NEW YORK CITY – Crowds of protesters gathered on the steps of the courthouse, chanting for the freedom of their embattled hero. The police watched the passions and the voices roared. Squad cars and TV trucks surrounded the unrest.
It’s a scene New York City authorities are bracing for as prosecutors consider an indictment against former President Donald Trump, who has invited supporters to rally on his behalf. But Saturday was just a movie shoot — for the “Joker” sequel to be precise.
The roars died down and the crowd dispersed – on command – as the director shouted, “Cut!
Filming in New York for the next “Joker” sequel had been planned for months; but in recent days, production crews have battled the possibility that filming will be disrupted by real-life protests over the Trump case – none of which have so far materialized.
In the end, the cinema workers moved on, said Leo Maniscalchi, a production assistant, who was taking a break at a nearby cafe.
“They had to do what they needed to get there,” he said.
In the film, the Joker, played by Joaquin Phoenix, inspires protests against Gotham’s elites.
In real life, Trump has also inspired protests. In recent weeks, the former president called on his supporters to protest what he said was an impending indictment accusing him of paying $130,000 to buy porn star Stormy Daniels silence.
“They can’t stop production for anything, really,” Maniscalchi said. “The scene didn’t call for rain, but we’re still here.”
Over the past week, crowds – mostly news media – have lined another courthouse on the street after the shooting. Earlier in the week, a group of young Republicans staged a protest, but its numbers were overshadowed by a crush of journalists. Nor did a rumored caravan of Trump adherents materialize, nor did a march dozens of blocks from Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue to the Manhattan Courthouse in Lower Town.
When we last saw the Joker, he was running through the halls of a mental asylum with Frank Sinatra singing “C’est la vie.”
In the sequel, titled “Joker: Madness Two,” Lady Gaga joins the cast as her love interest Harley Quinn. Fittingly, the new film, which is due out late next year, is billed as a musical.
Siris Pagan, 30, arrived in lower Manhattan with her friend, Marissa Perez, to witness the filming.
“When some shots were filmed, we started hearing loud chanting in the background and everyone was turning around,” Pagan said.
Just a block away, the two sides of the abortion issue were vying for attention.
He thought it might have been part of the movie, but soon realized, “Oh, no, that’s a whole other thing going on.”
Reality and fantasy suddenly collided, he said.
Jaymie Robinson, a 24-year-old extra from Newark, New Jersey, recounted how she overheard a passerby who seemed confused as to whether she was part of a genuine protest. Cameras and fake police cars — and signs reading “Free Joker” — should have been a dead giveaway, she said.
Laurie Allard, who was from Montreal, Canada, stumbled upon the outdoor film set while visiting downtown Manhattan and was initially unaware it was filming related.
She was vaguely familiar with the Trump case – and knew it was happening nearby. So when she saw the crowd, she was a little surprised.
“I didn’t want to be trapped in a protest or something…if there is one,” Allard said.
Filming continues on Sunday.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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