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Filming of 'The Guardian' draws hundreds of fans and well-wishers

Saturday, October 12, 2002

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Fans hoped for autographs. Office workers on a lunch break stopped to watch. Citizens trying to get into the Allegheny County Courthouse were momentarily confused. "We're going to get our taxes straightened out," said a man when he was stopped by location production assistant Caitlin Reynolds of Friendship. After a brief wait for filming on "The Guardian" to conclude, the man made his way into the courthouse.

Simon Baker, star of "The Guardian," races down Grant Street during filming of the CBS drama series on Thursday. (Martha Rial, Post-Gazette photos)

So it went all day Thursday as the cast and crew from CBS's "The Guardian" took over the sidewalk on Grant Street, the third of four days of location shooting.

"This is all about Pittsburgh," said co-executive producer Vahan Moosekian. "The locations are the stars today."

Perhaps to the "Guardian" crew, but to Pittsburghers, the actors were the stars, especially series lead Simon Baker, who plays Pittsburgh attorney Nick Fallin.

"Hi, nice to meet you," said Andrea Evans, introducing herself to Baker, who frequently found himself besieged by appreciative, well-meaning fans.

Evans' boyfriend, Bob Kress, encouraged her to approach Baker.

"She would have regretted it if I hadn't turned her around," he said.

It was a different tone compared to the last time the cast was in Pittsburgh in April 2001, filming scenes for the show's pilot episode. That day of production brought curious glances, but no star gazing.

Thursday, with traffic on Grant Street briefly stopped, Baker ran out of the Courthouse, into the street, jumped onto and over the median and ran into the Frick Building, home of the fictional law firm Fallin & Associates.

Series creator/writer David Hollander picked the Frick Building because it's where his father, attorney Tom Hollander, once had an office. Tom Hollander came to watch the production along with David's brother, Scott, a technical adviser on the show who also appeared in a scene as an extra.

David and Scott's 87-year-old grandmother, Edith Hollander of Squirrel Hill, also watched from a director's chair.

"My friends are angry with me. I won't go out to play bridge on Tuesday nights" when the show airs, she said.

Thursday afternoon, in front of a crowd estimated at about 500 on the steps of the City-County Building, Mayor Tom Murphy presented the key to the city to David Hollander as the show's entire cast looked on.

"This is kind of overwhelming," Hollander said. "I'm just a Pittsburgher writing a show. This city gets in you and inspires you every day."

Baker, who appeared shellshocked by the size of the crowd, was handed the mike after Murphy asked him to "say a few words."

"I'm not very good at saying words because he normally writes them for me," Baker said, pointing to Hollander.

Baker brought his daughter, Stella, 9, with him to Pittsburgh.

"She thinks it's funny," he said of all the attention her father received. Baker planned to take in a Penguins game Thursday night, though he admitted he's not much of a hockey fan.

"It's the only sport I enjoy in America though because it's a little brutal," said Baker, an Australian native who grew up watching rugby.

Before time for recreation, the cast had work to do. Wednesday they filmed at various locations on the South Side, with KDKA-TV reporter Ralph Iannotti playing a reporter in the background of a scene.

One scene filmed Thursday was an emotionally-charged moment between Nick and James (Charles Malik Whitfield), who had tears streaming down his face. It's a performance that would challenge an actor on a soundstage, let alone on a bustling city street.

"When I'm keyed into that, I just try to stay there as long as possible," said Whitfield, who's familiar with Pittsburgh from the time he spent here filming the NBC miniseries "The Temptations," in which he starred as Otis Williams.

Edith Hollander of Squirrel Hill, grandmother of David Hollander, creator of "The Guardian," has a choice seat to watch the show's cast and crew.

Kathleen Chalfant, who has a recurring role on "The Guardian" as social worker Laurie Solt, also has fond memories of Pittsburgh. Her mother-in-law, Nancy Chalfant, lives in Sewickley. Kathleen and her husband, documentary filmmaker and sculptor Henry Chalfant, usually spend Christmas here with his family. Warm greetings from area fans don't surprise her.

"[Since the show started,] I have never made a trip where I wasn't recognized by people, and if they stop me, a fairly minor character in the show ... , " Chalfant said. "It's a stealth show. People think they're the only ones who watch it."

Moosekian said the change of pace from shooting on a studio lot in Los Angeles helps invigorate the cast and crew and living in a hotel for a few days gives them a newfound sense of camaraderie.

Scenes filmed here this week will be inserted in three different November sweeps episodes. If their schedule allows, the cast and crew will return to Pittsburgh to shoot winter scenes in February.

Despite occasional showers, Hollander said he was pleased with this week's filming.

"If it rains, we'll keep shooting," he said. "The city's been great. We have an easier time of it here than [shooting on location] in L.A."

The only challenge Hollander has yet to overcome: Casting actors with a believable Pittsburgh accent.

"No one can do it," he said. "It's not an accent actors know."

Rob Owen can be reached at rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Post questions or comments to http://www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Forum.

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