Behind 8 Mile

At a quick glance, it seems like an endless array of adult clubs and bright yellow party stores selling beer, wine and lottery tickets. But if you can look past the sign for the Booby Trap, there are a million stories surrounding 8 Mile.

And if you can look past Eminem’s disgruntled punk appearance, you might begin to see an inflammatory sophistication saturated with mass-media irony and an amazing command of the language. Despite his nerdy, white-boy nasal voice, he’s a one-man overpass, appealing to people on both sides of 8 Mile, and he’s hip-hopped his way onto the big bad silver screen as Jimmy, aka Rabbit, a character whose story touches E’s past here and there. A man of many names — Eminem, Slim Shady, Marshall — he’s been compared to Robert Browning and Elvis, another white guy who rode to the top on the fruits of black culture. But he’s done something Elvis only dreamed of doing: having a serious role in a respected film.

Whether you like him or not, thanks to Eminem, Detroit has gotten a taste of Hollywood — and 8 Mile is a movie about Detroit, shot in metro Detroit. And here are some grown-at-home girls who took part in the 8 Mile process to tell us about the filming and behind-the-cinema secrets.

Just back from visiting agents in California, St. Clair Shores denizen Jennifer Secord is a working metro-Detroit dancer and actress. But work is slim and parts are hard to come by, even the small roles she’s had in Out of Sight, Billy Crystal’s 61* and Jeff Daniels’ Super Suckers.


Metro Times: How did you get involved with 8 Mile?

Jennifer Secord: I had a friend call me and he said they were having open call. I gave them my head shot, résumé ... the casting director called me the next day. Brittany Murphy, she plays Alex (that’s Eminem’s, or Marshall’s, girlfriend in the movie), I played her stand-in, and what I had to do was, every single scene that she did, I would have to set up the shot by making sure that the lighting was just perfect, and rehearsing it, making sure everything was just right for Brittany. When they were filming him [Eminem] looking at the actress, it was always me, because I guess they don’t want to have the actress just sitting there. She would rather be doing something else. So that’s what they had me do. That was my job.

We both had the same exact clothes — you’ll see it in the movie, the maroon-colored coat, like a dark cherry color. We had to switch back and forth ’cause she actually got hers a little dirty when they were in the factory scene. She got some grease on it.


Metro Times: When we see the scene in the movie, we understand why Brittany got a little mussed. As Alex, sometimes you set the shots up with Eminem’s double, and sometimes with Marshall himself. What was Em like to work with?

Secord: I don’t know if he’d want to be called adorable, but I think he is. He’s so friendly. People have this totally different image of him than what he really is. He’s just like a good person. He’s a great father; he loves his baby girl [Hailie] more than anything.


Metro Times: What was working with director Curtis Hanson like?

Secord: He always had faith that everything would just work out, even the weather. It started to snow, and we couldn’t have it snowing in this particular scene. I said to him, “Oh, no, this isn’t gonna be good,” and he said, “Oh, no, no, don’t worry; it’ll stop” and I’m thinking, “He’s from California and he thinks it’s going to stop snowing. I know what it’s like in Michigan when it starts snowing.” Sure enough, it stopped snowing.


Metro Times: Well, he’s a pretty good director if he can stop the weather.

Secord: The people from California weren’t used to the weather. We had a little bit of black ice, and it was nothing, no big deal for us. Oh, they were terrified.


Metro Times: How was Brittany Murphy?

Secord: Brittany was super-cool. She’s from New Jersey, so she’s used to the cold weather.


Metro Times: And Kim Basinger?

Secord: I had to sit by her [on a couch] for 15 minutes. The assistants reminded us constantly not to approach the celebrities unless they approach you.


Metro Times: Not to feed them, not to pet them.

Secord: Don’t, you know, don’t do that. So I respected them, and I didn’t. I was waiting for her to say “hello” or something, and she never did. Then my 15 minutes were up.


Metro Times: Were you ever filmed in the shots?

Secord: Yes, when they shot the Chin Tiki. It was a scene where Jimmy was watching Alex. She was dancing with another guy and he (Jimmy) was a little upset. I was just one of the people at the bar having fun.

Metro Times: Are you planning to get your face on screen again?

Secord: It’s not easy. It’s work and dedication, and long hours, and definitely something that I want to do.


Lizzy Cook grew up in Grand Blanc, a suburb of Flint, and went to both Michigan State and Lansing Community College before moving to Chicago last year for more work opportunities.


Lizzy Cook: I moved here [Chicago] less than a month before I came back and moved in with friends for 8 Mile. I was a set costumer. Whenever there’s an actor that goes to set, I have to follow them there and make sure they look perfect. Whatever they’re wearing for the first take of any scene, we take a Polaroid of them so we can match how many buttons are undone, the way the collar is and how their pants fall and stuff like that.


Metro Times: What was a typical day on the set of 8 Mile?

Cook: In the beginning of the day they give you a call sheet which has everybody’s names on it, what the weather’s supposed to be like, what scenes we’re shooting, what day it is in the script. We just figure out what it is we need to do, then you go and set the actors with their clothes and the whole time you’re on a walkie-talkie. Then they tell you so-and-so is coming to set, so once you hear that that actor’s coming to set, you have to take everything they might need, in case they get dirty or wet or whatever. Sometimes you have multiples of their clothes. You take all that stuff out to set and you pretty much just hang out there all day with them. If we forget something, we run back to our trailer, which is actually like a big semi. There were two key-set costumers. I was mainly in charge of extras. And we all shared a trailer that’s like a semi with racks of clothes forming a hallway through the whole thing. So there’s like just so many clothes it’s ridiculous.


Metro Times: So you didn’t have to go to Value Village and pick up stuff for them?

