By Terry Date
January 13, 2017
Back in the fall of 2015, Lawrence residents got a front-row seat to see Massachusetts native and Hollywood star Ben Affleck make a movie in their city.
Now, the whole country will see big-screen portraits of Lawrence, including Essex and Canal streets, the Everett and Stone mills, the courthouse, the North Canal, and Bellevue Cemetery.
Today, the Prohibition-era gangster film “Live by Night” opens in theaters nationwide.
The movie boasts an A-list cast, snappily dressed men and women in two-tone oxfords, and more than 100 extras.
But the biggest attraction in these parts is the city itself.
Residents are aching to see their red-brick mills, granite steps and street lanterns transformed to 1926.
They are not alone. The critics’ consensus on the movie review website Rotten Tomatoes says that the movie boasts visual style, although they are not so glowing in their take on Affleck’s handling of the story.
Movie makers were at the Everett and Stone mills for four days back in 2015, including three days of preparation and one day of shooting, hosting stars and more than 100 extras, said Everett Mills owner Marianne Paley Nadel.
“I can’t wait to see the film,” she said. “It was a fantastic experience for us at the mill during the day of filming in our yard. They walked around the mill floor in their costumes from the 1920s, getting hair and makeup in office spaces that were available at the time, and then strolling in the yard after they got off from work during the filming.”
Susan Grabski of the Lawrence History Center had a bird’s-eye view of the action that day and took some impressive photographs from the Everett Mill, looking down on a crowd and set that included Ben Affleck and vintage cars.
Jose Martinez, 48, a lifelong Lawrence resident, has souvenir blank shells that he collected from a gunfight scene shot outside his Canal Street Gym.
Martinez was hosting 30 school kids from Wetherbee School that day, giving them boxing lessons. During a break, the kids crowded the windows, knocking on the glass and waving to Affleck.
Affleck waved back and, during a break in the action, posed for photographs with three adult monitors from the school, Martinez said.
Martinez is looking forward to seeing the movie, seeing his home city.
“When I go to see it,” he said, “it will be like: ‘Oh, there’s Essex Street. Oh, there’s Canal Street. Oh, there’s the back of Canal Street.”
One of the extras in the film is Nicole Hinchey of Lawrence. She plans on seeing the film Sunday at The Loop in Methuen.
“The clothing we wore was the most interesting part,” she said. “I loved seeing the history come to life in the old mills.”
Lawrence native and movie memorabilia collector Joe Bella went to see one of the scenes being shot at the Bellevue Cemetery but got there too late for the filming.
Flowers and other set pieces were still there.
He has a photograph of him sitting on the casket used in the movie scene.
Bella, whose condo teems with mementos of silver-screen comedienne Thelma Todd, a star in the 1920s and ’30s from Lawrence, said that the city’s film history goes back to 1912 when inventor Thomas Edison shot a minute and a half of workers crossing the North Canal during the 1912 Bread and Roses strike.
Other films shot in Lawrence include “The Surrogates,” a science fiction movie starring Bruce Willis.
The city’s strong sense of place and rich historical feel makes it an ideal setting for period pieces.
For now, its residents and employers await “Live by Night.”
“It was great fun for all our tenants who lined the windows and got a front-row seat to see local extras, as well as the stars, and see how a period film gets made,” Nadel said. “I’m not one for action films usually, but I can’t wait!”