Extra, Extra! My First Big Break!(?)

When I was a junior in college, I dropped out of Hofstra University. I was tired of being on an assembly line, romantically ambivalent, the usz — another blog for another day. Bottom line, I took this time to Pursue Acting. And OMG to the day I got the call from a casting agency where I’d sent my headshot. They wanted me to be in a movie with Al Pacino! ‘Course, I’d never done extra work at that point, and had no true grasp on what it meant. Except that I was going to be in an Al Pacino movie. After the call, I floated downstairs, thrilled to tell my family that I’d achieved theatrical success so quickly.

The big/next day arrived, and I spent 17 hours doing my hair and makeup, which combined with my only black outfit (funeral scene), a form fitting and rather short crushed velvet dress, I probably looked less like a mourner and more like a hooker. But whatevs; that morning I felt quite prepared To Act.

I found the NYC location with surprisingly little drama, and waited in the holding area, which since I’d never done extra work, seemed very glamorous. I took mental note of the seasoned extras, both SAG and non-union, bourgeois and proletariat. One only needed to look at the craft service tables to see which was which. Though I yearned to be a Serious Actress, I was sort of proud to be surviving on the basics and not being perceived as haughty. Though I will say that the SAG actors were totally willing to sneak fancy snacks to those who weren’t entitled to them. It was a nice vibe. Being an extra rocked.

When the time came, we were herded over to the staging area — in this case, a church in downtown Manhattan (IIRC, compass-wise). The movie we were extras for was “Devil’s Advocate,” and (SPOILER ALERT!!!) we were at the funeral for the guy who dies while jogging, who was in “Howard the Duck” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”

I sat in the church, and the combination of my Catholic upbringing and intense commitment to cinema filled me with reverence, and I was totally ready for my close-up, so to speak. But then, things were taking longer than expected to get started. That is when the one dude from “The Jeffersons” started making his way through the funereal crowd and shaking hands with extras he’d apparently taken the time to get friendly with over the years, and he graciously met me and shook my hand. He was incredibly nice. Acting was so awesome!

But then, without any footage having been shot of the extras, we had to go back to the holding area. And it had started raining. I’d spent intense effort Caruso-steam-curling my hair, and felt defeated, knowing my hair would be back to flat and pin-straight in no time. How sad, for my first time on film to be with lesser hair.

Still, it was a great group of people, and I drank more coffee and read whatever book was giving me life direction when I was 22, and waited in the holding area for my next orders. This was all part of learning to be an actress, and it was all good.

Once again, we went to the church. The sky was growing darker, and the rain was pouring harder. My hair was a lost cause. But a movie had to be made! This time, some scenes were shot. I saw Monica Keena across the way, and wished for a few moments that I’d been more cooperative back in the day when I was a child actress, because, how cool would THAT be, to not only be in a movie with Al Pacino, but have actual lines and a character name.

But hey, dues must be paid. I sat and did my best to look mournful, even as rumors that Keanu Reeves was having issues with the scene spread throughout the church. This could be a longer day than anyone had expected.

Back to the holding area. But first, we all had to be let out of the church. Floodlights (I believe that’s the term?) were blaring, and wow did walking out of the church made me feel like a movie star and was an ultimate letdown all at once, because by that point, word had spread that a movie was being filmed here, and there were eager spectators on the street. They were psyched to see people leave, but then they’d see us and it was like, “Who are you?” and it was a fair question as we extras skulked past the let-down crowd and trudged back to the gray basement holding area.

And back to the church. This time, Al Pacino arrived! He is not a large man, but/therefore WOW, does he have a presence. He did that scene where he dips his finger in the holy water and it gets all wonky, and honestly, the whole day was worth it for that moment — to witness true theatrical gravitas. Chills!

Next break, things were running more smoothly, but there was a quick time-out that thankfully did not require a return to the holding area. We could just go chill out for a bit. The rain had become mist, and most people just wanted to be in the freaking outdoors, already.

Including Craig T. Nelson. I didn’t smoke at that point, but I always tended to gravitate towards those who did, in situations where I didn’t know anyone, because there was always “the more, the merrier” vibe. This time was no exception. People were smoking, not seeming to mind being kept at their one-day-job WAY later than they’d been told, and there in the midst was Mr. Nelson. Most of the other principal actors were back in the church in their fancy chairs, seemingly agitated with the day’s/night’s turn of events. Craig T. Nelson was just there, outside in the crappy weather, smoking a cigarette, and genuinely chilling with people who Weren’t Important. AWESOMENESS.

Then we had to go back inside, to film more of the same three-minute(?) scene that was now lasting upwards of twelve hours. People were restless and cranky, and did I mention it was Valentine’s Day? But at this point, most people there had given up on having a romantic day, and the spirit of the church reflected it. Still, the show must go on.

It felt like mercy when a bunch of pews of extras were sent home, including my own, with an effusive “Thank you for your work today!” I HAD worked that day. You’re welcome. And thanks for letting me go home. I hadn’t expected my first extra job to last so long, but what an exciting and educational day it was. And YAY to being in a movie!

Fast forward to the release of “Devil’s Advocate.” I hadn’t had much luck with the acting since my grueling day of extra work, but what an amazing rush to go see a movie I was in! Life would be set back on track, once I witnessed the fruits of my labor before me.

I went to Roosevelt Field Loew’s with my BFF Shannon and her sister Devon, and got carded to see a rated R movie. Devon responded, “She’s IN the movie!” And I felt very special indeed, as I slid my driver’s license under the plexiglass to prove I was over 17 at 22. Someday, I’d never have to show my ID. I was an actress in a movie! Now it was only a matter of time…

I was so nervous, sitting in the theater, waiting for my moment to arrive. But I pretty quickly realized that my scene wasn‘t coming for awhile, and in the meantime, I got totally wrapped up in the movie around it. Charlize Theron was magnificent as Keanu’s angst-ridden wife!

And finally…the funeral scene. I tried to stay cool, but my knee started bouncing up and down like that one time I was hit by a car when I was eight. I couldn’t control it. This was my life’s purpose. Acting.

And sure enough, we had gathered here today…

The camera panned back, and I held my breath. Funeral gatherers eeee! But oh no, I’m not there! Wait, no worries, not my side of the church yet. Give it time. Characters, close-ups, relationships, plot, sure, sure…

Uh oh.

My side of the church looks decidedly thinned out. I think…

…Yup. My side was captured in the film after they’d sent many people home.

Including me. I was not in “Devil’s Advocate.”

First major acting breakthrough: FAIL!



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6 Responses to Extra, Extra! My First Big Break!(?)

  1. lisa says:

    Oh,noes! Still a great story!
    I met Craig T Nelson, too! He was in a car race here & our cousin races SCCA so we met him & took pics. The whole time, he had his arm around me & was twirlling my long hair in his fingers! Im not kissing! He gave me goosebumps!

  2. judisunshine says:

    Omg I totally believed you!

  3. judisunshine says:

    Thank you for reading, Lisa 🙂

  4. lisa says:

    No, it is true! I was correcting “kissing” Didn’t want you to think I was kissing Craig tNelson! Hubby would be ticked off. I use my kindle fire & it changes random words on me! Have a good day Judy sunshine! X& O

  5. Pingback: 5 Reasons to Watch “Parenthood” | judisunshine

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