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Why Pretend?

By Ollie Campbell

Editor’s note: The following is by one of our crew who goes by the name Ollie. He claims to be an actor known as Billy Campbell. Maybe this is true, we try not to get too involved with our crew’s personal fantasy life but he does look a lot like that guy… he wanted to write this and we saw no harm in it, so here ya go for a fantasy ego trip…

I don’t go to sea to get away from it all.

There’s no ‘all’ to get away from. I enjoy a perfect cocktail of circumstance in the non-watery part of my life, and am grateful for it. I’m well enough known as a thespian (Ed note: “Don’t ask, don’t tell”) to work regularly the last few decades, but not so well known that I can’t read a book in peace on a park bench, usually Patrick O’Brian (Ed note: Very salty guy, eh?). Those encounters I do have are not only seldom, but mostly sweet; folks are generally conscious of intruding, apologetic, complimentary. In fact I have – in almost 30 years of acting – yet to weary of fraternizing with fans. Not only do I enjoy the occasional friendly reminder that my career’s alive (it has, at times, seemed comatose), but I genuinely enjoy people, whatever they have to say, however they have to say it (Ed note: Most people are wise enough to realize that this guy aint B.C. hence they leave him alone, even stay away…).

Not that there aren’t awkward instances, but those mainly consist of jangled nerves on the part of someone who has approached despite their shyness. I always feel awkward in return, eager to help us both back to normalcy, so we can relax, chat for real.

I even get a kick out of the occasional boorish encounter, of which there have been more than you’d guess over the years. These I kind of look on as zen challenges, my chance to leave a better impression than they’ve earned a right to expect – the bone-heads.

Inasmuch as I’d considered it, I had no real expectations, when first departing Lunenburg on the Picton Castle, of being recognized abroad (Ed note: Like I said, most people see no resemblance…). Certainly not under the windswept palms, on the sugar-white beaches and craggy bluffs, in the mingle-mangle markets and bazaars of the South Pacific, South Africa and the Caribbean, to which our merry barque would deliver us.

But I had (to paraphrase a favorite philosopher) mis-underestimated the renown of J-Lo (Ed note: And one time leader of the free world…).

I’d years ago done a bit of a potboiler with the inestimable Miss Lopez, entertaining to be sure, but far from a treatise on the subject of human cruelty. The film nevertheless and mysteriously made a lasting impression on folk, perhaps as a kind of domestic abuse revenge fantasy. J-Lo (still just Jenny from the hood, mind you) marries a brute who beats her (played by moi), gets herself some martial arts training, turns the tables, kills the creep (on a table). Girl meets boy, boy beats girl, girl kills boy. A simple formula with, as it turns out, universal appeal. Or was her eminence, La Lopez, the real appeal? I still can’t say.

Cut to: Suva, capital of Fiji, downtown. Capital of the South Pacific. Huge open air markets, burning tropical sun, a rainbow of people, maddening wheezing traffic; teaming with vendors, Indian shops, hucksters, beggars, shoeshine boys; redolent with thick other-world odors and sights, yet a big city with fancy watch and shoe stores for those that wear them. Waiting to cross a congested street, I am startled to find myself closely shadowed by a man with frightfully impressive dreadlocks. He’s standing so close over my shoulder I can smell him (not unpleasant, just… rich). He is carrying a walking stick and wearing a banana-leaf around his willy (literally just a leaf and JUST around his willy; no shoes, not a stitch of clothing else, unless you count a shoulder-bag of woven grass). I see bloodshot eyes when I turn to confront him, which do not blink as they stare into mine.

He is giving me the stink-eye, as it turns out, for beating up J-Lo.

I thought him a bit unhinged at first (tourist’s assumption), but that was before we got to talking. His English, though spotty, was better than my nonexistent Fijian, and I came to find him quite, um, well-hinged; sharp (despite his taste in cinema) and entertaining company. He was a traditionalist (part of a kind of Fijian back-to-nature movement, see quite few around town), lived in a ‘custom village’ in the mountains, but, I gathered, was given to watching DVDs when visiting relatives in town, something over which he seemed not the least conflicted. He rather enjoys the effect of his appearance on tourists, I think, (fellow Fijians, who seem to dress mostly in Tommy Hilfiger, think nothing of it), had been amused to find himself glaring at the bastard that beat up J-Lo, so had laid on some extra eyeball.

On taking our leave of each other – I’d had the universal language of cold beer in my bag, a couple of which we shared in the park – I returned to the subject of the film (which he pronounced as ‘fill’em’), and wondered what he’d found memorable about it.

‘Nobody (should) beat nobody.’ is what (I think) he said, confirming my theory of the universal appeal of the film’s simplistic formula.

‘Specially her.’ He added.

