Actress Marjorie Crump-Shears, of Cotati, has been answering the phone all of her life—but never with a movie director, camera operators and crew of filmmakers standing around watching her do it.
But last year, there she was, shooting a scene for the acclaimed film Frutivale Station, about the life and death of Oscar Grant. In the scene, Grant calls up his grandmother Bonnie (Crump-Shears) just hours before he was tragically shot to death on a BART platform in Oakland.
"It's quite short," she says of the scene. "I had to pick up the phone and answer it. I did this several times. And then Ryan Coogler, the director, came up and quietly said, 'So . . . you know, when you pick up the phone? You have to press the button that says Talk.'"
"There are so many little things that one has to think about," she laughs, "things we kind of take for granted in every day life. But I'd never answered a phone in front of a camera before," she laughs, "with all of these people standing around looking!"
Known primarily as a Bay Area stage actress, Crump-Shears was last seen in the North Bay in Intimate Apparel at Sixth Street Playhouse, directed by her daughter, Bronwen Shears. Crump-Shears won the part after a single audition with director Coogler, who offered her the role on the spot.
"I was stunned," Crump-Shears admits. "I said, 'Are you kidding? Really?'"
The film features Michael B. Jordan (The Wire, Friday Night Lights) as Grant, and Oscar-winner Octavia Spenser (The Help) as Grant's mother. Once she got over the jitters over working alongside an actress of Spenser's renown, Crump-Shears says making the film was a remarkable and comfortable experience.
There was, she describes, a strong emphasis on realism during the shoot, which took place in Oakland, near where the event occurred.
"We were filming in an actual home in Oakland, of the same style that Oscar's grandmother really had," she says. "So it all felt very natural."
Cinematic thrills aside, Crump-Shears is proud of the film for the story it tells, digging into the real-life hopes, dreams, loves and mistakes of a man most Americans know only as a symbol, or as flash of video on the news.
"I think this movie is important," she says. "Number one, it takes someone who was a victim and shows him as a human being. And it opens up the public's eyes about this young man, who, on his death, had such a lot of media play. But nobody talked about who he was or where he came from. This movie does, and it does so beautifully."