Countless Hollywood movies and TV series have been shot in the Czech Republic in the last two decades. Casting director Nancy Bishop, who moved to Prague in 1994, has worked on many of those projects, from The Bourne Identity to Mission Impossible IV to the as yet unreleased Child 44. We began our tour of “her Prague” at Náměstí Míru, a square close to where she lives. As Bishop and I spoke, a passer-by tinkled the ivories on a free piano metres from our bench.
“If you think of St. Vitus, you really can’t see it until you’re right next to it. It’s really hard to get a picture of it, actually – unless you’re in a helicopter.
“This is a nice, wide open square where you can see the church… Also it really changed it for me when they put this piano here. I don’t play or anything like that,but it’s just cool to be walking through the square, somebody’s playing, and all of a sudden I feel like I live in this really cool place!”
How would you characterise in general this area of Prague?
“It’s very monumental. There are some beautiful landmark buildings and this is known as one of the nicest living areas in Prague.
“There’s a lot of green – there’s a lot of parks. There are a lot of theatres – we can see the Vinohradské divadlo, which is a very monumental theatre.
“There are also lots of cool cafés, wine bars…”
“It’s definitely more developed. It’s more like any other Western European city really – I would say it’s not that different from Vienna. It’s not so rough around the edges as it used to be. It used to be quite rough around the edges.”
Well, as we speak [this was invisible to Bishop] two homeless people are fighting just yards away from us!
“OK, there weren’t so many homeless people 20 years ago. That’s new. Actually I was thinking about that the other day – that’s quite difficult to deal with, the homeless people.
“But in general it’s just become more integrated. It is more integrated –we’re in the EU now. I feel more like I’m just living in Europe, rather than in the Wild East.
“But much to my chagrin, it’s still very much regarded like the Wild East. People still think it’s Czechoslovakia.”
How has the film business changed here? I know in the ‘90s a lot of bit Western productions came to Prague.
“They still are coming. It’s just that we have more competition from the other countries, but we are still filming here. I’m working on a film right now. I think that Prague will always be a good shooting destination.”
Are there any particular locations in the city that are popular with visiting crews?
“They seem to love the National Museum at the top of Wenceslas Square. They use that for all kinds of locations. In fact the irony is that I’ve never even been to that museum except when I was visiting a film shoot. I’ve never actually been to that museum!”
I think it was in the first Mission Impossible movie.
“It was but it’s been in hundreds of movies since then.”
Any other popular spots for filmmakers?
“They always use this one particular French restaurant called Chez Marcel when they want a French café. Without fail…”
Doesn’t Prague also represent Paris in some films?
“Very many movies, yes. But actually it’s doubling as London in the film that I’m working on now. And one of the first movies I ever worked on was Dune, which was of course science fiction, and that was all studio.”
Nancy Bishop runs her casting business from a grand location, the Kolowrat Palace on Ovocný trh in Prague’s Old Town. As she fills me in on the history of the 17th century building, blood curdling screams are audible in the corridor – a theatre group are rehearsing in a large room opposite Bishop’s office.
“It’s originally from the Kolowrat family. It was part of the National Theatre complex for many years and was restituted back to the family after the Velvet Revolution. But the family was still cooperating with the National Theatre – in the attic here we have a theatre.
“It’s been gradual but in the past year they’ve been in the process of handing it over to the Prague Shakespeare Company, which is a professional English language company that does Shakespeare and other things.”
It’s a fabulous building – it must be a great place to come to work every day.
“I’m very lucky. I’m lucky to be friends with the Prague Shakespeare Company and they sublet to me at a very reasonable rate. It’s very inspiring to be here. It’s a beautiful place – I mean it’s a palace!
“It’s also very inspiring to be around these actors and the community of people. It’s a fun, vibrant atmosphere.”
Are there any drawbacks to working in such an old building?
“It’s been renovated so well there really aren’t very many drawbacks... There’s also the theatre club in the basement, which the Prague Shakespeare Company has taken over. They haven’t had their official opening yet, but it’s something to watch out for. It’s a nice place to get a glass of wine before a performance.
Across the street from here is the Estates Theatre. Do you as part of your job spend a lot of time in Czech theatres? Do you go to a lot of plays?
“I do. I haven’t been as much as I’d like to in the last year, because I’m travelling all the time. But of course I try to see what’s going on. For instance there’s an excellent production there of Havel’s The Garden Party.”
You first came to Prague to direct at the Black Box Theatre company in the ‘90s. What state is English language theatre in today in Prague?
“It’s blossoming. It’s blooming. There’s tonnes of theatre in English. The Prague Shakespeare Company is in residence here and producing all the time. Then there are two others. There’s one called Love and Rhetoric and there’s one called the Prague Playhouse. So there’s lots going on in English.”
Frankly I’m surprised that there’s a market for that many theatres in English in Prague.
“Well, I think there are times when they’re struggling for audiences. But it’s really high quality now. It’s higher quality than it’s ever been before, so it’s definitely worth making the effort to see it.”
How did you find working with the Black Box Theatre back in the ‘90s?
“It was so new to have theatre in English – it was a phenomenon. The first play I directed was called Grace and we did it at the Žižkovské divadlo in a little working class neighbourhood. People would go and see it because it was such an anomaly.”
The final stop on our tour of “Nancy Bishop’s Prague” is Radost FX, a restaurant, lounge and night club complex a stone’s throw from I.P. Pavlova metro station. Bishop has been coming to Radost since the early 1990s when it was opened by a Slovak-American couple who’d moved here from New York.
“It’s really one of the consistent places for me in Prague. I came here for the first time in 1994 and I have to say it’s still a great place 20 years later. The food is consistently good. It’s a fun atmosphere. It’s a place where when visitors come to town… I live in the neighbourhood and I bring them here and they always like it.”
Is it my imagination or has the menu stayed the same? Or perhaps it’s just the brunch menu?
“I think it’s evolved but there are some things which have been on the menu for a long time.”
Also I guess in those days, when they started, brunch wasn’t so common in Prague?
“Yes, it was probably the only brunch in Prague – or one of the few. Now there are many, that’s true.”
It kind of seems to me to be a place that time has a little bit passed by. In the ‘90s it was the place to be.
“It’s true. There were fewer places. This was the first places opened right after the revolution that was kind of an American-owned club. It’s true – it was a big deal back then. There was nothing like it. It was hip in a new way. All the film parties were here, and all that.
“But it’s still a great place. It’s just that there’s so much competing with it, I suppose, that it makes it seem like it’s been passed by. But for me it hasn’t – it’s still one of my favourite restaurants.”
Where else do you like to go in Prague, what other bars or cafés?
“I also love… everybody who loves Asian fusion food knows about Sansho. That’s become very popular. They have a Michelin Bib, and they just opened a new more café-bar kind of place right next door to it. So those I guess would be on my list right now.”
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