Still, Suva’s a big city, cosmopolitan. I was astounded to be recognized in Pukapuka, a tiny very remote atoll in the Cook Islands, for the same transgression. Also called Danger Island, Pukapuka is a reef with a couple hillocks, home to 500 souls, surrounded by endless ocean. Home, too, of all things that fly and sting and suck. Isolated, no anchorage at all, the ship heaves-to or ties to the reef hoping the steady tradewinds will hold her off, and the reef is so precipitous you could entirely submerge the World Trade Centers (upright) just a coconut’s throw from it. We were delivering ‘emergency supplies’ at the request of the island leaders stuck in Rarotonga, and a lady in the longboat, on our way to shore, is narrowing her eyes at me: That Guy who beat up The Gal in That Movie. Onshore, barefoot on coral sand, under swaying palms, a girl of 4, who’d seen the movie with her family, cried when her mom tried to put her in my arms. Couldn’t blame her. Same in Nassau Island, enroute to Pukapuka, even more remote, and just 100 residents. And these are places to which we were delivering emergency supplies, because the regular service is so… irregular. But they got a J.Lo movie and a player to view it on…

Downright gobsmacked I was then, you may imagine, by the fellows in Asanvari, Vanuatu, one of the more primal places we’ve visited (Ed note: No roads to Asanvari, can only get there by boat which usually means outrigger dugout; steep jungle covered mountains, cascading waterfalls, palm thatched huts in a small village), who pegged me for ‘the Rocketeer’. Electricty (only in certain huts) from tiny bush generators powers a radio or the single dangling lightbulb for the clinic, and only a few hours a day at that, but they could watch DVDs. They loved it, watched it all the time when it was on the island, were much impressed with Jennifer Connelly (an admiration we, um, bonded over) (Ed note: The gang at Asanvari even asked to meet Ollie and find out how movies are made. The meet was arranged, I have no idea what lies he told these folks…). Turns out they share DVDs with other islands in the group, so films will circulate a while, then be paddled off in a dugout to be watched in a thatched hut in Bwatnapne, or Banam Bay, over a meal of lap-lap with coconut and chicken, feet and beak and all.

As unreal as it sometimes is for me, I think it’s even weirder for my shipmates in the Picton Castle. They don’t think of me as anyone but Ollie, giant, crazy, ass-slapping pseudo-gayboy, hiding out in the Captain’s mess, who smells as bad as anyone onboard (or worse) (Ed note: Well, this much is true anyway). It never fails to raise giggles of astonishment when, out and about with my mates, I am recognized and made a fuss of. They have fun with it, too. A lady in the store in Dominica was on to me, as 2nd mate Bracken and I were grabbing libations for a hike to the Boiling Lake. She was standing, slack-jawed and smiling, silently wagging a finger in my direction, trying to place me, when Bracken couldn’t take it anymore, became ‘incensed’ that she hadn’t recognized HIM – ‘Are you kidding?! I’m action star Jet Bracken!’ — and she seemed then for a moment nonplussed, like she ought to recognize him, was maybe missing out on something. The nice fellow who took our photo with the lady’s cell phone thought maybe he’d seen Bracken in a Jackie Chan movie, was so nervous he used the phone backward, took the first snap of himself. (In fairness Jet has yet to take over Hong Kong from Jackie, as we know he will. He is the Castle’s hero for now, star of many a 12 to 4 watch’s coffee-fueled action fantasy. Filmography on request.)

Captain’s even in on the fun, leading some unsuspecting folk to believe I am impersonating the actor I happen to resemble, Billy Campbell. Cap himself is quite convincing, has left more than one would-be fan wondering if they’d been duped by me (Ed note: Just trying to keep it real for these folks, keep this delusional fraud to a minimum…). I sometimes retaliate by pretending to be the Captain, convincing folk that he’s the celebrity (as I guess he actually is in sailing-ship circles). I sometimes behave very badly while pretending to be him. (Shh, though.)

Then there are the run-ins with tourists. Had a big thrill in Saint Barths, where I was recognized for the ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ I did with Dana Delaney, at the Old Globe in San Diego. Recognized for stage-work! Hardly ever happens, even at home. Gleefully texted Dana about it. She wrote back:

‘Of course. You were that bad. Love you, D.’

(Ed note: Oh sure, Dana Delaney, Captain’s personal favorite and lifetime knockout crush and he knows this, coincidence? I don’t think so…why not throw in Julia Roberts? Already tossed in Jennifer Connelly. Hey, why not that amazing Olivia Thrilby??? Cuz no one would buy that…sheesh…and what about Sela Ward? The REAL Billy Campbell was in “Once and Again” with Sela Ward. Big Show, big Star. But he doesn’t mention her. Why not? Maybe he don’t know about that show! Maybe he isn’t faking as good as he thought he was! )

One fellow, can’t remember where, approached me with ‘Hey! Aren’t you–’

‘Yes. Yes I am.’ I cheerfully replied.

‘David James Elliot! I knew it! Loved you on J.A.G.!’

Embarrassed, I played along, signed an autograph, hopefully making as good an impression as David does for himself, at least in the handwriting department.

Lesson learned there.

(Ed note: In Panama some guy thought he was Pierce Brosnan. Did he say “no, I am Billy Campbell?” Nope, just signed the paper as P.B., this guy is sick…

Over the course of the 4th World Voyage I had to grow my hair and beard for a TV show I was doing at the time. Both were quite long, and on arrival the kids in Bequia wouldn’t stop asking me if I was Jesus. No, but I played Moses on TV. They hadn’t seen that. I was Jesus to them, rest of our stay.

This time in Bequia, nearly the entire staff of the Frangipani were on to me; photos, autographs, hugs and kisses, the whole shebang. One sweet woman, having just hugged me, held me at arm’s distance, asked reproachfully ‘Why you have to beat that woman?’

‘It’s just… I’m not really that way!’ I laughed.

‘I know,’ she said, hugging me again ‘but why you have to pretend?’

Almost thirty years on, I still can’t say.

Ollie and fans in Bequia
Ollie and his Asanvari fans
Ollie and his fan Bernadette
Ollie fans
Ollie signs autographs

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