On the back lanes of Lisbon, they were talking about a man from Co Down.
Out for a stroll on a hot July evening, we saw legions of police swoop in to close off several streets in the historical core of the city. Blue lights flashed and crime scene tape was wrapped around the place. This seemed like a security operation at scale: sirens, scratchy radio sounds, brakes screeching and, in the background, an urgent voice on the loudspeaker.
“Do you think it’s a manhunt?” asked an intrepid child, in a tone that suggested he hoped it was.
“Let’s find out,” I said.
Ignoring any danger, we walked straight into the cordon sanitaire. For a moment at least, the sight of assertive squad men doing their thing with gusto seemed deadly serious. No-nonsense officers with whistles ordered us off the roadway and diverted cars away. But this was no grisly scene. Not in real life anyway. The brouhaha turned out to be a film-shoot for a Netflix action thriller.
The movie stuff was a diversion for tourists like us, a bit of a drag for some locals and – apparently – the fount of plenty of extra duty for all those police. Yet details were sketchy. On cobbled streets, the word was that the production title was Heart of Stone. The budget seems to be in the region of $100 million. Big bucks all right. But please don’t ask about the plot. Apart from the sense that this particular story was in the nature of a spy tale, no one seemed to know.
Always keen to establish the facts from high authority, my wife approached an armed officer in crisp uniform. He had a confident air about him, time to spare and nothing but the first consideration for strangers in his old town. “Any big names in this one?” she asked.
His face lit up: “The fifty colors man. I cannot remember his name. What’s he called?”
“I don’t know. Fifty colors?”
There followed a moment of silence – and then realization. “Yeah,” she said. “Fifty Shades of Grey? Jamie Dornan?”
“Yes, yes. Jamie Dornan. Fifty colors of gray. Fifty.”
So there it is. Coming eventually to a screen near you: a suave man from Holywood, Co Down, he maneuvers in Lisbon with able-bodied Hollywood colleagues. Whether he will be in pursuit of enemies, revenge, truth, justice, sanctuary or love is anyone’s guess. All I know is that one of the co-stars is Gal Gadot, of Wonder Woman fame. According to Vanity Fair, she is in a league of her own. The very thought put us in the general proximity of greatness.
This being international espionage on a grand scale, there may be a motor chase – and it may involve an old van, two cars and a motorbike. At the top of Travessa da Boa Hora, a narrow kind of thoroughfare that drops downwards sharply, we observed a crew of drivers waiting for the call to action. When it came, they sped away down the street while a noisy camera drone zoomed over them in the opposite direction. Someone being unhappy with the take, they then slowly reversed up the street and waited for the signal to go again.
The motorcyclist was at the back of this queue of chasers. Attached to his pillion seat was a male mannequin, a distinctive inanimate creature decked out in a greenish kind of track suit, silver hair and white trainers. While they were waiting to dart off again a costume guy suddenly appeared. Approaching the mannequin with all the concentration of a beekeeper at a hive, he gently pulled up the sleeves a bit and pulled down the jacket zip. Then, with supreme attention to detail, he took bracelets from a bag and put them on the dummy’s wrists. He stood back, took a look at his work, and disappeared.
Soon the signal came and the drivers raced down the street once more into the path of the overflying drone. This time it seemed to work out well and there were cheers from the watching throng, which then dispersed. The shot might last mere seconds on the screen, but the mood about the place was jolly, with a hum of anticipation.
That is not to say there was a universal welcome for the movie crowd. In February one local leader complained that filming for eight successive summer nights would amount to a “massive occupation” of public space, with “noise, shooting scenes, crashing cars, motorcycle chases on stairs”.
If such carnage is unleashed, it will presumably fall to fifty colors man to set it all to rights. We caught no glimpse of him. But I reckon he was out there somewhere.