A few days after portraying a news vendor I received a phone call from the casting agent. “You haven’t worked on the show yet, have you?”
So much for my giving a memorable performance. “Actually, I played the news vendor on Saturday, the teenaged Ukrainian news vendor.”
“Yeah, but the camera didn’t get close enough so anyone could make you out, right? No one could recognize you if you were in the background again, could they?”
“I suppose not.”
“Great. Can you come in for a fitting tomorrow?”
The casting agent and his assistants took a look at me and decided what part I could play. “He has a hairy chest.” They said amongst themselves.
“I have a hairy back too.”
They ignored that statement and said, “He could play the guy wearing only boxers and socks. Can you work Saturday too?”
“Great, then he’ll play a music executive.”
I was sent back to wardrobe. This time I was given brown polyester pants and a blue button up shirt coupled with brown leather shoes. I am quite certain I have childhood memories of my grandfather wearing the same outfit on the way to the clubhouse.
The next day I returned to set and learned how badly freeing up my schedule messed up my finances. If I would have played the shirtless part my rate would have tripled. The extra pay would have only cost me my dignity. As this was a premium cable television series, they tried to make the show as debaucherous as possible. And so the character I did not play participated in a cunna lingus contest with only prosthetic pubic hair separating the man’s tongue from the woman’s body.
Instead I portrayed the drunk music executive walking through a hallway with the stench of herbal cigarettes holding a glass of seltzer water with plastic ice cubes. All my counterparts were wearing jackets and ties while I was not. Is there something about me that screams I do not know how to tie a neck tie?
The true excitement came during the DJ convention. A soundstage was set up to look like a hotel lobby from a glamorous 1959 Miami Beach hotel. A rockabilly band played in the middle, while the hundred extras were to walk around the lobby checking out the record displays, ogling the call girls, and shaking each other’s hands as the principals recorded dialogue. Because there was an audio aspect to the scene the background all had to mime their motions silently. The assistant director kept asking for more and more energy, so all subtlety went out the window. There was always one extra I sought out. The man deserved an award in his checkered jacket and large framed glasses. Each time he saw me he greeted me as though I was his long lost brother. In fact take after countless take he was much happier to see me than my actual brother ever had been.
There is a lot of down time on the set. During which I was reminded of the two types of movie extras, those that think this is a stepping stone toward fame and glory, and those with ample time and little money. In my previous experiences as an extra I learned to avoid the former and associate with the latter. This time I preferred the people that were there with a purpose.
As the hours stacked up I was talking to a large man. Maybe 6’4″ and 260 lbs. In his brown suit with his hair greased into place he looked exceptionally important especially since in all the scenes they always paired him with a couple call girls. The large man was complaining about how we were just sitting there in holding. He built up my outrage with it being 14 hours since I reported for duty and with two thirds of the people already being cleared to leave. Finally I said “Screw this. I’m going.”
He followed me back to the changing tent and as I went to have my pay stub signed a production assistant came charging in. “Who gave you guys permission to leave?”
“Some skinny guy.” The large man said and I learned how there is truth to clothes making the man. What once seemed like a distinguished figure in an expensive tailored suit, now looked like a sloppy liar in flip flops and a shirt with holes in it.
“Which skinny guy?” the production assistant asked looking right at me. “Which one?”
I had no choice. I had to finger someone, “He was dressed like a Ukrainian news vendor.”