Extras Gig #4: The Office, Part 3

“What’s up, Avatar?”

“Not much, Craig Robinson, good friend! How are you today?”*

*imaginary response, actual response was a stupid grin and probably my face turning a million shades of red.

The coolest thing about working on this set was getting a nickname from Craig Robinson. He’s a really good pool player. I think hearing that there were “pool experts” around intrigued him. He kept challenging us to play. The ADs scolded him (gently- extras get yelled at for breaking the cast/extras boundary, cast members get a gentle reminder that such intermingling is less than ideal).

I ignored the requests from Craig anyway, being the pool playing fraud that I was. So why did he call me Avatar? Well, as I have said before, being an extra is 10% fun and 90% boring as hell. It’s important to bring things to do. At the time, I was kind of into Avatar (which is also the link to click if you have no idea what I am talking about right now and would like to read part 1 of this story). I was working on a sketch while he was playing pool:

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He stopped his game to compliment the drawing, talk sci-fi, and suddenly I had a nickname. Gush.

The pool expert thing intrigued the whole cast, actually. John Krasinski and Jenna Fischer finally broke down on the third day and just flat out asked, “are you guys really pool experts? It says on our call sheets that you are. It seems crazy that you aren’t actually playing pool and they just have you standing around all day.” It was nice to joke and chat with them. Then we had to shoot again and we went back to being invisible, despite standing next to one another. Hollywood is weird. This whole experience really underscored that.

Take, for example, lunch. Lunch on this set was even more amazing than breakfast. Food was custom-made. Want steak? No problem. Vegan? There are actual options for you. Dessert? How about bananas foster, flambéd before your very eyes. Anything you want, it’s yours. Just don’t sit at the wrong table. Which I did.

Being a bit of an introvert, I picked the table that had the fewest people. There were even a couple of kids there. I said hi to one of them. She was sweet. Her mother gave me a look of derision coupled with an awkward and confused smile. A lot of people were giving me a similar look. I felt like a jerk for being nice, so I just focused on my meal and went back to my Avatar sketch.

Later, I found out that “mom” was Angela Kinsey and I was sitting at the table reserved for the cast. Oops. That’s what I get for not being a regular watcher of the show. I was also told that some of the confusion might have been due to the fact that with blondish hair (which I had at the time), I look a bit like Jenna Fischer. Maybe someone thought I was a distant relative visiting the set? Of course, if someone had just told me that the table was reserved for the cast, much awkwardness could have been avoided…

You Can't Sit With Us!

For this reason, Craig’s no-bullshit acknowledgements that we were actually people in the actual world made him super cool in my eyes.

Despite the awkward moments, I had so much fun on this set. My fellow pool expert extras were all really interesting people. There was a perfect balance of quiet time to read, draw, reflect, explore, etc. and active time to talk and play. Between takes, I chatted with the tech crew (always a little more accessible and willing to talk than the cast). They shot on three cameras simultaneously and did about a million different takes to give the cast (particularly Steve Carell) the chance to improvise a little. I learned a lot.

And also pitied the poor editors who had to go through all of that footage. Yikes.

When it was time to wrap everything up, I actually got a little emotional. Couldn’t I just make a livable wage doing this for like a year or something? Later, I wrote a short story about a girl who lived on a studio lot. She dressed from the costume department, grabbed food from the crafty tables, slept on the stunt mats and because she was “no one,” she went completely unnoticed and got to be involved in a cool mystery. Sometimes it’s good being no one…

a-girl-is-no-one
A girl is no one. A girl will get free espresso.

 

Maybe I will post the story here some day.

I ended up being on screen a lot from that shoot. Good food, good people, funny stories, fun work, fun show, fun episode, my face on TV, memories… really, I didn’t see how I could top this, given my previous “background actor” experiences. I decided to hang up my background acting hat and do things that made money (part of my fantasy story above was influenced by the insane cost of living in Los Angeles) and was on a more appropriate path to my career goals.

Look at that expert form!
Look at that expert form! (Photo chosen for maximum awkwardness)

 

Yes, I was done with extra work. An interesting time in my life, to be sure. I would be happy not being part of that world ever again.

 

Then a year later, Central Casting called me and asked if I would be willing to work on Mad Men…

Extras Gig #2: Cold Case

(Picking up on my extras stories…)

The second extras assignment I got was for the show “Cold Case.” Fittingly, the thing I remember most about this experience was that it was freezing. It was also wet and muddy- sometimes dangerously so (lights and their power generators and cables don’t mix well with “wet”). How a Los Angeles set manages to seem freezing and wet to a native Colorado ski bunny is beyond me. I played a 1970’s-ish circus goer who witnesses an “accident” on the aerial silks (the show aired months ago, so if this is a spoiler, I’m sorry, but you need to catch up). I was married with kids. The pressures of the set split our happy family up, though. My husband and I separated. I lost custody halfway through. So did he. Sigh. I miss little… kid.

Not only was it freezing, but the costumes were ridiculously uncomfortable. I still don’t quite understand how women could wear polyester, pantyhose and high heels. Simultaneously.

Part of the props also included balloons. Anyone who has known me long enough or who regularly reads this blog understands that this is a pretty serious problem.

I am globophobic (afraid of balloons and yes, it is a real thing and yes, you can shut up). They make me tense up and act like an imbecile. I will leave a grocery store if I can hear them being blown up. When I see a balloon animal artist (or as I view them: terrorist) on my side of the street, I will make an effort to cross to the other side or feign sudden interest in whatever the storefront closest to me has to offer. The situation to the left, for example, in which my “daughter” is mercilessly beating me with a balloon flower, was torture. It’s a strange phobia and does not solicit the same sympathy as, say, a fear of heights or a fear of spiders. I usually just keep my mouth shut about it and hope I don’t reveal too much to the person walking with me. (note: I recently tried to overcome this fear by participating in/orchestrating a photo shoot. The results of this test are on my facebook page.)

Of course, “my kids” wanted balloons and balloon animals more than they wanted sugar (which on that set, was saying something). They also insisted on attacking both me and my camera with them. I wore a brave face throughout it all. Three balloons were detonated in front of me. People kept thrusting them into my hands. Honestly, I should get a freaking Oscar for the photo at the bottom of this post. Or an Emmy, this being television. Do they give out Emmy’s for stills?

Anyway, it was two days of either standing in the mud or sitting on metallic bleachers and being told to “shush” every three seconds. The popcorn was fake- actually, it was real, but ancient. I am SO glad none of the children eating it plus copious amounts of cotton candy were mine. Seriously. Whose idea was that? “We have a bunch of kids that we need to keep still between shoots on a circus-like set filled with clowns, balloons, and live snakes (I don’t think the snakes made the final cut). How do we keep them manageable? I know! Let’s give them stale salty popcorn and colored clouds of sugar!”

Turned out they had to cut many of my scenes because the guy in front of me was wearing earrings and they didn’t catch it until AFTER the last shot. The result? You can see approximately half of my head for less than a second. I vowed to never again do it, but then, I hit the jackpot of extras gigs…