April 16 was not a good day for director Bryan Singer. On his way to the Sherman Oaks, Calif., set of Apt Pupil, his first film since The Usual Suspects, he got a flat tire on the Pacific Coast Highway. He dragged himself through a long shooting day while suffering from the flu and didn't take a break until 6 p.m. And when he sat down to dinner with screenwriter Brandon Boyce, a crew member whispered some very bad news in his ear: A 14-year-old extra named Devin St. Albin had filed a lawsuit claiming that the filmmakers had ordered him and other minors to strip for a scene that was shot in the showers of a school locker room.
Singer excused himself from the table, conferred with the producers, and decided to return to work. But a few hours later, after trying to film a technically difficult shot, he gave up. ''I'm about to die,'' he said.
Two weeks earlier, on the morning of April 2, a dozen-odd extras had arrived at the gymnasium of Altadena's Elliot Middle School to shoot a scene from Apt Pupil, the Stephen King adaptation starring Brad Renfro as a teenager obsessed with a Nazi war criminal (Ian McKellen). What actually happened after the extras entered the locker room has now become the subject of two lawsuits two more boys are now supporting St. Albin's claim and the centerpiece of an ongoing argument about the rights and welfare of child actors.
According to St. Albin, a 17-year-old plaintiff named Ryan Glomboske, and Peter Gordon, the attorney for a third minor, 16-year-old David Stockdale, the boys local high school athletes recruited by the production were asked to bring bathrobes to the set to film a nightmare sequence in which shower stalls turn into gas chambers. While the parents of the minors sat in the gym, the extras who ranged in age from adolescents to geriatrics were led into a locker room and instructed to change into sheer peach-colored G-strings provided by the wardrobe department. ''Nobody really said anything, but we looked at each other. We were uncomfortable,'' says St. Albin. ''You could hear everyone saying 'What the heck is that?''' Glomboske remembers. ''People were nervous.''
According to St. Albin and Glomboske (who is joining his suit), the extras, wearing their robes over the G-strings, were ushered past the parents into the shower-room set, where they were told to take off their bathrobes. Then, say St. Albin and Glomboske, they were asked by assistant directors Fernando Altschul and Tom DeSantos to remove their G-strings.
''I looked around for help, for someone to say, 'There are minors here,''' says St. Albin. ''I raised my hand and said I wasn't comfortable. The assistant director looked very upset and said, 'I guess we can switch you with this other kid.' They gave me a towel to put on over the G-string'' and moved him out of clear sight, next to the lockers.
Glomboske says that he moved closer to a shower head to shield himself but, unlike the other extras, did not remove his G-string. After filming the scene, Glomboske says he was approached by a frustrated assistant director, who asked him why he hadn't undressed. ''I said I was a minor,'' says Glomboske, who asserts that after an informal conference between crew members about what one of them called ''a minor problem,'' he was assured that it was not illegal for him to be filmed nude.