Yesterday, after therapy, I went to audition for a Syfy show. It went well, even though I forgot my headshots because I’m the worst. It involved the casting director telling me, “Okay, you’re on the swim team, it’s five am, you’re going to walk, then you get a feeling like there’s something wrong. When I snap, you see something in the bushes over there. When I snap again, you see the ghost. If you feel it, give me a horror-movie scream?” In other words… this is my life.
Then last night, after work, as I was lingering over the free wine at my alma mater’s design show, I got a phone call. “Hey, this is the CD for Black Dog, Red Dog– you submitted a while ago? Look, we had someone pull out last minute, and if you’re available we’d love to have you come and do a scene for the film. It’s with Whoopi Goldberg.” I knew it was going to be an extra/non-paid situation, but all you have to say is “Whoopi” and I hear “EGOT” and I’m in.
So this morning I woke up at 4:45am, powdered my scalp so I wouldn’t look quite so greasy, and hopped on the train to Bushwick. I have very little experience on camera (one TV thing, an industrial, and a number of filmed auditions, but that’s it), so I was understandably nervous.
I arrived at holding at 6am, and my point-person on set, Iris, encouraged me to get some breakfast at craft. The veggie breakfast burrito was exactly what I was craving and didn’t even know it. I also had a styrofoam of coffee. Around 6:30, the hair person, Sarah, walked into the main room of holding, caught my eye, and said, “Hey, are you background?” I answered yes and she ushered me into HMU (hair makeup u…niverse?). “So it’s 1982, huh?” I responded, “Uhh… I guess so!”
I chatted with Sarah as she brushed, curled, and feathered my hair until I looked like Farrah Fawcett. I felt really fucking cool in my professional hair chair. Once I was finished, I was passed off to Steve in makeup. He gave me dark shadow and liner, another layer of liquid foundation, some mascara, and purple gloss. I took a glance in the mirror… I looked pretty cool. I moved next to wardrobe. They handed me a pink polo, which I pulled on over my huge hair. “I really wanted someone in a popped collar,” the wardrobe girl told me. “I can do that for you,” I responded. Next I pulled on a tight, 3/4 sleeve blue sweater. Then, a jean skirt– like… a JEAN. SKIRT. I was a bit nervous about getting it on– they didn’t have my measurements and the skirt looked smallish. Once it was over my butt, though, I was able to zip and button it, and assured the wardrobe girls I could breathe and as long as it looked fine, I was fine. Final touches were pantyhose and nude loafers. “You are my dream extra right now,” they told me.
Afterwards, I meandered back to my stuff in the main holding room, feeling pretty awesome. The light was bad where I was sitting, and I was feeling pretty confident, so I took my book and my phone and took a seat in the couch area, which was well-lighted. I half-read, half-watched as Whoopi sat down across from me with her iPad, going over lines, chatting with the director, then joined by Logan Marshall-Green and Tom Levinson (who are stupidly good-looking, it’s really unreasonable for humans to look like that and congregate together). I was the only non-“talent” person in the little couch area, and I have to tell you… I almost felt like “talent.”
Around 8? I think, Iris gathered myself, Jo Lynn, and Ken, the other extras, and scurried us out the door. Like what I know of film and theatre, it was a whole lot of wait… hurry up!… and wait. We were pointed towards a car, helmed by a PA who drove us to location, a few blocks away from holding. Another PA met us and led us into the bar where we were filming. Inside were hordes of people, some holding really fancy Stead-i-Cams (the nice kind that can actually be handled by one person), booms and reflective lights, labeled water for “talent” and for us, and gear that I didn’t even know what it might be used for.
We met the 1st AD, Jen, who gave us the run-down of the scene and what we’d be doing (“Here are your drinks, some purses… why don’t you sit here– oh no, that’s not in the shot. Scoot down a bit? And Ken, you’ll start at 1 and then when Whoopi walks in you’ll move to 2 and just chat up the girls, order a drink. Girls, you just talk silently together, you just got off work, you know.”) They gave us sides to look over, plus an herbal cigarette to burn in an ashtry, and before I knew it, Whoopi, Logan, and Tom (who was the bartender) were in place and we did a first take.
I was a bit shy, especially because the two other extras were a bit nerd-central (not that I’m not, but… I am gonna be Equity in a hot second so.) But I made it through, kept quiet when I needed, watched the “talent” like a hawk, generally tried to be mature and actor-savvy. As we continued doing takes, I continued to calm down, as did, I think, everyone. I couldn’t really watch or even hear what Logan and Whoopi were doing at the end of the bar. In the last few takes, Tom seemed to open up to the three of us at the end of the bar too, goofing around with our silent conversations, giving silly faces where the camera couldn’t see it… It was fun. And he was very pretty and with my crazy ass hair I felt fine enough to keep it cool. Between takes, we chatted about everything and nothing (just the extras– Tom would migrate back to the “talent”). We got into a relatively easy rapport. I continued to watch Whoopi as she fucked up her lines (she coined the classic “fuck a duck” which was inserted where lines were forgot), Logan and Tom joke with the standbys (“I wanna see you two dance!” “Leave no room for the Holy Ghost!” “I wanna see those earpieces get tangled!”), endless “fog bumps” (the constant use of a fog machine) and packs and packs of random people cycle in and out, who knows what their actual job is. Never have I been more certain of the phrase “it takes a village.”
We wrapped shooting for the day at 12:15pm, SHOCKING for a film shoot. It was a four page scene that only took three/four hours to shoot. A miracle!
My hair is still big, and my heavy eye makeup is all under my eyes, I’m not getting paid and it’s barely a credit, and I’m certain no one but the 1st AD, Iris, and the other extras knew my name, but I hung out in the vicinity of Whoopi Goldberg on a movie that James Franco is producing and it’s not such a bad day after all.
Acting is my life’s blood. I’d be in an institution if I weren’t in the arts.