Monday, November 29, 2010

Kent Bernhardt in Talladega Nights

The following story was written by Kent Bernhardt for the Salisbury Post and since he published it for all to read I'm trusting he won't mind if we share it with the family.  Of course, if we have to pay him scale, we're deep into the family treasury.  Kent is the son of Clifford Jr. and Marion Bernhardt, grandson of Clifford and Allieree Bernhardt, and great grandson of George and Ida Bernhardt.

Each of us has a story to tell.  Somewhere in our past is an adventure or maybe just a single moment that stands above the rest and will define how we will be remembered.  I’m sort of hoping mine hasn’t happened yet, but should I appear in tomorrow’s obituaries, the moment that will have to suffice for now is the day I appeared in “Talladega Nights” with Will Ferrell.  While the words “lackluster” and “pathetic” race through your mind, let me also add that you never actually see my face in the movie, but on several occasions you do hear my voice. As a matter of fact, I deliver one of the funniest lines in the movie.

It was late 2005, and there was a buzz in the area that Ferrell was making a movie about NASCAR, and some scenes were being shot in the Charlotte area. I hadn’t given it much thought until one day when my phone rang.  It was someone upstairs in the management tier of Charlotte Motor Speedway telling me that the movie’s producers were looking for a track announcer to do a line or two for the movie. They wanted to know if I would be interested.  That’s a little like asking a dog if he would be interested in having his stomach scratched.
“Well, unless there is a love scene with Sandra Bullock involved, I don’t think so”, I joked.

No response.

“No, of course I’d be interested. What do I have to do?”

I was told someone would e-mail a script. All I had to do was be at a movie studio in downtown Charlotte — I didn’t know there was one — the following Wednesday morning at 9:30. The deal was done.

It began to sink in that this was one of those chance things they could’ve asked a thousand other people to do.  I kept telling myself I was qualified for the task. You see, I have one of those “announcer” voices, so when people need “announcery” things done, I sometimes get a call.  My parents tell me that my first words weren’t “mommy” or “daddy.” I reportedly did the weather and headed straight for a commercial break.

Wednesday rolled around, and to make sure I wouldn’t be late for my 9:30 appointment with destiny, I left Salisbury at around 8:15, stopping only briefly to fill the car with gas.  I met my first obstacle at the local BP. 
I’m not sure what happened, but somewhere in the process of attempting to insert the gas pump hose in the gas spout of my car, all hell broke loose.  Gas shot out of the hose as soon as I selected the grade, dousing the pump, my car, and my clothes with regular unleaded before I could even begin to think about how to shut it off. I had gone from future movie star to potential human torch in a matter of seconds.

I was panicked but determined to make it to the studio on time. I quickly raced home, deposited my gas-soaked clothes in the washer and ran water to soak them (bad idea….don’t ever do that, by the way), took a quick shower, put on fresh clothes, and darted to Charlotte, still smelling faintly of petroleum.

As I recall, I was only 10 minutes late. Not bad for a man lucky to be alive. As for the my gasoline scent, I figured they’d think everyone associated with NASCAR must smell this way. Sort of a NASCAR cologne.

I assumed I would be ushered to an office or private area where I would record my lines, sign a few papers, and head back to work. Instead, there was a pleasant surprise in store for me.  I was ushered to the set of a scene being shot that day involving Will Ferrell and co-star Jane Lynch, now famous as Sue Sylvester on “Glee.”

The scene was one of the few that didn’t make it into the final movie. It involved Ferrell’s character Ricky Bobby attempting to impress his mother with his newfound talent of passing gas in complete sentences like “I love you”, and “Merry Christmas”.  OK, it wasn’t exactly Gone With the Wind, but it was as close as I was going to get. If you Google “Talladega Nights Deleted Scenes” you can watch it.

After seven or eight takes of this piece of classic cinema, I was taken to the set and seated on the couch where Ferrell had just….uh, spoken his lines.  They handed me a fresh copy of the script with a few changes. A sound technician appeared in front of me with a special microphone. I looked to my left on the couch, and there was a script girl. I looked to my right, and there was Will Ferrell.  He politely said hi, and asked if I minded if he listened to me do the lines.  I of course said no and odered him off the set. No, of course he could stay! He’s asking me?

I did three takes of the original line they hired me to do. They then handed me an additional page of track announcer lines to be used throughout the movie, and asked if I would mind cutting those “just in case they needed them.” The plan was to have ESPN announcers recut them later.  I’m proud to say they used some of my versions in the final cut.

The entire session lasted less than five minutes. I was hoping it would go on forever.

I chatted a little with both Lynch and Ferrell. Lynch kidded me a little about picking that particular day to visit the set — the day of the big fart scene — and I assured her it would live in cinematic history, second only to the campfire scene in “Blazing Saddles.”

I found Will Farrell somewhat reserved but very polite. He was very interested in my profession, and asked me how long I had been at it. When someone else on the set was recording a phone line to be used in the movie, they asked for my input on how a true NASCAR fan would say the line. Having grown up here, I proudly obliged.

Later, I was taken to an adjoining office to complete some paperwork. I was told I would be paid scale for my services, which came to slightly over 700 dollars.  Seven hundred dollars for three or four lines.  Not bad.  What I didn’t know was, according to my contract, I would be paid in future profits as well. I received a check for over two hundred dollars when it was sold to TV, and the checks have kept rolling in each quarter. The last one was for a whopping twenty-three dollars. Hey, it’s money. It spends.

I was invited back to the set two weeks later in my capacity as a reporter to do a quick interview with Ferrell. We talked about NASCAR and why he wanted to do a movie about it, and his upcoming appearance in “The Producers,” playing the crazed Nazi author. I personally think that is one of his funniest performances.

He was even kind enough to record a special greeting to my then 13-year-old daughter, pledging his undying love to her, and promising to marry her one day even though he was already married, so their union would “only be recognized in Utah.”

I didn’t really like “Talladega Nights” when it finally opened in August of 2006, but like a lot of movies, it plays much better on TV. TBS runs it regularly, and I actually find myself laughing out loud at some of the better known scenes, like Ricky Bobby saying grace before a feast of Taco Bell and KFC. 

It’s reaching “Animal House” status these days.

As for my “funny line” in the movie, I won’t reveal what it was. It wouldn’t make a lot of sense out of context, but suffice to say it has to do with the French driver occupying the pole position in the race. I’ll leave it at that.

As popular as “Talladega Nights” is today, surely someone must be thinking of a sequel. And surely, they’re going to need a track announcer….

Kent Bernhardt lives in Salisbury.

From the Salisbury Post, November 29, 2010

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