Welcome to Huntsville
By MICHAEL L. OWENS
The News Virginian
Tuesday, April 25, 2006
Movie star Steve Carell was spotted circling Monday afternoon through downtown Waynesboro - or rather, through a fictional and surprisingly familiar place called downtown Huntsville.
“The 40-Year-Old-Virgin” star wasn’t sightseeing along Main Street, but was the source of sightseeing for local gawkers.
Carell, as well as Oscar winner and co-star Morgan Freeman, were the highlights of the Hollywood contingent that descended on the River City for the first day of filming here for the movie “Evan Almighty.”
It was all “Lights, camera, action!” for a few hours as police roped off a downtown block so that Carell could cruise the road in a Hummer hooked to a pickup truck loaded with movie director, film crew and dozens of cables wrapped around the vehicle and leading to a camera.
The scene: Carell’s character, Evan Baxter, drives through a small town and sees God (Freeman) everywhere he looks.
Movie crews spent the morning converting Main Street into a one-way thoroughfare - complete with a mockup of the black-and-white arrow sign. Cars were parked facing westbound on each side of the road, and extras strolled the sidewalk or lounged on benches and at coffee tables. One extra pushed a baby stroller that held a plastic baby.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” sightseer Tonya Coffey grinned.
She was among the dozens of people armed with a camera and hiding in one of the downtown alleys.
In between takes, she would pop out of the alley and onto the sidewalk to blend in with the extras. There, she marveled at Huntsville, with its many sidewalk shrubs and coffee tables.
Movie extras and members of the film crew buzzed around her to make sure the magic was ready once the camera started rolling.
Huntsville Police motorcycles as well as a cruiser were parked in front of Sam’s Hot Dogs. A prop tree hid the sign for the Charles T. Yancey Municipal Building.
In front of that was a prop church marquee proclaiming “Today’s Sermon … Obeying God. That means you, Evan.”
This movie is the sequel to “Bruce Almighty,” the comedy that had God briefly bestowing his omnipotent mojo on a character played by Jim Carey.
In this script, Carell reprises his role as Evan Baxter, newly elected to Congress and commanded by God to build an ark.
Among the extras Monday was Waynesboro City Manager Doug Walker, who would stroll down the sidewalk each time Carell passed.
“I think I’ve got my part down,” Walker joked.
Coffey and other sightseers ducked back into alleyways and out of view each time the camera began rolling again.
“It’s not like I’m going to get out of Waynesboro anytime soon to go to California anytime soon to see something like this,” Coffey said.
Across the street, Mad Anthony Wayne Coffee Shop owner Bruce Ketchum held a camera to the window for Carell’s every pass.
“This is the best game in town,” he yelled after clicking a picture of the movie star.
Freeman was nowhere to be seen early in the shooting. But that could change today as the film crew is expected to return for the finishing shots.
As to whether Waynesboro - a.k.a. Huntsville - makes the movie or ends up on the cutting room floor? Well, that’s anybody’s guess, movie publicist Carol McConnaughey said.
Contact Michael L. Owens at email@example.com.