By Rebecca Correa
SALEM — Ziad Akl has more than 60 tattoos, but it was the latest addition to his back that impressed film director Martin Scorsese.
Scorsese asked Akl to add a few temporary tattoos for a role in "Shutter Island," which is based on a Dennis Lehane book. But Akl asked his friend Tom Sardinha of Pelham to give him the biggest one in permanent ink.
Akl later found out he is the only person Scorsese ever asked to get a temporary tattoo who came back with the real thing.
"Scorsese was floored he did it for real," Sardinha said. "He had the whole film crew checking it out."
The Methuen, Mass., resident earned a small role — as an insane inmate — in Scorsese's latest production.
The film is Akl's first, but he quickly learned Scorsese's expectations on the Hyde Park set earlier this month.
"(Scorsese) is a very nice person to work with; he was very patient," he said. "But when he says, 'I want this done,' 100 people are jumping to get it done."
When Scorsese wanted Akl to get even more tattoos, Sardinha got the job. He's a tattoo artist at Dragon's Lair Tattoo in Salem.
"Tom did the lightning bolt (tattoo around my eye)," Akl said. "So when I got the part, I told Tom if they needed someone for the tattoos, I'll recommend you to them. But I didn't think it would happen."
A few days after Akl got the part, the "Shutter Island" crew ventured to the tattoo shop on Route 28, checked out Sardinha's work and hired him to do the art on Akl.
For three days this month, the two men woke up at 6 a.m. so Sardinha could add four temporary tattoos to Akl's back, chest and stomach.
Sardinha said he was allowed to pick the temporary tattoos, as long as they reflected the 1950s, which is when the movie takes place.
"It wasn't hard to come up with ideas. They were cartoony looking the way they were done back then," he said. "The majority (of tattoos) were on servicemen then and were old school-type things like eagles and panthers."
While contract restrictions prevent the two from describing Akl's fake tattoos, they said the temporary and real tattoos will be more than visible in the film. In one prison scene, Scorsese does a slow pan across Akl's back.
Sardinha said he's been a tattoo artist for more than 25 years and "worked on almost every tattoo shop on the strip (Route 28)." But the movie exposure was more than he could have dreamed of.
"I just felt so honored that Martin Scorsese thought my work was good enough to be in his film," he said.
Akl was just as surprised to score a role in the film. His wife, Malissia, sent photos of him to a few casting agencies in Boston a few months ago.
While Akl said he didn't know what to expect before the filming began, Sardinha joked his friend was a natural for the role.
"A lot of times, he had to hold a certain position for several minutes and they'd do 15 or 20 takes," Sardinha said. "It was impressive."
For the three days the two were on the set, they shared a room at an expensive Boston hotel, had their own trailer on the set, and ate king crab and prime rib while mingling with film stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo.
"We were treated like kings for three straight days," Sardinha said.
Now they're back at their full-time jobs, Sardinha at the tattoo shop and Akl as a mechanic for his family's Getty station on Route 28 in Salem.
While their glimpse of fame may have been brief, both are hoping their 15 minutes are not up.
Sardinha said the two had to go to a copy shop during filming to make business cards for people inquiring about his tattoo work.
"There was a woman from England and a guy from Italy, both who work on films, who said they were impressed with my work and asked if I would work with them," he said. "Of course, I would."
And Akl said he is "definitely" interested in acting in more movies.
His name will be in the credits when the film premieres in the fall of 2009, and he and his wife will be in the audience at the premiere. He said he's not sure how many tickets he will get, but he will try to bring Sardinha.
Regardless, even before they see the movie, the two men said their favorite Scorsese film has already changed from "Goodfellas" and "The Departed" to "Shutter Island."