I enjoyed being an extra. After retirement came at me in a rush, like that untethered shopping trolley on the disabled entry slope that sent me flying, I needed something and this both filled my days and got me out of the house. The fact I earned a little and usually had three free meals a day on set was the proverbial added bonus.
Some extras become complacent. Turning up, fitting in, going home. But some are ambitious. Some want more than a crowd scene. A walk on part as the man with the birdcage or the woman who drops her handbag. Others want to speak. ‘Spare a dime, mister’ or ‘Excuse me!’
I watched those confident souls, usually the good looking ones, sucking up to the managers, trying to catch the eye of the actors and part of me – no, let’s be honest here – all of me wanted to be that person, that man in the shot smiling at the camera, that sonorous voice that everyone notices even if it is only one word.
But someone who can be skittled by a bewheeled wire basket isn’t filmage material, is he?
That was until I found myself on the set of ‘Churchill: His Life and Times‘.
See, I’m a man of mature years. What was once vertical is now horizontal and vice versa. So when Tammy, she of the red highlights and clipboard set to stun, came looking for me I assumed it was to dismiss me for some perceived slight.
‘Greg, are you free? Piers wants a word.’
Piers is God – well, the director but on set, this is his domain. ‘Of course.’
As we walked through the others, all eyeing me with a mix of intrigue and undiluted envy, my stomach began to somersault. Tammy and I stood behind the elongated Piers Temperance, waiting for a break in his stream of consciousness-cum-harangue.
‘Piers, this is Greg.’
The smile was genuine, I think, followed by a slow appraising eye. To my surprise he circled round me and back to the front. Indeed three times he and members of his crew stood behind me as I was asked to face forward. A whispered conversation and Tammy led me away. As we headed for the canteen, she said, ‘Ok, Greg, so this is the deal.’ She smiled and, I think may have suppressed a giggle. ‘Do you want to be a walk-on?’
I was stunned. I stuttered and stumbled but gradually I think I made it clear that it would be a supreme honour.
Her smile became serious. ‘There is one thing. You’ll be naked.’
‘Back shot. No pubes.’
‘Churchill runs into the lake, sort of mad moment at Chartwell.’ She glanced at her script. ‘No words, though. So only a walk on bonus.’
‘No. Yes. Of course.’
She looked hopeful. Relieved. ‘You’ll do it?’
I glanced at the assembled multitudes. At the Joannas and the Jeremys, all oozing their jealousy and hatred. ‘Why not? It’s not like I’ll be recognised.’
She laughed and hugged me, causing the other extras to swoon with annoyance.
Everything moved so fast that it was only when I was standing in the Great Man’s silk robe, staring at the water that the nerves hit me, much like that bloody trolley. My stomach griped and grumbled but Piers was in place, the set had been cleared to ensure my immodesty was seen by the least number and the lighting was up and ready to go.
It was a blur. The walk, the disrobing, the run and the jump. One take. Piers looked amazed. Tammy stunned. She came over when I was covered and took my arm. ‘Amazing. How did you know?’
I smiled like she made sense but my mind was in turmoil. I was handed a cup of tea and eased to where Piers viewed the rushes. The three or four around the small screen looked delighted, euphoric almost. As they saw me they parted like I was royalty and let Piers show me the screen. They played the takes, the distant shot and the unexpected close up of my bum, just as I paused on the edge of the water before I jumped in.
The camera zoomed in close on my wobbly and less than pert posterior and, as the screen filled, my butt-cheeks parted slightly and began to vibrate with an increasing harmonic. I had farted and the whole thing was captured in intense detail.
I was mortified as I looked at Piers, sure he would be furious, but he just shook his head in wonderment. ‘Perfect, Greg, perfect.’ He looked across at Tammy. ‘I’d say that counts as a speaking part, don’t you?’
This story is based on this email the Archaeologist sent me the other day: As a side effect of the re-enacting … I do [I] have …. signed up with an agency as potential film extras. [I] haven’t done anything yet but occasionally get information on possible jobs. This came the other day;
Please note, this is just a preliminary notification to check your general availability and interest.
I am working on a new feature film and we are in need of a body double for an actor playing Churchill.
One of the main scenes is Churchill jumping out of a bath and the shot shows him nude from behind.
At this stage I just need to know who is generally around and who would be happy to be nude from behind.