Locals angle for roles in Johnny Depp film

Jill Collins stepped out of a car in front of Roosevelt University Friday night and started telling a group of strangers how she snagged a job as an extra in "Public Enemies."

Her small audience, gathered in hopes of watching some of the filming that night, listened attentively and pressed her for details.

The film, which stars Johnny Depp as the Depression era bank robber John Dillinger, was shooting later that night on Michigan Avenue in front of the Auditorium Building. The building, a Chicago landmark built by Louis Sullivan and Dankmar Adler, is home to both Roosevelt University and the Auditorium Theatre.

For over a month Chicago residents have played small roles and gawked as film crews remodeled sites in their  neighborhoods to create a Depression Era look.

Extras, many of whom responded to ads on craigslist.org, were to be paid $65 a day, according to the ads.

Last month, the film's crew remade a section of Lincoln Park to film around the Biograph Theatre at 2433 N. Lincoln Avenue.  In 1934, Dillinger was shot and killed by federal agents in a nearby alley after leaving the theater.

On Friday the white Universal Pictures trucks had set up camp in the South Loop, along Wabash Avenue between Congress Parkway and Van Buren Street, directly behind Roosevelt University. Depp holed up in a trailer in a parking lot on Wabash when he wasn't filming, and was mobbed by fans taking pictures from cell phones when he emerged.

Collins, an admissions officer at Roosevelt University who lives in Oak Lawn, told her listeners that she wore her grandmother's 1930s hat to a casting call and cinched an extra's part.

She wasn't part of Friday's shooting, but had spent June 9 walking up and down Hubbard Street as an extra in a street scene filming in the River North area.

"I was walking up and down the street for 12 hours straight," Collins said. "I sat down for two minutes and they told me to get up again. You only got to take a break for the bathroom, but it was worth it."

Three extras working at the Auditorium Building Friday night  also had to rush back to the set after a quick break.

Local actress Shannon Bracken of Wrigleyville wore a fashionable '30s little black dress, her hair coiffed and curled close to her head, her lips painted bright red. Tom Bluett, 24, a freelance photographer from Lakeview, and Michael Allen, 23, a Lincoln Park playwright, might have passed as old time bankers in their dark pinstriped suits.

Bracken was one of about 20 extras playing socialites who look on as Dillinger slaps a man.

Perhaps the most visible extras in the film are the automobiles, including a 1932 Pierce Arrow, a 1931 Buick and nearly a dozen others.

Jeff Kelch, 50, from Barrington and the South Loop, drove his 1934 Chrysler for the filming at the Auditorium Building.

All of the car owners drove their own vehicles during filming because of the skill involved in manually steering, shifting and sometimes performing an arcane maneuver known as double clutching.

"This has been in the family since 1934," Kelch said of his car. "My father's uncle bought it new in 1934. My father took it in 1968. He shipped it to me a month ago and she's mine now."

Kelch said he joined the film after seeing car magazine advertisements seeking 1930s autos. He said Michael Mann, the film's director, selected the cars personally and has an intimate knowledge of them.

Thomas Milfort, 62, of Lemont, drove his 1933 Cadillac Fleetwood limousine in the film.

"I've had this car about four years, " he said. "I've got 16 of them from 1933 to 1960, different models and different years."

"This car is a survivor," he said standing next to his Fleetwood on Michigan Avenue in front of Roosevelt University. "It never had anything done to it, no restoration except maintenance."

He said the car was worth about $60,000.

Around midnight Friday dozens of extras strode onto Michigan Avenue on the sidewalk between Congress Parkway and Van Buren Street, which was barricaded off to all except crew and cast. Most of the men and women extras dressed in black and dark navy blue suits, dresses and overcoats, foreboding as a pack of crows, while a handful of others wore the rags and dirty faces of homeless men.

While waiting for filming to start, a bunch of the extras cast as homeless men sat on the sidewalk, played with a hackey sack and hovered near an alley outfitted with old trash cans and bins.

Billie Beach, of Belvidere, sported a bushy graying beard hanging down a good six inches from his chin. This was his second Johnny Depp film. Before he was a homeless man in "Public Enemies," he played a pirate extra in "Pirates of the Caribbean."

Another homeless extra was John Thurner, 39, an actor and musician who lives in Old Town and founded the Revolution Theatre there.

While the extras worked, their friends and relatives waited around the Auditorium Building, circling the block and joining onlookers hoping for a look at a film scene, maybe even a peek at Depp.

Jill Bender, 25, of Yorkville, hung around the area from about 8:30 p.m. to 2:00 a.m., waiting for her husband, Matt Bender, who has worked as an extra in the film for the past three weeks.

Bender said her husband acted in a ballroom scene, restaurant and street scenes. On Friday she watched him from behind a barricade as he walked on Michigan Avenue with other extras.

Depp was briefly visible outside to film a scene in which he got out of a dark red car and went into part of Roosevelt University remade as the Steuben Club, where Dillinger's lover Billie Frechette, played by Marion Cotillard, worked as a coat-check girl.

The real Steuben Club occupied one of the upper floors of the building by the same name at 188 W. Randolph, but few are likely to quibble about that.

As filming at the Auditorium Building location began to wrap up and move to Union Station around 2 a.m., two students from Columbia College were happily shocked as Depp leaned out the window of a white SUV and waved to them.

Jon Holbrook. 21, and Kelli Hartsock, 21, were lounging around outside their student housing, The Buckingham at 59 East Van Buren, when Depp passed by. Hartsock gasped and fumbled for her cell phone to snap a picture, and the two joined fans running east on Van Buren for a closer look.

"I came out here and checked it out. I'm not really a big Johnny Depp fan, but it's cool, " Holbrook said. "I'm not one to get star struck."

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