From the North Fork to NYC: ‘The Romantics’ premieres

09/16/2010 12:00 AM |

Warren McKnight of Riverhead, who plays the preacher in ‘The Romantics,’ attended the film’s premiere in New York over the weekend. This scene was filmed at The Old Field Vineyard in Southold.

Unless they want to head into the city, North Forkers will have to wait until the wide release of “The Romantics” on Sept. 24 to see if they recognize friends and neighbors on the big screen.

But one local performer took a trip to New York last Friday for the movie’s premiere. Warren McKnight, a banjo player from Riverhead who performs at farm stands and as a street musician, played the preacher in the climactic wedding scene of the romantic comedy, whose ensemble cast featured Katie Holmes, Anna Paquin, Elijah Wood and Adam Brody.

The film, which chronicles a group of college friends who gather in a seaside town for the wedding of two of their friends, was shot in Southold last November. The Old Field Vineyard provided the setting for the wedding scene. Other scenes were shot at the Southold Yacht Club and elsewhere around town.

Mr. McKnight was very happy with the finished film, which premiered at the Regal Union Square Stadium Theater. He said the film’s director invited him on stage for photographs and a question-and-answer session with the actors.

“It was thrilling. It was a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” he said.

Like many of the 100 local extras hired by Plum Pictures over the course of the shoot, Mr. McKnight was chosen after responding to a classified ad for extras in this newspaper. He said that another local actor, David Markel, had been slated to play the preacher, but had to back out due to illness.

“He deserved the part. He’s an excellent actor,” said Mr. McKnight. “I was part of the wedding audience, hanging around, and they picked me.”

Mr. McKnight, 66, who is easily recognized by his scruffy hair and beard, needed to disguise his Brooklyn accent for his paragraph-long speaking part.

“I said, ‘Love is like the ocean, which knows no depths.’ I tried to do a phony Irish accent. I did the shtick I do on the street,” he said. “They say their own vows, then it rains fake rain and we all run off. I thought at first I had to speak to the wedding people in the back, but I was miked and I was 90 percent too loud.”

He said that he went to the cast party after the premiere, which “wasn’t like the cast party of the North Fork Community Theatre. There was nothing but alcohol served.”

Mr. McKnight, who made $1,000 a day for two days’ work, said the filmmakers had told him he would be eligible for a Screen Actors Guild card after the shoot, but he said he wasn’t sure he’d fill out the paperwork to join.

“I don’t know if I’ll ever be called up again, if I’ll ever be the preacher guy,” he said. “Those people can really act.”

Hollywood trade papers reported that the film brought in $44,000 from the premiere weekend, where it was showing on one screen in New York and one in Los Angeles. It is scheduled to open on five more screens in Manhattan and Brooklyn and at the Malvern Cinemas and the Manhasset Triplex this weekend before opening in theaters nationwide Sept. 24. No information was available this week on whether the movie is scheduled for Mattituck or Greenport.

Bob Rothman, who owns Rothman’s Department Store in Southold, was an extra in the wedding scene, as was his wife, Audrey. He said he plans to see the film as soon as he can.

“My wife responded to the ad,” he said. “They said bring two sets of clothing to the filming that day down at the Lutheran church in Greenport at 7 o’clock in the morning. They interviewed us right there, we filled out the paperwork and were bused over to the site.”

“They told us there was going to be a simulated rainstorm and we might get wet. We were supposed to jump up out of the rain. We did that two, three or four times,” he said.

He said that there was barely any food on the set, but at the end of the day there were “pizzas galore” on the bus and a big buffet dinner at the church, where he and his wife “were treated to nice conversation with Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise. We had a nice fat dinner with them. It was great fun.”

Southold resident Kate Nickles, who had done some modeling and acting before appearing as an extra in the film, said this week that she had received her SAG card after three days on the shoot.

“I hope it gets good reviews,” she said. “I hope it does really well.”

Mr. McKnight has already prepared his own review.

“On a scale of one to 10, I give it at least a nine,” he said. “But it’s not for kids. There was one scene where there was a girl taking cocaine, there was nudity and kissing. Use your imagination. It’s rated PG-13.”

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