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On Location with ‘The Heart Machine’

A peek inside the modern-day love story’s NYC set

Sometimes, it seems, the acting in a film can be almost too real. Or at least that was the case on the Manhattan set of The Heart Machine, where a fight scene made onlookers more than a little uncomfortable.

“There was one scene where I’m trying to sneak into this apartment building, and it’s all one take, and there were these guys that had been hired to basically improvise a fight,” explains the film’s star, John Gallagher, Jr. “So, these actors came in and very convincingly started improvising a fight, and some of the other actors were trying to break it up. And in the middle of one of the takes, a cop car pulled up and tried to break up the fight—they thought it was an actual fight on the street.”

Luckily the boys in blue went on their way and the cast members were left with an amusing story to tell.

“Everybody got a pretty sizable laugh out of that,” Gallagher explains. “We had to explain that no, we weren’t really fighting. We’re acting in a movie that’s shooting down the block; it’s just that you can’t really see them down there with the handheld camera.”

What the cops—and everyone else—can see is the finished project, a story that follows Gallagher’s Cody as he meets a woman online and comes to believe that she’s not exactly who she claims to be.

In fact, mistaken identity is something that The Heart Machine dealt with even behind the scenes.

“This really sweet kid, he was like 14 or 15, recognized me from The Newsroom, and when we were on a break I talked to him for a while,” Gallagher recalls. “He was a really well-spoken, eloquent young guy, and then I found out that he thought we were filming The Newsroom. There was a woman next to me who was playing one of the occupants of the building. I don’t think she had any lines, but she was shot coming in and out of the building, so he went up to her and mistook her for Emily Mortimer, and he was like, ‘I love you; I love the show.’ And rather than telling the kid the truth, she was like, ‘Oh, thank you very much!'”

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