NEW YORK -- Throngs of protesters gathered at the courthouse steps, chanting for freedom for their embattled hero. Police kept watch as passions flared and voices roared. Squad cars and television trucks encircled the commotion.
It’s a scene New York City authorities have been bracing for as prosecutors consider an indictment against former President Donald Trump, who has invited followers to rally on his behalf. But on Saturday, it was just a movie shoot — for the “Joker” sequel to be precise.
The roars faded and the crowds dispersed — on command — when the director yelled, “Cut!”
The New York City shoot for the upcoming “Joker” sequel had been planned for months; but in recent days, production crews wrestled with the possibility that filming could be disrupted by real-life protests over the Trump case — none of which have so far materialized.
In the end, film workers forged ahead, said Leo Maniscalchi, a production assistant, who was taking a break at a nearby coffee house.
“They needed to do what they needed to get this done,” he said.
In the film, the Joker, played by Joaquin Phoenix, inspires protests against Gotham’s elites.
In real life, Trump has inspired protests, too. In recent weeks, the former president has called on his supporters to protest what he said was an impending indictment accusing him of paying $130,000 to buy the silence of porn actor Stormy Daniels.
“They can’t stop production for anything, really,” Maniscalchi said. “The scene didn’t call for rain, but we’re still out here.”
For the past week, crowds — mostly news media — have been staking out another courthouse up the street from filming. Earlier in the week, a band of young Republicans staged a protest but its numbers were dwarfed by a crush of journalists. A rumored caravan of Trump adherents also did not take place, neither did a march dozens of blocks from the Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue to the Manhattan courthouse in the lower city.
When we last saw the Joker, he was running down the halls of a mental asylum with Frank Sinatra singing “That’s Life.”
In the sequel, called “Joker: Folie à Deux,” Lady Gaga joins the cast as Harley Quinn, his love interest. Fittingly, the new movie, expected to be released late next year, is being billed as a musical.
Siris Pagan, 30, arrived in lower Manhattan with his friend, Marissa Perez, to watch the filming.
“When some of the shots were being filmed, we started hearing loud chanting in the background and everybody was just turning around," Pagan said.
Just a block away, both sides of the abortion issue were competing for attention.
He thought it might have been part of the movie, but soon realized: “Oh, no, it’s a whole different thing going on.”
Reality and make-believe were suddenly colliding, he said.
Jaymie Robinson, a 24-year-old extra from Newark, New Jersey, recounted how she heard one bystander who seemed confused about whether she was part of a real protest. The cameras and phony police cars — and signs saying “Free Joker” — should have been a dead giveaway, she said.
Laurie Allard, who was visiting from Montreal, Canada, came upon the outdoor movie set while touring downtown Manhattan and initially didn’t know it was related to filming.
She was vaguely familiar with the Trump case — and knew it was happening nearby. So when she saw the throngs, she was a bit startled.
“I didn't want to be trapped in a protest or something ... if there's one happening,” Allard said.
Filming continues Sunday.