Don’t count your chickens before they hatch … but at least get paid for them: Getting cast on Veep,
When you’re on the set of a film or television show you meet a lot of interesting people. There are so many different people doing so many different jobs, lighting, sound, production assistants, caterers, wardrobe and background just to name a very few. Background is hard work; I’ve done a decent amount of it. It’s long thankless hours of standing and sitting around and waiting and then when it’s time to work you move to another location and stand and sit around there. I’ve noticed a lot of background actors or extras are often long time veterans, they’ve sat in the restaurants, walked down the streets and stood in the crowds of every movie and TV show you can think of from Murphy Brown to Captain America.
One woman in particular stood out to me on the set of Veep. She was an older woman who sort of looked like a potato or one of those dolls made out of pantyhose.
She was new to background work and to being on a production set. I was curious what made her want to try her hand at being an extra, maybe she had some time off from work? Maybe this was how she planned on spending her retirement? She definitely didn’t have the air of someone who was used to this environment and was not at all aware that when on set you should be quiet and as little trouble as possible while everyone is working. I first noticed her because she was very concerned about her bags, of which she had many. She kept asking anyone who would listen if they thought she should go and get her bags and keep them close to her and every person she asked responded the same “No leave your bags in the holding room we need to keep this area clear” “Oh” she would say slowly with an air of skepticism. She would then wait a beat and find another person to ask “Do you think I should get my bags and bring them close to me?” and again the answer would be “No leave your bags in the holding room we need to keep this area clear.” And again “Oh” This went on for quite a while she must have asked at least eight different people and all eight people answered with the same response, it was starting to drive me a little crazy until she went to ask the ninth person and I just blurted out myself “No leave your bags in the holding room we need to keep this area clear!” I couldn’t help myself, but I would pay the price because now I was on her radar. “Well I see a lot of bags and a clothing rack over there so I think I should get my bags” she answered back. I was somewhat relieved that at least the dialogue had changed up a bit but still irritated at her insistence “Those are the wardrobes bags and clothing rack they need them on set” I told her in an admittedly sharp tone. I’m not usually an impatient or unkind person but I think her complete disregard for the giant sign that said WARDROBE on the clothing rack and bags rubbed me the wrong way. “Where did you get those slippers?” she asked me. “The wardrobe people were nice enough to give them to me so I didn’t have to walk around in the high heels that gave me all day” “They give you clothes?” She asked incredulously. “Well they don’t give them to me, they loan them to me for the part and then I give them back.” She can’t be serious I thought to myself but she continued, “I had to bring my own clothes, should I tell them I’m wearing my own clothes?” At this point I realized the conversation was happening whether I liked it or not so I responded “I’m pretty sure background actors or extras are supposed to bring their own wardrobe, otherwise that would be a lot of costuming.” “Oh” she responded again in what was beginning to become her infamous skeptical trademark response – why would anyone be trying to trick you lady? “So how come you get wardrobe?” she questioned, “I have a small part,” I said feeling almost guilty or embarrassed about it as she responded “Oh.”
She wound up being very impressed that I got to actually say a line in the show and she wanted to know all about it. Even when I thought all the questions had been exhausted and put my head down to busy myself with my phone there was still more. “So what else do you get?” she asked, “Do you get to keep the slippers?” “No I don’t think so.” I said. “Do you get different food?” “No, same as you” I replied. I felt her starting to lose interest in my “specialness” and in a panick I blurted out “I get a trailer.” “Oh” she said only this time it was a different oh … she was intrigued. “Yeah it’s pretty cool, it’s small but it’s a nice private place to change and keep my stuff” “Oh yeah? That’s nice” she said, “Could you sleep in it?” “What?” I asked, “Could you sleep in it?” That was a weird question, was she tired? “Umm, yeah I guess if I wanted I could go sleep in it, but I like being close to set” “Can you shower in it?” “Umm no mine doesn’t have a shower in it.” “But if you wanna sleep in it you can?” I was somewhat taken back by how interested this woman was in a small trailer. “Yeah I guess you could sleep in it.” “So you don’t have to go home? You can just stay in your trailer and you’ll already be here in the morning.” I was not expecting that was where her thought process was going “Uhhh, no you probably don’t want to sleep in it over night, it wouldn’t be that comfortable, it’s just kind of changing room and a place to keep your things, it’s not that fancy” I guess that response caused her to lose interest in the trailer because she decided changed the subject. “I have a lot of wigs, I brought a couple of them with me” I just sat there, at this point I wasn’t sure what that correct response would be and I figured maybe of I was still and silent she would move on from me but she pressed on “ Maybe I should go ask the director what wig he wants on me?” I had to respond to this, I couldn’t let this woman go ask the director about her wig selection she could get sent off the set “I wouldn’t do that, I don’t think he’ll really mind, it’s more up to the costume department to approve the extra’s wardrobe so if they said you’re fine, you’re probably fine” “Oh” uh oh, that was the trademark oh, she didn’t trust my response. “I’m just not sure if he’d rather me where one of my other wigs, I have a lot of different looks I could do” At this point I decided to try the phone trick again, I had nothing else to say to this lady and she wasn’t very receptive to my responses anyway. She continued, “Once I was on another movie set and they wanted me to be a lunch lady, they were going to give me the clothes and they were going to have me say a line but I wouldn’t do it” I knew I shouldn’t respond and re-involve myself but I couldn’t help it “ Why?” I asked, “If they want to give you a line you should always say yes, you never know what it could lead to”
“They wouldn’t give me a trailer” I waited a beat and then responded “Oh.”