The filming of “August: Osage County” wrapped up just before Thanksgiving. Stars Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts and producer George Clooney and others returned home after eight weeks of shooting on the highly anticipated film based on Tulsa-native Tracy Letts’ prize-winning play.
The circus, as they say, has left town.
Things are back to normal in Bartlesville (where the stars were staying) and rural Osage County (at the grand house that served as the main location for filming). Life is quieter now in Pawhuska and Barnsdall, which each hosted days of outdoor shooting with stars visible that attracted crowds.
The “stargazing” is done, but for at least a couple of Oklahomans who became surprisingly involved in the production of “August: Osage County,” they have lasting memories.
A funeral scene being shot in Ochelata required a particular make and year-model of vehicle. Mike Graham, who lives in Tulsa and also has a farm near Leonard, learned of the need, and he had a couple of cars.
He and his wife, Rebecca, were off to Ochelata to see the stars of “August: Osage County.”
They were thrilled at seeing Clooney and especially Streep as she prepared for an emotionally wrenching scene (“She was just trying to get herself to a dark place, I guess”) but little did Graham know, as he said, “That the next day would blow it out of the water.”
The couple was asked to bring vehicles to the next day’s shoot at Bad Brad’s barbecue restaurant in Pawhuska, and the couple prepared to watch from a distance until an assistant to director John Wells (the creator of “ER” and “The West Wing”) motioned the Grahams over to sit at a picnic table outside the restaurant.
Sitting at the table next to the Grahams: Julia Roberts, Juliette Lewis and Julianne Nicholson, the three actresses playing sisters in “August: Osage County,” and who in this scene were talking about their dysfunctional mother, played by Streep.
“It had been raining and I was wearing an old cowboy hat, and I was unshaved, not expecting anything but the use of my cars, and I guess I had that Oklahoma cowboy redneck look going on,” Graham said.
“The next thing we know, this world famous director is asking me if I would, at their cue, slip over and borrow the barbecue sauce from the table that three of the most beautiful actresses in the world are sitting at having a sisterly conversation.”
Yes, I can do that, Graham replied.
“John Wells instructed me to just ask them for the sauce. ‘Just say what you normally say,’ was his instruction to me. I asked my wife, ‘What should I say?’ and she said, ‘Ask for the sauce!’ Then on that first take there was a quick ‘Cut’ with him saying I did fine but to shorten it down. So I went from five words to three words. I went from ‘Can I borrow your sauce?’ to ‘Borrow your sauce?’ ”
Graham would lean toward the “Pretty Woman” star’s table and utter “Borrow your sauce?” more than 20 times that afternoon, over the course of several hours and from every angle imaginable.
He couldn’t believe his luck by the time that filming wrapped for the day, at which point Roberts patted him on the back and smiled. The “Pretty Woman” proclaimed, “Good job, Barbecue Mike.”
“I just laughed. I mean, what do you say? I didn’t know what to say, so I just laughed,” Graham said – with a laugh.
Watching Graham for hours were several extras who had gone through the process of being made up as motorcycle riders and oil-field workers. No doubt some of them imagined they might be the one to say “Borrow your sauce?” But the choice this day was Graham, the guy who brought a couple of 1990s automobiles to be in the movie.
“They must have thought they couldn’t come up with a better Okie than me in my old cowboy hat. It was that or my beautiful wife that got us chosen,” Graham said.
If you’ve seen those Chickasaw Nation commercials celebrating the diversity of the tribe’s people and talents, you may have seen Chickasaw artist Mike Larsen. That’s where the production team for “August: Osage County” first noticed his work.
They then looked at his website and decided his art was what the filmmakers were looking for in connection with a day of filming in downtown Pawhuska.
For a scene involving a crowd at a bus stop, the creative team wanted a large American Indian mural painted on a wall in the background.
“This was a new thing for us, because we’d never had any of our art in a film before,” Larsen said in a phone interview from his studio in Perkins. “Of course, this was going to be something on a larger scale.”
The painting that the filmmakers selected was “Shadows,” a Larsen original that was 30 inches high by 40 inches wide. The image of the painting that was reproduced on the downtown Pawhuska wall appears to be closer to 20 feet tall by 30 feet wide.
“They told us that they liked it, but the original painting is owned by a woman in Oklahoma City, and I had to ask her permission to do this, which she granted,” Larsen said.
Larsen’s work earned he and his wife, Martha, an invite to the film shoot in Pawhuska on the day that actors Chris Cooper and Benedict Cumberbatch were filming their bus-stop scene with the “Shadows” mural behind them.
“Oh, it was very exciting to watch, and we saw (producer) George Clooney there, and Martha was very enthralled with him, as you might imagine,” Larsen said.
“It was a fun day. We had lunch with the crew, and I got to watch Chris Cooper, who has always been one of my favorites, probably ever since ‘Lonesome Dove.’ It must be something for those actors to do those ‘takes’ over and over again. I don’t know what they (the filmmakers) were looking for, but I guess they found it eventually.”
Although the film crew’s efforts in Pawhuska were only temporary, Larsen’s artwork may become a permanent part of the downtown landscape.
“Mr. Larsen’s art is a really neat deal, and I can’t imagine anyone wanting to see it go away,” said Mike McCartney, executive director of the Pawhuska Chamber of Commerce. “He just did such a beautiful job.”
McCartney admitted that life has returned to normal since the cast and crew of “August: Osage County” left town, but there is no denying that they left a lasting impression.
‘August: Osage County’
A collection of award-winning actors and acclaimed filmmakers came to northeastern Oklahoma for two months beginning in late September to shoot “August: Osage County,” a film based on the play by Tulsa native Tracy Letts that won a Pulitzer Prize and several Tony Awards on Broadway.
It’s the story of a deeply dysfunctional family living in Osage County, which gathers when the family patriarch vanishes. The cast was led by Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts, playing mother and daughter in a strained relationship. The film is directed by John Wells and produced by George Clooney, who was seen in the area on many occasions, among others.
The cast also includes Benedict Cumberbatch, Margo Martindale, Ewan McGregor, Juliette Lewis, Sam Shepard, Chris Cooper, Abigail Breslin, Dermot Mulroney, Julianne Nicholson and Misty Upham.
“August: Osage County” is expected to be released in 2013 and is a likely awards-season contender next winter.