It was just like old times. Former music journalist Benjamin Liemer was once again back in the newsroom, fielding phone calls, jotting down notes and passing sources on to the appropriate department. The only difference is that this time, former Circus Magazine editor Liemer shared the space with Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep on the set of “The Post.”
The political thriller, which was released in December 2017 and recently online, chronicles the efforts of The Washington Post as it attempted to reveal the leaked “Pentagon Papers” and the damning effect this would have on the conflict in Vietnam. Ben Liemer, who had previously participated as an extra on the set of HBO’s TV show “Vinyl,” was now sitting a few desks down from Hanks as Hanks portrayed Post Executive Editor Ben Bradlee.
“All we were told as extras beforehand was this was a movie that was going to be about Richard Nixon. I thought that this was going to be about Watergate. As a former journalist, I loved ‘All the President’s Men’ [which focuses on the Post as it uncovered the Watergate break-in during the Nixon administration]. I was very happy that the rule of law was in effect and that nobody ultimately was above the rule of law, not even the President,” Benjamin Liemer said during a recent interview.
We recently rang Mr. Liemer to get a better understanding of what it’s like to work on a movie set and how he found himself talking with Tom Hanks between shoots.
Question: So how exactly did you end up on the set of a major Hollywood production directed and produced by Steven Spielberg being shot in New York City?
Benjamin Liemer: “I had been in the HBO series ‘Vinyl,’ but it only ran for a year; it was canceled before my episode aired. The same casting company does a lot of ‘70s shows. They had another open call and were looking for hundreds of extras. When they need that many bodies, it’s not always just union people.”
Question: When did you know that this wasn’t going to be a low-budget indie film?
Benjamin Liemer: “You don’t exactly know the movie until you walk on set, but you have the basic plot. At 10 minutes to 8 a.m., Tom Hanks walks onto the movie set. I said to myself, ‘This is a big deal.’ Then about 15 minutes later, Steven Spielberg walks on. And this is my second attempt ever at being an extra! Another extra whispers, ‘Meryl Streep is here tomorrow’ and I say, ‘Wow – this is gonna be fun.’”
Question: What was the on-set atmosphere like?
Ben Liemer: “Very authentic. Used coffee cups and ashtrays on every desk. At the international desk, there were Vietnam documents, pictures everywhere and telegrams. The props department did an amazing job. It was a huge office, very appropriate.”
Question: Tell us about your interaction with Tom Hanks?
Ben Liemer: “There’s a break in shooting in afternoon. The assistant director says extras can go downstairs. One of the other extras and I were talking about a typewriter on the set. ‘Hey look, this one’s keys actually don’t stick!’ As an extra, you’re not supposed to talk with the stars. But from behind us we heard Tom Hanks say something to us about this old Royal typewriter. Tom was on break, too, and mentioned he collects these. He says, ‘I’ve got like 50 of them.’ We had a 5-minute conversation about his collection and I joked that maybe his wife might not have appreciated his collection as being as valuable as he did, you know, just a lot of old junk! He laughed at that. Tom could not have been any nicer or more down-to-Earth. It was like talking to the coolest next door neighbor you’ve ever had!”