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Big Easy Living: On House hunting and getting New Orleans right on film

A star almost was born.

The flyer appeared on our front stoop one afternoon. It seems that “House,” the Fox TV series set in a New Jersey hospital, was looking for a house. One like ours, for an episode to be shot in New Orleans. If interested, call the location scout at the number below.

I did, and our 1874 American townhouse on 7th Street got an audition. The scout liked us. She strode up and down the stairs, poked into corners, took notes, ran a measuring tape across our scarred pine floors.

We got a callback.

The production crew arrived a week later, half a dozen L.A. types in jeans and baseball caps who retraced the scout’s steps. Up and down the stairs, into the double parlor, all the while making comments in low voices. Something about the rooms not being wide enough. Nice views outside, but interiors fell short.

I felt like a stage mother whose child prodigy had just been booted out of an open casting call. My house would not star in “House.”

I don’t know which local address got the gig, or why, when or even if Dr. House (played by Hugh Laurie) is traveling south, but I do know the day’s reconnoitering included locations on Bourbon Street and a local cemetery. Given Gregory House’s recreational proclivities on the series, I shudder already at thoughts of a script filled with booze and prostitutes in the Big Easy.

It has happened so many times before. Movie perceptions of New Orleans traditionally have been awful. Cab drivers speak French or actors produce an Uptown accent more accurately placed in Georgia.

It often makes me wonder if they get other cities wrong. Do residents of Kansas City, say, roll their eyes when they watch a film that is set there?

We have many fine actors in New Orleans, but our scenery probably holds as many credits as people on movie trivia databases. Our distinctive architecture, the signature bend of the Mississippi River, cobblestone and streetcars – I’m sure they all bring a gleam to the eye of set designers and cinematographers.

Years before I moved here myself, I watched Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda trip through a New Orleans cemetery in Easy Rider. The eerie images of tombs stay with me still – as do the two rednecks (“Why don’t you get a haircut!”) who also turned up in the film.

So many films set in the South; so many rednecks.

It does seem to me that movies about New Orleans are more apt to get us right these days. Perhaps it’s simply because many of them are actually filmed here now.

Certainly HBO’s “Treme,” helmed by David Simon, has gone to great lengths to accurately capture a complex and mysterious strata of New Orleans. The recent “Welcome to the Rileys,” about a visiting conventioneer and a local runaway, oozed authenticity in its portrayal of the backside of the city.

I hope that, if Gregory House does venture this far south of the Mason-Dixon line, he encounters more than hookers and does more than get high. TV and film directors seem to either get New Orleans or give it surface treatment, with little in between.

I think the irascible and complicated character House would like New Orleans – not the Bourbon Street one, but the real one.

Even if he doesn’t drop by my own house.


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