IT is spring 2011 and leaflets are seen around the city appealing for film extras. Open auditions are to be held at the National Ice Centre for a film to be shot in Nottingham. It’s exciting but not unusual. Shane Meadows has filmed in his adopted city a few times. In recent years there’s also been the Ian Curtis biopic Control in Lenton and Sneinton, and Bronson at Welbeck Abbey.
Few realise the auditions are for what will be one of the most anticipated films of 2012: Christopher Nolan’s third and final chapter in his Batman trilogy.
Even those who turn up at the NIC, fill in a form and have a photo taken, walk away knowing they could be seen by millions around the world in The Dark Knight Rises.
It’s four years since Nolan’s box-office-record-breaking The Dark Knight.
“They made a note of basic details, such as age and availability, and took a photo – but we didn’t know which film it was for,” says Nick Stock, 44, from Lady Bay.
“Within a few days I had a text saying I was on the shortlist for the next Batman film! You don’t expect to be auditioning for such a high-profile film in your own city.”
He was called to a casting meeting at Nottingham Racecourse with dozens of other extras. By now everyone knows that a blockbuster is heading our way, with an all-star cast including Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway and Matthew Modine.
By June signs are up outside Wollaton Park advising visitors that it’s to close from June 20 to July 6 “in order to enable a film crew to have exclusive access to the site for filming”.
Nottingham City Council isn’t saying which film it’s for but everyone knows that the Elizabethan mansion is to double as Wayne Manor, the home of Bruce Wayne aka Batman. It’s his new home, rebuilt from scratch after the original was destroyed in the first of Nolan’s trilogy, Batman Begins.
Pictures and even a video appear on the internet of a truck carrying film equipment crashing into a gatepost at Wollaton Park. Better still are photos from inside, including an eerie-looking graveyard.
They’re posted on Facebook by Guy Jenkins, creative director of Sherwood-based film company Allergic Films.
“I wasn’t involved in the production but I was interested in what was happening so I went along on the last day that the park was open,” he says.
“I sneakily took a few photos while I was there. They weren’t happy for people to take pictures but I managed to get a few.”
There are also photos of a garden party outside Wollaton Hall.
“The first couple of nights was a scene with Gary Oldman, as Commissioner Gordon, stood in front of the hall delivering a speech during a garden party,” says Nick, who was paid £500 for a four-day shoot during which he played a waiter.
“The next couple of nights was for a bar scene at the same party, with Matthew Modine and Anne Hathaway,” he continues. “To be honest, I didn’t recognise her. I just thought she was another extra playing a waitress.”
Smaller scenes involve Hathaway and Caine but with no dialogue.
“I didn’t see Christian Bale at all but some of the extras said they thought they saw a Batman figure on the balcony – but they were probably hallucinating because of the cold,” laughs Nick.
“Although it was summer, the filming was from midnight to five or six in the morning and it was freezing.”
Another video was uploaded to YouTube showing Bale and Hathaway being filmed in the rain running down the steps of the mansion’s main entrance to a yellow taxi.
Rumours hit Twitter of cast members being seen all over the city, including Hathaway at Las Iguanas in Chapel Bar, with three friends for a margarita and a vegetarian chimichanga.
“She introduced herself as Annie and we had a bit of banter,” says waiter Tristen Bonnick.
“She was really down to- earth.”
Customers at the Wollaton Pub and Kitchen claim to have seen Caine having fish and chips one night.
Then the Post find out that the whole cast are staying at the Nottingham Belfry for the duration of the shoot and our photographers snap both Bale and Caine leaving the hotel.
As the cast and crew disperse, moving on to Scotland, Wales, Los Angeles, New York, Pittsburgh and India, Wollaton Park re-opens to the public and local businesses wonder how they can take advantage of the film’s release in a year’s time.
Well, some do anyway.
“We occasionally have people in the streets in Batman outfits but we are not going to get attractions like a Batcave or anything like that,” says John Anderson of Gotham Parish Council.
The village has genuine links to Batman’s home city. In the 19th century, US author Washington Irving visited England and heard tales about the “wise fools” of Gotham. He wrote the Salmagundi Chronicles based on the stories and nicknamed New York, Gotham. That inspired DC Comics to rename New York Gotham City in 1939 when they launched Batman.
In September, as the Batman Live! stage show swooped into the Capital FM Arena, Batman and Robin paid a visit to the village.
A 13-minute featurette on YouTube shows how Wollaton Hall will look in the film. There are clips of Oldman and Hathaway outside the hall.
Nottingham City Council is throwing a party to mark Wollaton Hall’s starring role. Special tours are planned, along with a family fun Bat Day picnic on Monday August 6 and Sunday August 12. There’ll be a bouncy castle and live music.