Hed: The Chamber’ begins filming inside Capitol
By Bobby Harrison
Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON – Less than a week after the end of the legislative session and the theatrics that go with it, the stage is set for another drama to be played out at the Mississippi Capitol.
“The Chamber,” a story about a white supremacist on death row in Mississippi, is being filmed throughout Jackson. Based on the best-selling novel by Mississippi author John Grisham, “The Chamber” will be the first movie shot in Mississippi’s historic Capitol. Filming inside the Capitol is scheduled to begin today.
Staff members, who work year-round in the building, but maintain a hectic schedule during the three or four months of the legislative session, are “looking forward to getting an up-close view of the movie business,” according to Amy Tuck, who is secretary of the Senate.
“They (staff members) also are looking forward to seeing who is chosen as extras,” Tuck added, admitting she, too, has filled out an application to be used as an extra.
Another Capitol staff member who is hoping to be an extra is Melody McAnally of the town of Tishomingo. She works as Lt. Gov. Ronnie Musgrove’s scheduler.
Fresh coat of paint
Regardless of whether McAnally is selected as an extra, it almost is guaranteed that she will have a small presence in the movie. Her office, located just outside Musgrove’s, is scheduled to be used in the movie.
Musgrove’s office will be used as that of Judge Slattery, who has the power to prevent the execution of the white supremacist played by Gene Hackman. McAnally’s office will serve as that of Slattery’s secretary.
“I have asked to play the secretary of the judge,” said McAnally, who then laughed. “I haven’t heard from them.”
Whether McAnally plays the part or not, it will be easy to recognize her office. It will be the pink office that currently clashes with the dull colors that are required by the state Department of Archives and History throughout the Capitol.
For the movie scenes, some of those colors have been changed.
“But the agreement is that the Capitol will be put back in its original condition,” said Elbert Hilliard, director of the state Department of Archives and History.
“Preserving the integrity of the building” was guaranteed before the filmmakers were allowed its use, said Ward Emling of the Mississippi Film Commission office. “When they saw the Capitol, the filmmakers were amazed at the majesty of the building. They said they were astounded by the building and wanted to showcase it in the movie.”
The movie people are going to great lengths to get the building ready. The House Appropriations Committee room has been transformed into the office of fictitious Mississippi Gov. David McAllister.
The Old Supreme Court chamber, which is now used as a committee room in the state Capitol, will serve as a courtroom in the movie. The Senate chamber and a few other offices will also host scenes. The ornate rotunda area also will be used in scenes in the movie, which stars Chris O’Donnell of Batman fame.
Showcasing capital city
In 1990, a request to film movie scenes at the state Capitol was denied for a movie called “Stone Cold.” The scenes would have included a motorcycle crash, the uprooting of some trees on the grounds and gun fights.
But the filming of “The Chamber” does not involve anything nearly as drastic.
“If we do make changes, we will restore them to the same or better condition,” said Ernie Malick, the publicist for the movie.
“The Capitol is owned by our people,” said Lt. Gov. Musgrove. “We have tried to make sure it is maintained.”
Filming at the state Capitol will last for about eight days. Outside shots, including a dramatic night-time landing of a helicopter carrying the governor and attorney general, already have occurred.
The filming will last about four weeks in Jackson. Three weeks of filming at Parchman and other locations in the Delta have been completed.
The film will be based in Mississippi. The Grisham novel was based in Mississippi and in Memphis.
“It (the movie) is looking at Jackson as it has never been seen before in a movie,” Emling said. “It will be seen as a city in the 1990s. It will be a vibrant capital city.”