Last September, a casting company telephoned Newbery, a retired college coach who lives in Henrico County. They asked him to be the chief justice in the Chris Rock movie "Head of State."
Sure, he said. The producers stressed The Rule you're just an extra, they reminded him. Don't talk to anyone. Fine, Newbery said.
But as he sat getting his hair cut for the role, Newbery says, he realized he would be swearing in the president. That's a big deal, he thought. "I saw where the script for the day was on the shelf. And I read the oath. and I said well, I'll memorize this thing. You never know."
In his robes, he stood silently for the swearing-in. But when Rock walked up to the podium and read the oath himself, Newbery couldn't keep quiet any longer. "I said, 'Y'know, that isn't really the way it's done.' So he turned to me and said, 'Well, how is it supposed to be done?'"
Newbery instructed Rock to place his hand on the Bible and told him to repeat the lines of the presidential oath: "I do solemnly swear," he began, "that I will faithfully fulfill the office of the president of the United States. " Then, Newbery reached to take Rock's hand and congratulated him.
"He took a half step back I will remember this for the rest of my life and said 'Are you one of them?' He thought I was one of the justices of the Supreme Court."
"No, I'm a retired coach doing extra work," Newbery replied. Rock said, "Upgrade this man! This is how we're going to do it."
For the first time in his career, Newbery was a star. He repeated the scene with Rock for three hours and 45 minutes. The production crew told him the scene was a winner, but Newbery was skeptical.
And he was right when the movie came out, Newbery found that his scene had been cut. He was annoyed, he says not for the missed chance of fame, but because of the inaccuracy. Thousands of children who might dream of becoming the first black president saw that movie, he says, and he wanted the ceremony to be realistic.
At least he has a great story to tell. Driving home from the shoot, he says, "I kept saying to myself, 'What the hell just happened?'"
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