Keanu and Sandra may be the stars, but Maple Lake getting star treatment
by Steve Metsch
The buzz in Willow Springs and Palos Hills is about a movie whose two stars are seldom seen.But that hasn't stopped Tatiana Marquez, 19, from being a regular visitor to Maple Lake.
The Cook County Forest Preserve District lake, southwest of 95th Street and Willow Springs Road, is where some scenes for "Il Mare," starring Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock, are being filmed.
The time-traveling romance, a remake of a Korean movie, has Reeves playing an architect and Bullock playing a doctor. They begin exchanging love letters, but soon discover they are living two years apart.
Exactly when the stars show up at Maple Lake is anybody's guess. The movie has a closed set, and those close to the production are far from chatty.
But you get a peek of the movie set, a glass house built on the lake's south shore, from what Marquez calls her "thinking spot," a paved parking lot along 95th Street, about a half-mile west of Willow Springs Road.
She visits almost daily.
"I'd never imagine something like this would happen near Willow Springs. I mean, nothing like this ever happens in Willow Springs," she said.
A tip-off that filming is going on, regular visitors said, is a parking lot at Crawdad Slough, southeast of 95th Street and Willow Springs Road. If the lot is filled with vehicles, Hollywood types are busy nearby.
On a recent morning, Marquez was joined by Carolyn Rudinsky, 17, of Western Springs. The two had never met before, but found themselves chatting about the stars, and life in general, for an hour or so.
"My mom told me about the movie, so I came out here," Rudinsky said.
Marquez said she "saw some sailboats on the water one day, and that was really cool."
A police officer for the Forest Preserve District of Cook County, whose job is to shoo away curious onlookers from the main entrance for Maple Lake, and declined to give his name, said the night sky is sometimes "lit up like a Christmas tree" with movie lighting.
Another officer was not so friendly shooing away a reporter one recent evening. But star-struck folks can sometimes stop by for a peek without being given the bum's rush.
Palos Hills residents Therese and Arnold Duran, driving home from Lemont, heard a movie was being shot at Maple Lake and stopped for a look.
"I think it's great for this area to get some publicity," Therese Duran said. "I used to bring the kids here to fish when they were younger."
She was fishing for sightings of Reeves and Bullock, but nobody was biting.
Oak Lawn resident Eric Rakowski stopped his pickup truck, dug out his binoculars and got a good look into the glass house.
"I hear that Keanu likes it in Chicago. I know when his band played Ridge Fest, a friend of mine said he was good to talk with," Rakowski said.
Maple Lake was selected because Warner Bros. location manager James McCallister recalled some filming there for a TV movie called "Evil Has a Face" in 1996, said Ernie Malik, publicist for "Il Mare."
"It's a key location for us. We couldn't find another one like this in the tri-state area. So we decided to build the house here and film here," Malik said.
The movie company "may do more filming in Willow Springs, but that has not been confirmed yet," Malik said.
What is confirmed is that Maple Lake will be in better shape when the film crews leave.
Warner Bros. agreed to pay the county a $100,000 shooting fee, and will pay a penalty of $1,000 a day if the July 1 deadline is not met, said Steve Mayberry, spokesman for the Forest Preserve District of Cook County.
In addition, Warner Bros. will play at least $40,000 for restoration work to the lake area, Mayberry said.
"If the work should exceed that, they'll pay it. We have a commitment from them that they'll leave the area even better than how they found it," Mayberry said.
A cleanup is needed, said Marquez, who pointed to empty beer cans, bottle caps, and other trash lying on the shore.
It's not unusual, Malik said, for movie companies to leave shooting sites in better shape.
"A lot of times, that does happen. For example, if we were to use somebody's kitchen for a movie, we'll usually restore it to a better situation," he said.
The forest preserve district had the area slated for restoration, so the movie could not have arrived at a better time, Mayberry said.
"We haven't heard from any other movie companies, but we won't turn a deaf ear to anyone that has an interest in filming in the forest preserves," Mayberry said, "as long as we are able to protect the land."
The glass house is slated for demolition when filming is done, Mayberry said.
Kelly O'Brien, an alderman in nearby Palos Hills, is excited that scenes for the movie are being filmed nearby.
"It's a chance to showcase how beautiful the area is," O'Brien said. "And the improvements offer a long-term benefit for the forest preserve."
There's been only one drawback for her.
"I wish I could say that I bumped into Keanu Reeves, but I haven't yet," O'Brien said.