New Orleans native James Roque has just returned home to find that life in the Big Easy is no longer so easy. Tony Scott’s Déjà Vu is filming there, and pockets of the city are alive with people and activity, but scarce workers and shortened business hours have made daily life a challenge.
As a longtime 2nd AD on features, he’s learning to cope by using the same skills that make him effective on set. “You have to plan everything–what time you’re going to eat, where you’re going to eat, or you can get stuck with everything closed or very crowded,” he reports.
Before Hurricane Katrina hit, Roque evacuated to stay with friends in Atlanta, having just wrapped the New Orleans-based romantic comedy Failure to Launch. When he returned, he found the devastation “hard to comprehend.”
“The hurricane was nature, but the failure of the levees–that’s politics, that’s a failure of people, and that kind of hurts,” he confesses.
His allegiance to the flood-damaged city runs deep. After majoring in mass communications at the University of New Orleans, he built his career patiently and doggedly, working for many years as a PA on area productions such as The Pelican Brief and Dead Man Walking.
The typically talkative Roque landed his first DGA job on Sonny, Nicolas Cage’s directorial debut. Developing a bond with New Orleans-based AD Ann Salzer was key to his progress. “I became her guy that she’d take on all her jobs,” he says.
In the aftermath of Katrina, he relocated temporarily to Shreveport to work on Roadhouse 2 and Factory Girl, but itched to get back to New Orleans.
Now that he’s home, he’s feeling the weight of the disaster. The bottom half of a duplex he owns had to be gutted, thanks to weeks of standing water. He’s committed to making the top half of the property habitable again, but anticipates having to make his living away from the city for some time to come. “As a member of the DGA, I have opportunities to go elsewhere and keep working, so I can’t feel sorry for myself,” he says, “but it’s not fun right now.”
Still, Roque says he can’t imagine not maintaining some kind of home in New Orleans, where he cherishes the music and food, and sense of community. ”It’s an easy way of life, and I have family and friends here who will never leave,” he says. “This city has given me a lot. I think I can help in some way. I just don’t think you can walk away.”