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Olivia Williams on bombing in Santa Fe and LA
By Olivia Williams
12:15PM BST 05 Apr 2014

In her monthly column, Olivia Williams discusses the impracticality of lipstick in the desert and the importance of coming prepared

When my agent mentioned a job with the title Manhattan, I immediately pictured myself striding across Fifth Avenue in a red trouser suit like the girl in the Charlie perfume advert. So why am I in the high desert, battling dust and altitude, sporting some fine embossed-leather cuban heels and a 10-gallon hat? The Manhattan of the title is not the island, but the project, and I am shooting a TV show about the lives of the scientists who, in 1942, gathered in a secret military base in Los Alamos, New Mexico, to create the world’s first atom bomb. I arrived four days ago in some sensible brogues for city-walking and a straw hat to combat the sun, but quickly found that the only way to deal with the demands of the terrain is to go native.

A cowboy hat doesn’t blow off in the wind, keeps you cool in the heat and warm as the temperature plummets with the sun. Cuban heels are sturdy on the uneven desert ground and keep the dust out of your socks, so I’m not going to fight it. Howdy pard’ner. My costume for the show, however, is utterly impractical: stockings and print dresses, red lipstick that acts as a kind of dust trap. Thus we are all getting a taste of the discombobulation of the families that turned up from a handful of ivy-clad universities 70 years ago to live in these surreal conditions. Our set is an army barracks that stood neglected in Santa Fe – until the TV show moved in, added some fantastic period detail, and returned it to its austere Forties appearance. Downtown Santa Fe bears no resemblance to its wartime incarnation. The traditional adobe houses are home to French restaurants and installation sculptors. There is a Bikram Yoga studio and a Whole Foods. But to a Londoner, the sun, the sky and the slight dizziness are none the less other-worldly.

In between take-off from Marylebone Station and landing on planet Santa Fe, I stopped by another weird planet, the Los Angeles red carpet of Sabotage, the Arnold Schwarzenegger film I made last year. In the whirlwind of flights, jet lag, mani-pedi and dress fittings I forgot to think up my answer to the inevitable question: “What was it like working with Arnie?”

I usually prepare an all-purpose nugget of humour and flattery that I can slide across the baize to the line of interviewers like a seasoned croupier, but as I approached the first outstretched microphone, I fell at the first gate. How was it working with Arnold? “It was… great, everyone was… lovely… the movie is about, the police… my character was… very… characterful…”

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