One of my jobs is to write about acting gigs. As I typed a listing looking for fresh faces in Miami for a television show I realized I had some time on my hands and could use some further funding. So I threw caution in the wind and applied to be a background artiste.
I’d been an extra a couple times before. Back in 1999 I was a waterboy in the Oliver Stone football movie Any Given Sunday. I showed up 6 days a week, racked up overtime on 16 hour days for close to a month, and received enough money to bum around Europe for a summer, but when I saw the movie I wasn’t sure if I could see myself or not on the Miami Sharks sidelines.
Then when I lived in San Francisco I was an extra for the movie The Hulk. I was there every day for a week running down a hill terrified at the Hulk destroying the city. A cable car was knocked over, military troops ran by, but when I saw the movie I was surprised that the scene that required a week of shooting and hundreds of extras not only lasted for about twenty seconds, but it didn’t even take up the full screen. The director Ang Lee chopped up the screen into comic book panels so six different shots of chaos were seen at the same time.
I would have seen these two movies anyway as I am a fan of football and comic books, but the viewing experiences were awfully humbling. Like most people I’m under the assumption I am the center of the universe. To realize that I am an indecipherable speck in the background can be a hard truth.
This time I was called for a television series set in Miami during the 1950’s. I was given a fifties style haircut. The casting director then looked me over and decided I looked exactly right to play the part of the news vendor. Everyone else in wardrobe was being fit to wear stylish suits that would make Don Draper envious, I was given an apron and a cap that made me look like a Ukrainian immigrant.
I was shuttled over to Downtown Miami with a cast of fifty other extras. Cars from the period were parked in front of the courthouse. We were told there was food waiting for us, but were quickly reminded of our place when the caterer told us, “Don’t you dare touch that. That food’s for crew only.”
I stood in front of the courthouse with replica newspapers from 1959. As the cameras rolled and other extras walked by, I tried to get into my character by putting on an Eastern European accent and yelling, “Extra. Extra. Get your Miami News. Read about Sputnik!” I didn’t sell a single copy. But as time passed in between takes I struck up a conversation with a paramedic. He had a call sheet which stated the shooting schedule. As I tried to figure out what time we would be getting out of there I noticed my role on the paper. “News vendor (late teens)” it read. It might sound vain, but the idea I could play someone in their late teens made my day. Us extras have to get our victories where we can.