Emma Samms: Driving Miss Ditzy

Emma Samms on location with General Hospital in San Antonio

Emma Samms on location with General Hospital in San Antonio - Credit: Archant

Acting and driving at the same time is hard enough, but acting and learning to drive a manual, in front of a whole film crew would seem unwise

My children are learning to drive, which I consider to be a mixed blessing. The plus side of them passing their tests will be the immediate redundancy of their chauffeur, leaving me with merely the roles of chef, maid and concierge. But the downside is the loss of chatting time. So many good conversations can be had on a car journey, even with teenagers. The second downside is the issue of the terror. No matter how sensible you believe your children to be, watching them drive away is heart-stoppingly scary.

I’ve been no help to them at all with driving lessons because my license is for automatic cars only. I fully acknowledge that this is pathetic but my excuse is that I learned to drive in America, where manual cars are rare and if you take your test on an automatic, you get a license that’s good for manual anyway.

I always send an urgent message to the producers of any film I’ll be required to drive in, telling them must give me an automatic car. Acting and driving at the same time is hard enough, but acting and learning to drive a manual, in front of a whole film crew would seem unwise.

Driving vintage cars in period films has proven to be tricky. Possibly my worst experience was driving a massive, vintage Cadillac down the multiple hairpin turns of a cliff-side road in Acapulco. The car had exceptionally loose steering and my character was repeatedly described in the script as a recklessly fast driver. By far the scariest part of the equation was that in the back of the car, being driven by me, were Tony Curtis and Peter Ustinov. If there had been a mishap, if I’d caused any kind of injury to those beloved icons, the world (quite rightly) would never have forgiven me.

One film that I did in New Zealand required me to do a fair bit of driving in a rather flashy Mercedes convertible (automatic, of course), which drew quite a bit of attention in downtown Auckland. I remember a day when we were filming a ‘Drive-by’ which is when the camera is stationary on the street and they film you as you drive by in your car. I had a walkie-talkie in the car with me and the director would tell me when to start and stop. After the first pass the director told me to drive around the block so they could get the shot again, which I did. When I stopped at a traffic light around the corner, I encountered some workmen digging a hole in the road. The men duly whistled and since I was right next to them, I gave them a little wave and a smile. This would have all been fine if I hadn’t been required to do the ‘drive-by’ shot another 4 times, meaning I had to also drive around the block another 4 times. The workmen, understandably, thought I’d come back to see them. 4 times. I was mortified.

Sometimes driving in a movie can be dangerous. I was in a car with George Hamilton, being driven by Christopher Atkins (of Blue Lagoon fame). It was in the middle of the night and we were driving across a field just outside of Johannesburg. A large camera was strapped to the front of the car, almost entirely obscuring our vision but all Chris had to do was drive us in a straight line down the middle of the field. What we didn’t have was a walkie-talkie in the car with us, which meant that when Chris got the angle slightly wrong and started driving at quite a clip towards the forest at the side of the field, no-one could warn us. All of a sudden we were confronted by dense and massive trees, which, miraculously, Chris managed to avoid. We emerged from the forest to see the ashen faces of the film crew who had watched us hurtling towards the trees, convinced that we were all about to be killed and unable to do a thing about it. The camera was a right-off, but they were so thrilled we were alive they didn’t care.

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So as I now watch my children driving off on their lessons, I try to hide my own ashen face and the only advice I can give them is not to wave at workmen and not to drive with movie icons in the back if they can help it.

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