Cook: Nope, that was the costumer’s and the costume designer’s job, that’s what they did.


Metro Times: Did they actually look around in Detroit for stuff?

Cook: Yeah, the costume designer — Mark Bridges [Blow, Magnolia] — was good at keeping it really authentic. Like he actually used Made in Detroit brand stuff. They talked to Marshall a lot and all the guys that were in the movie who grew up in that kind of environment. They did a lot of research and they used a ton of stuff that was from Detroit thrift stores. I know they went to all the Salvation Armies.


Metro Times: Did anybody not want to wear something they were supposed to?

Cook: Actually the extras were worse. Some of them would come on, especially girls, and say, “I would never wear that — I would never wear that.” And after fitting 50 people, you just have to be like [deadpan], “Well then, you’re never gonna be in movies and you have to leave.”


Metro Times: Were there any clashes between the LA-Hollywood crew and Detroit people?

Cook: At first, LA people came out and they thought that Michigan people didn’t know anything. I’m sure if they went to New York, they’d be like, “Oh, OK, we’re on the opposite coast, but I’m sure they know something ’cause New York has a reputable film community.” But Michigan does too. It’s just smaller and more commercial-based, so I think it took them a while to figure out that we actually knew what we were doing.

There isn’t usually a lot of work in Detroit. There’s a lot of commercials and industrials [films]. There’s always car things to do. But it was good, because for four months or so there was a movie. So that brought in a lot of money for local merchants and anyone who worked on it, and it was good experience.


Metro Times: What were the actors like?

Cook: I had a lot of interaction with Brittany. I’d be out there adjusting a necklace or something and she’d just start singing, really loud, and she has a great voice. It was cool to listen to, but it was kind of weird. And she’s one of those actors who can just turn it on and off really fast. She’ll have this really dramatic scene and she’ll be singing and joking around and like climbing up a ladder, and then they’ll call for her, and she’s over there in a minute, crying.


Metro Times: And Eminem?

Cook: He’s pretty true to his reputation. Like he always listened to the director and always had work first in his mind. He wasn’t goofin’ off all the time, but he’d still yell stuff out and just kind of be a punk. I always got his sense of humor. I think it’s got something to do with being from Michigan. Yeah, I think it’s the best state ever.


For 7-year-old Chloe Greenfield, other than easily shooting into national stardom, she enjoys chasing cats, the color “blue, but purple too” and climbing trees. Chloe and her mother Kim walked into an open casting after hearing about it on the radio.

Kim Greenfield: They were asking for a ragamuffin-looking little girl, who was blond-haired, blue-eyed and could possibly be Eminem’s little sister.


[Not only does Chloe fit the description perfectly, 8 Mile casting director Molly Finn called her a natural and told her mom that they were sick of stage kids who were born and bred for film.]


Metro Times: Have you ever acted before?

Chloe Greenfield: Nothing! Well, me and my cousin pretend sometimes that we’re gorillas. Hey, I’m just a kid.


Metro Times: What did they tell you to do?

Chloe Greenfield: Curtis would just ask me to like try to fake cry, but they had fake tears. So it was a big help.


Metro Times: Were you surprised at what they gave you to wear?

Chloe Greenfield: Yeah. I was expecting something ... better. They had this little purple shirt with flowers on it, and like long johns, with tennis shoes.


Metro Times: And you didn’t like that?

Chloe Greenfield: No, because I’m used to putting on a pair of jeans ... and ... shoes that match.


Metro Times: Did they make you wear makeup?

Chloe Greenfield: Only if I had a scratch. I don’t know why, because I’m supposed to be a ragamuffin little girl.

Kim Greenfield: That was for continuity though. Her little cousin had grabbed her on the nose. Her teeth fell out too; they had to do a bridge down there [for continuity purposes]. That wasn’t from her cousin; that was just from nature.


Metro Times: What was your favorite part?

Chloe Greenfield: Just the snack bar. One side was like chips, and one side was candy.


Metro Times: What about when it came to the acting?

Chloe Greenfield: It was a lot of fun. Like at the fight scene, they would be pretending to beat him up, but right after Curtis said, “cut,” it was just like they were all giving each other noogies.


Metro Times: It seems at first you were concerned that it was going to be a rap video, but after reading the script and watching Curtis Hanson on the set, you knew you had nothing to worry about. …

Kim Greenfield: The audience that watched L.A. Confidential, that watched Wonder Boys, is bound to be curious about his newest. I think he [Hanson] captured the real, real Detroit in all its glory, I mean, both sides ... as far as having a sense of humor about who we are, but still plugging away and doing the day-to-day that we have to do.


Metro Times: Chloe, are you concerned about people talking about your deep, dark secrets when you’re famous?

Chloe Greenfield: OK, maybe when I was little I used to run around naked at the beach.


Metro Times: Do you think it’s a coincidence that both your mom and your movie mom have the same first name?

Chloe Greenfield: Yeah, and that my two middle names [Linnea Ayla] make Chloe L.A. Greenfield.


Metro Times: You’re destined for the West Coast. So what does a girl who’s already played Eminem’s white-trash little sister want to be for Halloween?

Chloe Greenfield: I’m gonna be half-devil, half angel.


Nowadays, being an angel just isn’t enough. An angel’s got to have an edge to be interesting, so maybe the City of the Angels needs a bite too. LA and tha D could be a heavenly celluloid marriage made in the midst of industry and Hollywood allure. All that successful glitz and glamour needs to be grounded, and Detroit’s just the city to keep it real, with a touch of life-and-death intensity and a whole lot of humor from the heart.

Because of Eminem, 8 Mile is a household road.

More on 8 Mile
You’ve only heard half the Eminem story — until now.
Check out Metro Times' 8 Mile film review

Anita Schmaltz writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail her at [email protected]
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