Oh, you haven’t seen the 1999 romantic comedy Undercover Angel? Don’t worry, no one has! I believe it had a very limited theatrical release and then essentially went straight-to-video.
So why am I bothering to write about it? It doesn’t seem like a film many people would be searching for. That’s ok, but the movie is special to me, since I was in it!
In the summer of 1998, there was an article in the Ottawa Citizen announcing that a big Hollywood movie would be filming in Ottawa. The film was looking for extras, and they were asking people to apply. I sent my application and sadly didn’t hear back.
About a week before Undercover Angel started filming, a family friend called our house. His sister was actually in charge of casting, and she wanted some more teenagers as extras in the film. We were asked if we could be free for 5 days, and of course we said yes! That began a weeklong adventure and my first exposure to the film industry.
The Canal Ritz Restaurant
We showed up early in the morning, around 8am, and checked in. There wasn’t a lot of extras , only about 10-15. We were directed to a garden next to the restaurant where we could set up our lawn chairs. This would be where we would hang out for the 2 days of filming when we weren’t needed.
During our waiting time, we sat around reading books, skateboarding, chatting with other extras, anything to pass the time. On the crew was Glenn Kulka, former professional football player who was in charge of security on the set. He turned out to be a very friendly guy, and spent some time chatting with us.
The first appearance in the movie was actually by my cousin, Chris. In one of the opening scenes, the character of Holly (played by Yasmine Bleeth) was walking down a path towards the restaurant, and he passes behind her on his skateboard. I remember him having to do it several times, as they filmed the scene from different angles.
After that, my sister and I were up! We were placed at a table on the patio of the restaurant, and they placed bagels in front of us. As Holly walked from a newspaper box towards the entrance to the restaurant, the camera passes right in front of us. I was facing the camera, so they told me to make sure I looked at my sister as though we were having a conversation, as opposed to looking at the camera.
We stayed at the table while they filmed a number of scenes on the patio. These scenes involved Harrison first meeting Holly near the start of the film. My sister and I were at a table right between them. I was told to take a bite of a bagel, then the scene would cut. They then replaced it with a fresh bagel to reshoot the scene. Unfortunately the cameras didn’t capture us doing this, as they were doing close-ups of the actors.
We ended up being at the restaurant for 2 full days over a Monday and Tuesday. During this time, we got to meet the director and the crew. We also met the stars, Yasmine Bleeth, Dean Winters, and Emily Mae Young, who was just 8 years old at the time. We also got to meet her mom and chat.
I don’t know if it was an oversight, but there was no food available for the extras during filming. The restaurant was closed to the public and there were no other food options nearby. When Emily Mae Young’s mother heard about this, she demanded that the production provide food to all the extras. After that, we were invited to join the crew for their catering.
The restaurant is still open, and I stopped by recently to take some photos and have breakfast. There really haven’t been many changes since the filming 20 years ago. The patio is still set up the same, and the views over the canal are stunning. It is well worth a visit if you are in town.
One big change to the area is the ponds and grassy areas outside the restaurant. Since the filming, a large pedestrian bridge was built over the canal, drastically changing the view and the landscaping. I did my best to locate a couple other spots in this area, but the new bridge made it very difficult.
Thunderbird Go-Karts and Mini-Golf
After a day off on Wednesday, we were asked to be at Thunderbird Go Karts and Mini-Golf. This is where filming would be on the Thursday and Friday. We showed up again early in the morning, and were set up in parking lot. They had chairs and picnic tables for us, next to the stars trailers.
During the first day, we spent a lot of time driving our go-karts around the track in the background. It was a lot of fun, as we could drive the track as much as we wanted during the breaks from filming as well.
On the second day, they were shooting on the mini-golf course. This was a little more tedious, as we had to keep playing the same hole over and over again.
Thunderbird closed several years ago, and the location has not been redeveloped. I recently stopped by, and unfortunately the site has been abandoned. It is now overgrown with vegetation, and from the street you can’t even tell what it once was. Venturing inside, I was able to get onto the go-kart track, where the pavement is in rough shape. The hut featured in the film is now completely gone. The mini-golf course is looking even worse, as you can see above. The obstacles have been removed, and weeds have overtaken the whole course. There are still patches of artificial turn that once made up the courses.
The parking lot, which was the location of the movie stars trailers during the filming, now looks more like a garbage heap. There is a pile of trash in the middle, and more weeds overtaking the lot. It certainly looks nothing like the well manicured destination of fun that it portrayed in Undercover Angel.
The following week, we were asked to be extras for one more scene, being filmed at a local book store called Chapters (now Indigo). When we showed up, we saw a group of a couple hundred extras being kept in an area of the parking lot. This group was to form a long line outside the store waiting for a book signing. Unfortunately this afternoon of filming was not nearly as fun or interesting as the prior week, as there was so many people. We didn’t get to chat with the crew, and were mostly just treated like cattle.
Also, they cut the scene short in the film before we could even be seen. That was the end of our role as extras.
555 Legget Drive
Moving on to other locations in the city that were featured in Undercover Angel. Holly’s office building was filmed at 555 Legget Drive in Kanata. This office building is in the high tech region of Ottawa, often referred to as Silicon Valley North.
The Supreme Court of Canada
Filming of the court scene near the climax of the film took place at the Supreme Court of Canada in downtown Ottawa. This attracted a lot of local attention as legendary actor James Earl Jones played the part of the judge.
The centre of Canadian Government, Parliament Hill is seen twice in the film. Once, it is briefly shown to establish the location of the following scenes. In another part, the character of Melissa (Lorraine Ansell) is seen in a phone conversation with Parliament Hill and the Ottawa skyline in the background. This scene was filmed from the rooftop of the Westin Hotel.
The Old American Embassy
Before the US built it’s hideous fortress-like embassy in Ottawa, it was originally located in a Beaux-Arts style building just across from Parliament Hill. In Undercover Angel, this building was used as a US Passport office.
The film features clips of the main character, Harrison appearing on a talk show to promote his children’s book. The host of the show was played by legendary radio DJ, Casey Kasem. These scenes were filmed at CJOH, now known as CTV Ottawa.
CJOH first came on the air in 1961, and it’s location on Merivale road housed it’s newsroom and offices, as well as a number of studios. Over the years, these studios filmed a number of local shows including Homegrown Cafe, Willy & Floyd, Uncle Chichimus, and annual telethons.
One well-known show filmed is You Can’t Do That On Television. It started as a local Ottawa program, which eventually aired nationally, and then on Nickelodeon in the US. Despite becoming a worldwide sensation, all 10 seasons were filmed at CJOH in Ottawa.
In Undercover Angel, the news studio was used to stage the talk show. The anchor desk was removed, but the background remained the same. A desk and chairs were set up to film Casey Kasem interviewing Harrison.
In 2010, the building was sadly engulfed in a fire. The structure, it’s contents, and archives couldn’t be salvaged, and the site was bulldozed. CJOH moved to a new building in downtown Ottawa, and the Merivale location is now nothing but an empty lot.
My keepsakes from the Film
I was fortunate from my time on set to have a few keepsakes. One of the crewmembers gave me a copy of the script to keep.
After finishing at the go-kart and mini golf course, I had the chance to get autographs from the cast. I framed them and hung them on my wall.
Of course, I made sure to get photos with the stars as well. Despite being an awkward teenager, I still love the photos, all these years later!
Finally, after meeting Emily Mae Young and spending some time with her family, I wrote in to our local newspaper, the Ottawa Citizen, about my experience on the Undercover Angel set. They published my letter and I had it mounted.