Today I was an extra on the movie “Infamous“. It’s a big movie about Truman Capote starring lots of really famous people, but screw them, this is about me.
Many people who work as “extras” on a set aren’t really actors. Many of them are people from all walks of life who somehow heard about “extra” work and thought, “Hey, being in a movie would be cool!” However, there are always at least some “serious” actors among them. Being an actor and working as an extra is somewhat like being Charlie and getting the Silver Ticket to the Wonka Factory. Not the Golden Ticket, but the Silver one. This ticket won’t get you a grand tour and face time with Wonka himself, but you do get to work for a day with Oompa Loompas. Not the featured Oompa Loompas who get to do the fun song and dance, but the nameless, faceless Oompa Loompas who work behind the scenes in the factory doing things like cleaning children out of chocolate ducts. You can see the Golden Ticket winners doing what you’d love to be doing more than anything, but you are stuck in the back room making sure the Ever-lasting Gobstoppers actually last forever and don’t dwindle just this side of eternity. You’re exhilarated by just being in the Wonka factory, but sad and frustrated that you’re only on the fringe of your dream.
Today’s scene took place on a closed off downtown Austin street which was standing in for 1960 New York. I had been to a costume fitting last week to be fitted with 1960’s New York guy clothes (although from the way my sweater buttoned, it was obviously made for a woman). My costume would be my own black dress shoes, rust colored slacks, a maroon sweater tucked in, a long tweed coat and a scarf. The pants pulled up rather high as was the style back then. Maybe the whole trend now of wearing your pants practically falling off is some kind of karmic pendulum swing the other way.
I awoke at the ungodly hour of 5:15 a.m. to be on set at 6:15. When I arrived, a big bus took us all to another location which apparently used to be a restaurant or something. They gave us our costumes and then sent us outside to change in some tents set up in the parking lot. Hair and make up then saw us and did their thing (which in my case was putting lots of product in my hair and slicking it into a side part). I sat there at a table feeling like melancholy Charlie with the silver ticket and contemplated whether or not I should continue doing extra work since it was just sort of a tease and pretty much leads nowhere except to more extra work.
Quite a while later the bus took us to the set and we were all sent to get props. I got some lovely 60’s eyeglasses and a brownish orange briefcase. We were then placed in various areas and told what to do when the cameras rolled. I was paired up with another guy named Rance who ended up being very cool and interesting to talk to. We were both actors, writers, directors and had some really interesting conversations throughout the day while plotting how to best get us some screen time. There were lots of extras who owned old cars which they had on the street for the scene.
When the cameras rolled, Rance and I would walk down the sidewalk acting like we were talking, pause to say goodbye, and he would go into a building while I tried to hail a cab. This ended up being quite fortuitous since the two stars of the scene (Hope Davis and Toby Jones who looked like an absolute perfect clone of Truman Capote) ended up walking right in front of us as the passed. Score! There is no way that I will not be seen in this movie unless they completely cut the scene out. There were many takes and as with all movies, much waiting in between. Another good sign that I must have been in the picture a lot is that I got several notes from the crew member handling our section such as “tone it down a little when you’re hailing the cab so as not to distract attention from the leads”, and a few other notes which indicated that I was definitely being seen and thus scrutinized heavily.
Though I was only in the background, I was genuinely acting. Rance and I would walk along engrossed in our mimed conversation, gesticulating with purpose. We would reach our mark, say our goodbyes (linger as the two leads passes mere feet next to us), and he would go off to his imaginary job, while I tried to get the attention of the cab driver who just wouldn’t stop and pick me up. Instead he drove on and some other girl got in and stole my cab! I could hardly blame him as she was very pretty, but I still acted indignant and annoyed, and proceeded to look for another cab down the road.
In the end it was a good time even if it was a tease. I enjoyed meeting and talking with Rance, and I might finally make it in a movie without being cut out (knock on your crossed wooden fingers). Though it can be painful and taunting, I know I will do it again. I am an actor. Actors must perform, and given the chance to be a part of a movie, even as what equates to just being part of the scenery, we are drawn like sailors to the siren on the rocks. Like moths to the flame. Like bad writers to extraneous similes.
Charlie would have kept buying those chocolate bars too, hoping that Wonka would someday give another tour, and when that day came, Charlie might just open that wrapper and see the corner of something gold.
*EDIT*
I feel the need to share this entry from Wil Wheaton’s blog as it’s nice to see the other side of the coin sometimes. I love to see things going well, and people finding satisfaction in their endeavors. It made me feel good just to read this and live vicariously through him! Nice counterpoint to the incessant whining I can sometimes do here.