, who passed away suddenly in 2008, after contracting viral myocarditis, the award is given annually to female directors in Newfoundland and Labrador for the production of a film not longer than six minutes.

The award is an honour for Lawrence, not only because “Two Square Feet” wouldn’t yet have been made without it, she said, but because Jackson was her friend.

“Two Square Feet” will debut at the closing gala of this year’s St. John’s International Women’s Festival in October.

Twitter: @tara_bradbury