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These Triplets Solved 'ER's' Casting Emergency

When the call came for a baby to be born on the show, the Epstein family was happy to oblige.

December 09, 1998|BENJAMIN EPSTEIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Our triplets were three weeks old when "ER" called.

You can't miss them: Collectively they portray the baby delivered near the end of Thursday's show by emergency room regulars played by George Clooney and Julianna Margulies.

That was momentous enough for us, but it's also the series' 100th episode. We didn't know any of this at the time; neither my wife, Kathleen, nor I had ever even seen "ER."

Neither had we sought out Hollywood. With 3-week-old triplets, the only thing we were looking for was a night's sleep. (We're still looking.)

But when we found out earlier this year that we were expecting triplets, our doctor and practically everyone else suggested we join support organizations. One was Orange County-based Multiple Miracle Moms.

So when "ER" assistant director Tommy Burns needed a baby for the 100th episode, his staff called a children's screen agency, which contacted Multiple Miracle Moms, which called us.

Irene Gallagher of Burbank-based Screen Children's Casting assured us the pay would be good and that a registered nurse and state-appointed "teacher" would be on the set to ensure our babies' well-being.

Gallagher explained that babies are protected by state law, which mandates that they can "work" for only two hours and actually be on the set filming for 20 minutes. Thus multiples are in demand as body doubles or, in our case, body triples.

"We're always needing newborn twins and triplets and even quadruplets," said Gallagher, whose company works with as many as 50 sets of multiples under the age of 1 in a year. "We're always in a panic to field the calls."

Janis Elspas of Lomitas keeps her telephone lines open.

"There aren't too many healthy sets of newborn triplets around, and even if there were, the parents are too exhausted," noted Elspas, mother of Jacob, Sarah and Rebecca, who have kept working beyond the newborn stage.

In their first 17 months, the Elspas triplets have been on "Baywatch" and "Chicago Hope," and in movies including "8-Millimeter" with Nicolas Cage and "Hush" with Gwyneth Paltrow and Jessica Lange.

"In movies, there's a lot of shooting in a short amount of time," Elspas said. "[Movie] directors don't like to work with quadruplets--those mothers are overloaded. Quads are too high-maintenance, twins are usually not enough. . . . Triplets are perfect."

Most jobs pay $100 to $200 an hour per baby, though for one cherry film role, the Elspas brood earned the same day rate as an adult principal: roughly $2,600.

When "ER" called, we needed work permits for the kids pronto, since filming would take place the next working day.

I left work and swooped up the only forms of baby ID we had--their hospital bracelets, their commemorative footprints and the "Baby A, B and C" tags from their hospital carts--and dashed to the Santa Ana office of the state Department of Industrial Relations. Then we went up to Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank.

Once there, Noah, Tristan and Lily waltzed through their screen test. A single digital photo was taken, they were deemed camera-ready.

The call of fame for our big day on the set meant waking up at 4:30 a.m., leaving our house in Costa Mesa by 5:30, checking into a Burbank hotel by 6:30 and ready to be on the set by 7.

It wasn't exactly a "wake-up," though, since Kathleen didn't go back to sleep after the babies' 2:30 a.m. feeding that day. (And sometime between 2:30 and departure, she made sure that if Clooney were on the set, he wouldn't see her without makeup.)

Our triplets are fraternal, not identical, but since they'd be covered with cottage cheese and jam to approximate the look of a just-delivered infant, who'd be the wiser?

Kathleen's arrival on the set with Noah and Nurse Bob was a real entrance. "And this is the mother of the triplets," Burns announced as cast and crew made way for them.

Kathleen in turn was awe-struck when, after Noah's scene, Clooney came over for a closer look at him, sans jam, and decided, "He's cute."

For the next take, Tristan was up. He reached his hand out--in victory? in desperation?--as if on cue. He even seemed to cry on cue.

No second takes were necessary--so Lily won't be on "ER"

For Elspas, it's not the fame or money, but "a way for me to get out of the house" and a "memento of their childhood. . . ."

"If our babies started to not like it, I'd stop taking them."

For us, the memento factor is considerable. But the diaper fund can always use a boost--we go through 30 a day--and if work continues, their college fund will benefit.

If you're feeling sorry for Lily, don't. She and Noah play crying babies--roles they were born for--in an episode of "Chicago Hope" that's scheduled Jan. 13.

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