Boston cop patrols a star-studded beat

By Maria Cramer
Boston Globe, November 27, 2007

Christopher Walken strode into the Grecian Yearning in Allston yesterday morning, toting a cup of hot tea. Less than five minutes later, Morgan Freeman stepped out of a chauffeur-driven Mercedes and entered the small diner on Harvard Avenue, where he and Walken were about to film a scene for ‘‘The Lonely Maiden,’’ an art-theft flick set for release next October.

Drivers and passersby gawked, but the Oscar-winning actors did not impress Sergeant Michael O’Connor, who stood nearby, directing heavy traffic.

Rubbing elbows with the stars is nothing new for O’Connor, 54, a veteran of 21 years who is now the Boston Police Department’s motion picture liaison.

Over the summer, O’Connor strolled near Boston Common and chatted about football with Kate Hudson, star of the upcoming romantic comedy ‘‘Bachelor No. 2.’’ Two weeks ago, he made small talk with William H. Macy, co-star of ‘‘The Lonely Maiden,’’ as they walked across a street in South Boston.

‘‘Nice guy,’’ O’Connor said of the Oscar nominee. ‘‘Very unassuming.’’

O’Connor, 54, has been patrolling movie sets for the city — and hobnobbing with stars like Cameron Diaz, Meg Ryan, and Denzel Washington — since Feb. 1, when the department chose him to oversee its protection of productions around the city. The job has become almost a full-time position since filmmakers began flocking to Boston to take advantage of the state’s new tax credits and a sprawling urban landscape hard to find in other parts of the country.

O’Connor, a father of three from Jamaica Plain, now views famous actors the way he might regard city residents celebrating a Red Sox win.

‘‘I have to keep my eyes on what’s going on,’’ he said. ‘‘They are in our city and we do have a responsibility to make sure they are safe at all times.’’

O’Connor supervises officers directing traffic, clears cars from streets where filming will take place, and sometimes escorts stars to their trailers, watching for stalkers and zealous fans. He also helps producers wind their way through City Hall for permits, and introduces location supervisors to community leaders worried about how filming might affect the neighborhood.

‘‘The great thing about Mike is that he knows a lot of people,’’ said Jeff MacLean, location manager for ‘‘The Lonely Maiden.’’
‘‘It’s great having someone who’s not just directing traffic. He’s got a great personality in terms of calming people and assuring people that this huge operation that we’re engaging in can be done in a responsible fashion,’’ MacLean said.
The job has earned O’Connor some ribbing, and envy, from fellow officers.

‘‘Are you going to have your own press agent?’’ O’Connor recalled being asked in jest. ‘‘A couple of officers ask ‘What’s coming up? Can I be your assistant?’’’

But serving as policeman to the stars is more about headaches than glamour. The hours are grueling. Yesterday, O’Connor was up before 4 a.m., making sure parts of Harvard Avenue were clear for the film crew’s trucks. He spent the next 14 hours shuttling between the sets of ‘‘The Lonely Maiden,’’ and ‘‘Real Men Cry,’’ a crime drama starring Ethan Hawke that is being filmed in South Boston.

A testy director’s assistant once threatened to call Mayor Thomas M. Menino when O’Connor refused to shut down a busy street for a scene. O’Connor responded by giving the assistant the mayor’s home number.

He has had to endure the laments of city officials annoyed by production problems. One official sent him an angry e-mail when the producers of ‘‘Real Men Cry’’ gave only a few days notice that filming was to begin.

‘‘Filming in this city can make Grown Men Cry,’’ the official wrote.

But O’Connor said the perks outweigh the drawbacks. Watching the films being made is fascinating, he said. The catered lunches are delicious. ‘‘I usually go for the desserts,’’ he said.

And O’Connor is optimistic he may soon persuade a celebrity to meet with teenagers he knows from after-school programs he helps coordinate with the police department.

Of course, seeing how so many movies are made can detract from the pleasure of watching a film on the big screen.

Over the weekend, O’Connor turned down an invitation from his wife and daughters to see ‘‘Enchanted.’’

‘‘I’d been to the movies all week,’’ he said. ‘‘I wanted to relax.’’

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