On Sunday night, Oscar winner Nicole Kidman was hanging out with her country-music star husband, Keith Urban, at the Academy of Country Music Awards in Las Vegas.
The fashion maven wowed the crowd in her L’Wren Scott black leather high-slit dress. But Monday she popped up in Livermore in more casual attire to shoot scenes for the HBO movie
The film centers on the torrid love affair and marriage of Ernest Hemingway, played by British actor Clive Owen, and respected war correspondent and novelist Martha Gellhorn (Kidman).
The film is produced by James Gandolfini (“The Sopranos”) and directed by San Francisco’s Oscar-nominated Philip Kaufman (“Unbearable Lightness of Being,” “The Right Stuff,” "Raiders of the Lost Ark”).
During the first day of shooting, a few cars lined the country road, with curious folks taking a peek at the filming in this rural area just outside of town. One of the crew told a bystander who asked why they came to Livermore that it had everything they needed for the scene.
“We needed a running creek and some hills,” he said. “This worked out just fine for us.”
And for those who came to watch the action near the end of the day, there was a special treat.
After shooting wrapped about 7:15 p.m., Kidman's car was exiting the pasture gate when she had her driver stop in front of six adults and five children.
The affable actress hopped out of the cream-colored Cadillac and chatted briefly with a few families standing by the gate.
The stylish actress and mother of four hugged the children and even posed for pictures with the shocked bystanders.
“I didn’t know she was so tall,” said Ron Schmalfuss, a Livermore contractor who stopped at the movie site after working on a nearby home. “She could have just driven past, but she stopped and let people take pictures with her. That was really a nice surprise.”
Brett Holm and his wife, Joli, jumped in their electric cart and drove the short distance from their country home to the site to show their kids, Annie, 5, and Tyler, 4, what a movie set looked like. A few minutes after they arrived they had their close encounter with the movie star.
“We couldn’t believe it when she got out of her car and let us take pictures of her,” Brett Holm said. “She was really nice.”
May Millies, a Holm family friend, came by with her two children, Christian, 3, and Ryan, 5, to see the movie being filmed practically in her back yard. She couldn’t stop smiling and showing off her photos after Kidman left.
“I just can’t believe this,” Millies said. “She just asked how we were doing and how things were going. I was so surprised, I didn’t know what to say.”
The North Livermore property just off Manning Road has been transformed into a Spanish Civil War battlefield, complete with a formidable old tank and a vintage German luxury car. Swarthy soldiers in the combat uniform of the day ran back and forth during battle scenes full of billowing white smoke and mock military explosions. Filming is expected to wrap today.
The production company enlisted a group of local riders for the battle scenes. When asked if he was a professional movie rider, one man quipped, “This is my first and probably my last movie experience.”
Kidman was in several scenes during the day in her role as Gellhorn, Hemingway’s third wife. Before marrying, the two traveled together to cover the Spanish Civil War.
The feisty Gellhorn was the only woman to ask Hemingway for a divorce, and was the inspiration for his novel “For Whom the Bells Toll.”
In a bit of whimsy, the signs directing the transportation vehicles from the staging grounds at the Livermore Rod and Gun Club say, “Whom the Bells Tolls.”
As an interesting side note, the land being used for the scenes belonged to Hollywood legend Bing Crosby, who owned quite a bit of property around Livermore, including the land that now houses on Tesla Road.
So while this isn't Livermore's first brush with top flight tinseltown talent, it is the first time a large production has filmed in Livermore with an Oscar winner as the star.