News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Mark Bennett B-Sides

November 11, 2011

MARK BENNETT: Guess where the newest THPD headquarters is?

The city election involved lots of debate over a new headquarters for the Terre Haute Police Department.

But is Raleigh, N.C., really a fitting location? The 750-mile commute for the cops would be dreadful.

Seriously, a building in downtown Raleigh posed as the THPD headquarters Wednesday during the filming of a scene in the upcoming movie “Arthur Newman, Golf Pro.” The production crew of Vertebra Newman Film Co. placed Terre Haute Police Department signs and insignias on the exterior of the Raleigh News & Observer newspaper building on McDowell Street. The largest sign identified the site as THPD “Central Precinct 427.” A squad car also bore an eerily real THPD decal.

The film stars Colin Firth as Wallace Avery, a man whose life has unraveled. He’s lost his job, his ex-wife and son despise him, and he’s blown his chance at his dream job on the professional golf tour, where he’s known as “The Choker,” according to a synopsis provided by the film company. Even his unemployment checks wind up getting lost. Wanting to escape it all, “Wallace decides to take advantage of an offer he received after helping the owner of a private club in Terre Haute correct his swing — a job as the club’s pro.”

So, he fakes his own death, takes on the identity of a golf pro, Arthur Newman, and heads out on a road trip. In this alternate universe, he meets a young girl named Mike (played by Emily Blunt), who is also running from a troubled past.

Together, they break into vacant houses and assume the absent owners’ identities. Anne Heche plays Firth’s girlfriend, who badly mistreats him.

A pair of Terre Haute police officers are played by actors Michael Beasley and Ron Prather, with a half-dozen local extras acting as fellow cops, according to Brooke Cain, a reporter for the News & Observer who covered Wednesday’s activities.

Several other North Carolina towns served as other U.S. cities depicted in the movie, including Orlando, Fla.

Readers may ask, “Why Terre Haute?” Well, no one from Vertebra Newman was available Thursday to explain the choice. Such cinematic mystery is becoming a baffling trend for Terre Haute. Comic actor Will Ferrell and a small production crew showed up unannounced at Seventh and Wabash one morning in September, filmed what appeared to be an Old Milwaukee beer commercial, dined at Cracker Barrel and left without explanation.

Now, a Southern city is pretending to be Terre Haute for a day in a movie starring an Academy Award winner (Firth), a Golden Globe winner (Blunt) and an Emmy Award winner (Heche), and the question remains, “Why Terre Haute?”

Folks in Raleigh probably wondered the same thing Wednesday as they watched the movements of the actors.

In the Terre Haute scenes, Firth sits in a park (Raleigh’s Nash Square) across the street from the police station. (Imagine that — the 2011 Oscar winner for Best Actor camped out in a local park.) Blunt walks out of the station lobby and into the park to meet Firth. Blunt’s outfit and makeup looked a bit Gothic, with “short shorts” and blackened hair, said Cain. She speculated that Blunt’s character might have been in trouble with the law. Heche did not act in that scene, but did in another shot elsewhere in Raleigh, reportedly meant to be Orlando.

News & Observer officials had been contacted by the production company earlier this fall, and a location scout visited the building, said Felicia Gressette, the newspaper’s vice president of marketing.

“They liked the look of our building, which is mid-’50s, vintage,” Gressette said.

(Obviously, mid-’50s, vintage is also Hollywood’s image of a police station in Terre Haute.)

The News & Observer agreed upon a deal for the filming, but no one at the newspaper realized it would be the setting for a police headquarters in Indiana.

“We all came to work [Wednesday] and saw a great big sign on the front of the building saying ‘Terre Haute Police Department,’” Cain said, chuckling.

The presence of the high-profile cast members caught the attention of numerous newspaper staffers and other Raleigh residents. “I mostly worked,” Gressette said, “but some spent a good deal of time star gazing.”

Terre Haute residents — real Hauteans living in the actual Indiana city — reacted much the same way when Ferrell breezed into downtown two months ago. The sign of Hollywood types isn’t quite so rare for Raleigh locals. North Carolina, especially Wilmington, has an active film industry. In fact, Firth came to neighboring Durham in 2009, the setting of his recently released movie “Main Street,” which didn’t wow theater-goers or critics.

“I hope [‘Arthur Newman, Golf Pro’] is a good movie,” Gressette said.

Me, too. In the meantime, Hauteans can pop open an Old Milwaukee, break out the golf clubs and wait to see how Will Ferrell and the Vertebra Newman Film Co. portray our humble town.

Mark Bennett can be reached at (812) 231-4377 or mark.bennett@tribstar.com.

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