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A walk on the Hollywood side

By Valarie Schwartz

Taking the “perp walk” might have been the best thing that happened to Travis Kukovich, owner of William Travis Jewelry, during this recession. Such a humiliating walk generally ends with doors slamming behind one; for Kukovich, some pretty marvelous doors opened.

This story twists together many threads, but in its simplest telling begins about six months ago, when Kukovich attended a cast party for Main Street, a movie shot in Durham, and starring Orlando Bloom. Kukovich was invited as a local artist and found himself elbow-to-elbow at the James Joyce Irish Pub in Durham, where to his surprise a gorgeous woman knew his name upon introduction. She frequents Florablanca, a Costa Rican resort where Kukovich opened a second store three years ago (after a customer’s husband – UNC trustee Rusty Carter – offered him space there while visiting Kukovich’s University Square store. But that’s another story).

Turns out the gorgeous woman is a supermodel and the girlfriend of Bloom, whom Kukovich met along with movie property master John Sanders from Wilmington – a good contact for a Chapel Hill jeweler.

Two days later, Sanders walked into the store, needing a simple repair.

What he found was an answer for the movie he’d spend the summer on. He offered Kukovich an opportunity. Miley Cyrus plays a confused and searching teen in The Last Song, the latest undertaking by Nicholas Sparks, prolific author of such North Carolina-set books/movies (and in-state movie productions) as The Notebook and Nights at Rodanthe.

Sparks, who lives in New Bern, teamed with Cyrus for her non-Disney debut. He created the vehicle, writing the screenplay before the book, to accommodate the shooting schedule. It showcases Cyrus as the central character in a love story between child and parents three years after their divorce. Her mother, played by Kelly Preston, insists that she spend the summer with her father, played by Greg Kinnear, who had moved from New York City to Wilmington.

Props-meister Sanders wanted emo goth (emotionally Gothic) jewelry for the character Cyrus plays.

Kukovich, a five-time Spectrum Award winner – the Academy Award-equivalent in jewelry design – and rated one of the top five jewelry designers in the country, was up for a challenge, so he designed a 32-piece line.

“Rarely do you get a part in a movie where jewelry plays a big role,” Kukovich said.

But the part went to a cheap imitation before anyone even looked at his designs.

Kukovich hadn’t had time to get a good head of steam worked up over the loss of time and materials before Sanders called, inviting him to the set on Tybee Island off the coast from Savannah.

The property master had recognized the significance of the large silver, black-accented jewelry, but nobody listened until shooting began.
“John Sanders called saying, ‘I’m in a potential bad jewelry place. What if we can get you a private showing with Miley and her mom?’” Kukovich recalled. Sanders told Kukovich to bring everything he had.

Kukovich packed a “jewelry store in a suitcase” and went on down, wearing jacket and tie, carrying $120,000 worth of jewelry. Wearing his “Visitor” badge, he was shown around, wide-eyed with amazement at the inside workings of a movie set. Before long, word was buzzing that a man with jewelry was in the props trailer. Many of the women on the set, including Chapel Hill artist Barbara Seinfeld, who was faux-painting for the film, paid him a visit.
Then Miley asked to see him.

He was nervous. What does a 38-year-old man say to a 16-year-old phenom?

“I told her I started making my first pieces when I was 12 and that I was about her age when I started doing it professionally. She was impressed with that,” Kukovich said. She warmed to him and his designs.
Then he saw the serious-looking woman walking around.

Seasoned producer Dara Weintraub took one look at this rather slick-looking man sitting cozy-like with a suitcase full of jewelry next to Miley Cyrus, one of the hottest profit-generating commodities in the WORLD right now, and she just about flipped!

Through a communication oversight, Weintraub had not been informed that Kukovich would be there. If she did not know who he was, he could not be there: PERIOD.

“She tapped me on the shoulder and said, ‘Who are you? You have to leave here NOW,’” Kukovich said she told him, no more interested in his visitor’s badge than the explanations he and Cyrus offered while Security arrived to remove him.

“She had me perp walked off the set,” Kukovich said, still equally stinging from embarrassment and tingling with amazement at his good luck.

You see, after his ejection he was bigger than ever! Following a flurry of phone calls and Cyrus stepping up for him, he was soon back, with his suitcase store, sitting between Miley and her mother, Tish.

“Her mom was as down-to-earth and nice as she could be,” Kukovich said. “Tish said, ‘Do you know what causes fame? Drama causes fame. You caused more drama than anyone else on this set today.’ And she was right; the next day, everybody knew who I was!”

The producer made nice to him as well, and not only invited him back for the cast party, but also hired him to make the cast gifts. He designed large, silver dog tags laser-etched with the movie name and logo hanging on a long chain.

“It was very exciting,” Kukovich said. He has since seen Cyrus on the red carpet wearing his jewelry.

“It all happened through North Carolina connections. It really inspired me to make a new line. It’s a great thing during a recession and an extra lift as an artist.”

Contact Valarie Schwartz at 923-3746 or valariekays (at) mac.com

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  1. Ilesha

    I typed Travis’s name in Google today because I need to talk to him about my beautiful, beautiful ring diamond and platinum ring he made me 13 years ago. It is so wonderful! Travis is such an artisit and he was so much fun to work with. What a Master! Well, of course I see this story… It’s nice to see Travis getting more recognition. He will be the Jeweler for the Stars. Wait and see!!!!! Does this mean my ring is more valuable now Travis?