Photo by Karina Andrew/Whidbey News-Times
The town of Coupeville is celebrating Halloween with a tribute to “Practical Magic,” the film starring Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman as sister witches that was filmed in Coupeville in the late 1990s.

Photo by Karina Andrew/Whidbey News-Times The town of Coupeville is celebrating Halloween with a tribute to “Practical Magic,” the film starring Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman as sister witches that was filmed in Coupeville in the late 1990s.

Coupeville extras reminisce about a practically magic time on film set

Coupeville celebrates a Halloween tribute to the film with decorations and special showings.

The town of Coupeville was in need of a jump-start when the crew of “Practical Magic” began filming.

At least that’s the way Jim Marti remembers it. As a high school junior disillusioned with small town life, he felt trapped on Whidbey Island and was eagerly counting down the days until he could graduate and move away.

When word of a big Hollywood title coming to Coupeville spread through town in 1998, however, the place Marti had come to see as boring and provincial seemed suddenly glamorous and full of adventure.

“It’s a very small town, like 1,300 people, so something like this coming through town was a big deal,” he said. “It was exciting for a little kid like myself who yearned to get out of Coupeville at the time.”

Marti has since moved away from Whidbey Island, but as the town of Coupeville celebrates a Halloween tribute to the film with decorations around town and special showings, he and other locals who participated remember the experience as an exciting one — and an event that changed Coupeville for the better.

Auditions for extras were held in the local gymnasium, and it was a competitive event, Marti said. It seemed that almost everyone in town turned up to try to win a few seconds of screen time.

“They’d line us up, and some of us would stand a foot out to stand out, to try to get our foot in the door,” he said. “Anything possible to stand out to get into it.”

Marti ended up being cast as one of the town kids who taunts the young daughters of Sally Owens, played by Sandra Bullock, at an intersection on Front Street.

Locals also had the chance to vie for some of the film’s small speaking roles. Former Coupeville resident Alice Martin recalls being selected to shout, “Michael, look out!” just before Sally’s husband is hit by a truck at the beginning of the movie.

“I remember the assistant director kind of jabbing Griffin Dunne in the ribs and then pointing at me,” she said. “Later on someone approached me and told me that Griffin Dunne, the director, had cast me in the film.”

Excited as she was to be cast in a speaking role, Martin said delivering her line was a nerve-racking experience — a crowd of Coupeville residents had turned out to watch the filming. The audience isn’t visible in the movie, of course, but Martin could see friends and strangers alike watching her brief performance.

She had to go through several takes before she could even get a sound out and remembers Dunne’s exaggerated arm-waving as he tried to encourage her to increase her volume.

“It was almost like he was conducting an orchestra,” Martin said.

For those who weren’t assigned specific scenes or roles, acting in the film was a waiting game. Extras on call were asked to hang out in Toby’s Tavern downtown until someone came to collect them for a scene.

Sylvia Simpson, a town resident at the time, said some extras only hung around the tavern to be paid, but she and her husband cared more about appearing in the film.

They weren’t the only ones invested in seeing their faces on the silver screen; Marti said the competitive spirit of the auditions made its way into the tavern, where extras were quick to try to ingratiate themselves with any crew members they came in contact with.

“We would stay upstairs in front of the door in case the director came in,” Simpson said. “As soon as he’d stick his head in and say, ‘I need a (couple),’ I would say, ‘Pick me, pick me!’”

Her eagerness paid off, landing her in the background of several scenes, though she didn’t have any lines.

Simpson said at one point she was invited to audition for a speaking part; she practiced her few sentences ad nauseum but was too nervous to win the role when it came time to audition. The setback didn’t put a damper on her fun, however.

“I was just so thrilled to be asked to audition, it didn’t matter to me that I didn’t get it,” she said.

Extras were responsible for providing their own costumes, and every outfit had to adhere to the film’s earth-toned color scheme. Even the buildings on Front Street were painted shades of white and cream to fit the Cape Cod aesthetic, though they were later repainted their original colors.

Filmmakers were committed to the palette; Simpson said her beige Thunderbird, fitted with Massachusetts license plates, made it into more scenes than she did.

Several participants remember their time on set not only as a foray into Hollywood life, but also as a time to connect with family and friends. Simpson said she got to be in a number of scenes with her then husband, who has since passed away.

“One of the scenes that we were in was a farmers market scene, and he is giving me a bouquet of flowers,” she said. “It’s a very nice memory of him, in that movie.”

For Marti, it was his mother who participated in the film alongside him. He said they share great memories of time together on set.

Marti said “Practical Magic” gave Coupeville a much-needed facelift, and not just because the buildings on Front Street were treated to a fresh paint job.

The film addresses themes of community and acceptance of people who don’t fit the typical mold. Marti said that in the two decades since Practical Magic was filmed, Coupeville has made great strides in embracing those same values.

As a closeted gay kid at the time the movie was filmed, Marti said he didn’t feel comfortable being himself in Coupeville while he was growing up. Now, he does.

“It’s certainly grown, I think, and is ‘Practical Magic’ partly to credit for that? Sure,” he said. “It’s always been a touristy town, but it just bumped it up to a level of a little more culture and diversity, which I love going back to visit now.”

Coupeville’s Halloween theme this year is “It’s Practically Magic!” in honor of the town’s favorite film. “Practical Magic” will be shown at the Coupeville Rec Hall this weekend, Oct. 29 and 30. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.

Photo by Karina Andrew/Whidbey News-Times
The town of Coupeville pays tribute to “Practical Magic” with pumpkins painted with scenes from the film.

Photo by Karina Andrew/Whidbey News-Times The town of Coupeville pays tribute to “Practical Magic” with pumpkins painted with scenes from the film.

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