ROWLEY — Wearing a black tux and top hat, Elvis Costello peered through his trademark, thick-rimmed glasses at a farmer and dairy cow moseying along one of Rowley's back roads yesterday.
Costello, a London-born musician with an eclectic style, and the farmer and cow — Scott Colby and "Sweet 16" of Colby Farm in West Newbury — were both out of place on Cross Street.
Only a music video brought them together, giving Rowley what will be about three minutes and 33 seconds of fame.
On tour for his new album, When I Was Cruel, Costello is set to play at the FleetBoston Pavilion in Boston tonight. A film crew used the time in between shows to comb the region for a place to film the video for his new single, "45."
Townspeople who came to witness yesterday's event considered Rowley an unlikely choice for a video shoot, until they were told that the producers wanted a rural backdrop.
"Well, they found it," said Susan Leach, who lives nearby on Jellison Road.
Costello, born Declan MacManus, seemed to warm up to his surroundings more after he found a can of bug spray. He said Rowley was beautiful.
"I really like it," said the rock musician, who has been making records since the late 1970s. "It's a nice town."
Laura Kaesler, a production manager from a Los Angeles firm called Form, said the video filmed yesterday attempts to make the point that "everyone is a townsperson."
One of her tasks was to give fashion tips to the cast, which included a number of residents from around the area — excluding Rowley — who had some connection to the crew.
"We said dress like the baseball player, the town man or the cow wrangler," she said.
Paul Athanas of Swampscott was asked to dress like a construction worker. He is a friend of a friend of the video's director, he said, and brought along his wife and uncle to yesterday's shoot. Jane Athanas was asked to look like she was going camping. Uncle Arthur was fitted with a fisherman's pole and hat.
As part of the video, they were expecting Costello to hand them one of many clocks piled up in shopping cart. The song, "45," was written when Costello was turning 45, according to Paul Athanas, and demonstrates his lyrical sophistication.
"It makes sense when you listen to the song about 20 times," said Athanas, who has tickets to be in the third row for tonight's show.
The film crew expected to work well past midnight to finish filming yesterday. Moving away from the rye field at the intersection of Cross Street and Jellison Road, the crew also planned to film at Knowles Petroleum and the Richdale store on Route 1A and McIntyre's Clam Stand and the Agawam Diner at the corner of Route 1 and Route 133. The video should be released within a month. Indeed, they were still working at 2:30 this morning in front of the Agawam Diner.
One of the younger stars of yesterday's video, 10-year-old Aubriel Polisky from Beverly, said she had been given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that most girls don't get. She found Costello's approach to music different than she expected — not to mention the fact that he is British.
"I don't know any artist besides him who would sing about red shoes," she said, referring to a song, "(Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes," from his first album. "It's interesting."
In between filming, Costello patiently signed autographs for a number of starry-eyed children. Zachary Stone, an 8-year-old boy from Beverly, who was also in the video, confessed that he wanted the autograph for his dad.
Jo Ann and Ed Hudon were given Costello's autograph, when they saw him perform in Las Vegas about six years ago. They were approached in recent days by crew members who wanted to use their mailbox on Jellison Road as a prop.
Ed Hudon couldn't understand why. "I think it was the honeysuckle vine that they liked," said Jo Ann Hudon.
Barbara Alexander, who lives nearby on Main Street, said the visit from Costello affirmed the attractiveness of the town.
"It just shows what a picturesque area we're living in," she said.
Hollywood seems to have taken notice of the region in recent years, ever since George Clooney and the gang invaded Gloucester to film The Perfect Storm. Last spring, Plum Island Turnpike was shut down to give the crew from Baby's in Black an opportunity to film the sunset for the parting scene in the film, which starred Dustin Hoffman and Susan Sarandon. On Salisbury beach, Maureen McCormick — better known as Marsha Brady of The Brady Bunch — was filmed in October of 2000 for a low-budget film called Title to Murder.
"This area's always's got something going on," said Frank Price, a Cross Street resident drawn to yesterday's commotion — traffic was rerouted for several hours during filming.
Until now, Rowley seems to have been an afterthought to the filming crews passing through from Boston. They still appear to need some help finding their way around.
A white poster placed off the Route 95 exit pointed out the direction the crews had to go to find the base, which was just down the road at McIntyre's Clams on Route 133.
At one point during filming, a crew member asked bystanders not to move any of their "stuff" from alongside the roads. A woman walked away, somewhat annoyed by the attitude that everything stops — or moves — for a film crew.
"Uhh," she said under her breath, "Hollywood."