Dom Joly: Warm thoughts of home from icy Death Valley

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The Independent Online

We left Los Angeles very early in the morning. It was a Saturday and nobody was about. Everyone in LA is very busy at home in the early mornings. My friend Sam, who lives there, says it is because everyone is seeing their shrink/lifecoach/fitness trainer. If you've got nowhere to go before breakfast in this town then you're going nowhere.

We definitely had somewhere to go: we were off to the Mojave Desert to shoot some stills to use as teasers for the movie we're trying to make.

I was glad to get out of LA. Doing "comedy" in America is tough enough nowadays as the police have zero sense of humour and are everywhere. The day before we'd sneaked into a car park at Los Angeles international airport, and I got changed into a pilot's uniform and then hung around on some benches outside the terminal, drinking what looked like alcohol from a bottle wrapped in a brown paper bag. I thought that I'd been smart as, if I had been stopped, it wasn't alcohol but a bottle of mineral water.

I'd already made the mistake of being too realistic a couple of years ago when I was filming a scene in Las Vegas involving a disillusioned Elvis impersonator who was staggering around brandishing an open bottle of whiskey. I nearly got thrown into jail for having an "open container" in the street. Land of the free? Well, not really.

Anyway, it was only as we drove away from the airport, our stunt completed, that we realised how bad this might have looked if we had been stopped: a man born in Beirut getting changed into an official pilot's uniform in the car park: people have gone to Guantanamo for less.

After two hours we were in the desert. We passed the hundreds of wind turbines – like some huge robot army – outside Palm Springs. I once had a production coordinator who had a phobia about these things. Every time we got near one she would have to be buried under a blanket in the back of the car until they were out of sight. This would have killed her off for sure.

In the Joshua Tree National Park we went down a little dirt track so I could get changed into my CHiPS (California Highway Patrol) uniform. This was another slightly risky shoot, as it is an imprisonable offence in California to impersonate a police officer. The idea of the joke was that my policeman had had a little nervous breakdown. He was stopping motorists just to have a little chat about things and ask them whether they'd like to join him in sitting under a Joshua tree – "no pressure". We didn't get many takers, but we got the photos and skedaddled out of the area past vanloads of U2 fans.

Next up was the infamous Death Valley. It had got up to 56C one day in August, but it was freezing cold when we got there. The crew were shooting me in very tight running shorts and T-shirt as a character supposedly running across America. I nearly got frostbite as the icy winds whipped down the valley past amazed motorists.

I had wanted to go to Death Valley since I saw a picture of it as a kid. I'd always imagined crawling across the bleached, salty ground past the skull of a cow, desperately searching for water. As it was, I virtually iced over.

We eventually retired to a trailer park on the edge of the valley where we stayed the night and made full use of their hot springs. As we soaked in the healing waters with the desert stars resplendent in the night sky above us I dreamt of home and the calm of the Cotswolds. Not long now.

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