Christian Bale strolled out of the East Washington entrance of the Capitol on Monday, sporting a sharply lined dark suit and slicked hair. He was here with Billy Crudup and a big Hollywood crew to shoot scenes for the gangster film Public Enemies, set in the 1930s. Vintage cars lined Pinckney Street, and extras milled around in long coats and fedoras.
"Christian!" shrieked a teenage girl, provoking fans around her into a flurry of picture-taking.
The star ducked down on the Capitol's marble steps and hung his suit coat over the banister. The fans groaned as he disappeared from view.
A tiny woman barreled to the front of the crowd, unsteadily holding a video camera in front of her face. She wore a white T-shirt with Bale's face on it.
"Did I miss him? Is he there?" she asked frantically. "Did I miss Christian?"
Johnny Depp, who stars as bank robber John Dillinger, wasn't at the Capitol shoot. But that was only a minor setback for excited fans. A bouncy blond woman in front of me stage-whispered into her cell phone, "I'm about 50 yards away from Christian Bale right now, and they're warning us to be very quiet because they're doing sound."
An unlikely gawker joined the crowd: Mayor Dave Cieslewicz. "I was on my way to the gym and thought I'd check out the action," he explained.
I spoke with UW alum Bridget Maniaci, who served as an extra during the production's recent shoot in Darlington. She has been called back as a stand-in at this weekend's shoot in the Wisconsin Dells. Maniaci admitted to being star-struck when Academy Award-winning costume designer Colleen Atwood fitted her with a 1930s-era costume.
Maniaci is hopeful that, with new tax incentives in place, Wisconsin will see more filmmaking of this sort. She was happy to notice several Madisonians employed on the set.
"There was a local girl working as a seamstress - you know, sewing buttons and fixing zippers on the fly. And there was a local hairdresser doing some of the haircutting, too."
Robert Chappell, communications director for Lt. Gov. Barbara Lawton, notes that Public Enemies brings with it tremendous economic opportunity. "And this is just the start," he said. "There are going to be many more film projects here, hopefully, and the businesses that come with them."
So what does Wisconsin have that Hollywood doesn't? "There's a lack of ego and pretension here compared to the West Coast," Maniaci said.
And there's no lack of enthusiasm. Near the end of the day's filming, I saw the woman in the Christian Bale shirt again. She jogged around the Capitol Square's inner loop, no doubt hoping for another glimpse of "Christian!"