Don’t call us, we’ll call you.
Wanted women over 55. I read the advertisement again. Surely there was a mistake. It must mean women over 5 ft 5. Whoever called for women over 55 and with grey hair?
The ad was for Extras for the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. I had never had any leanings towards the stage but I am open to new experiences. So, with my friend Sally who had seen the ad in the first place, I attended the casting call along with several hundred other hopefuls.
We stood in line for several hours. You could tell who was used to attending casting calls and who, like us, were beginners. The old hands were equipped with books, hot coffee and food while we turned up empty handed.
The queue moved on slowly oh so slowly. It was so boring until the couple of people in front of us starting telling us about some of the movies they had been in.
A person kept coming out of the building to tell us they were only casting older women with grey hair that day. It didn’t make any difference to the hopefuls in line. They all stayed.
Eventually, Sally and I were at the head of the queue. We were photographed and told that we would hear if we were wanted. The old line ‘Don’t call us. We’ll call you’
Weeks went by with no contact from Three Foot Six (the Production Company). Then one day I received a telephone call asking whether I could attend makeup and dressing the next day. Of course, the answer was ‘Yes’.
The organisation of the makeup and dressing areas was impressive. There were rows and rows of clothes and I was put into several outfits before they decided on the right one. Then off to hairdressing to have a wig fitted. At this stage I was not sure why they wanted women with grey hair if they were going to fit us with wigs. Later I thought it might be because if they had younger women in wigs the faces would look all wrong.
In all, it took half an hour to be fitted for my wig and clothes. I was then photographed wearing the dress and then again wearing the wig and dress. The clothes and wig were tagged with my name and then the photographs were attached to the clothes. This was so that each and every time that I appeared on film I would look the same.
During the makeup procedure I was asked if my nails were real and on answering yes, was told to remove my nail varnish. I suppose if they hadn’t been real I would have had to remove the nails.
All finished, I was asked to call the company on Saturday afternoon to find out what time to report on Monday. This call was cancelled and I was told that I would be contacted again.
The first call was for 6 am on a cold June morning. I drove through a deserted city to reach the studios. First stop was makeup and hair and then we were sent off to the catering tent for breakfast. Breakfast consisted of just about anything one would want. From porridge and cereal, through bacon, sausages and eggs, to fruit and everything in between. The crew, who had been there since 4 am, tucked in. The Extras, a slightly more fragile bunch at this early hour, ate less heartily with the exception of the young men who were the centurions. They relished the array of food.
All through the day the catering tent and hospitality areas were being replenished with food. Coffee and tea was on tap throughout the day, with scones, biscuits, Danish pastries, etc in the morning; then after a sturdy lunch, sandwiches and cakes were provided. One certainly wouldn’t go hungry as an Extra.
We had each been provided with a blanket to ward off the very keen wind. We were very pleased to have this as the hours passed and we were not called. Those Extras in the know had provided themselves with books, tapestry work, knitting and playing cards. It was almost like a big sociable club.
Extras have to be flexible. The call for Extras may be made the evening before, may be cancelled totally or as on one occasion when I was called at 10.30 am to be there as soon as possible. As it turned out we weren’t called onto the set until 5.30 pm. So that was a long but hardly boring day but I did have my book.
Before each scene, we were told what was expected of us and how it would be achieved. In one scene I had to stand very close to a brazier. There was a strong northerly wind blowing and at times the flames were rather too close for comfort. The scene was practised and then when the Director was satisfied, the scene was shot. It’s amazing how a disaster scene involving many citizens fleeing for their lives, can be achieved with a handful of Extras.
In one scene we were being attacked by those huge flying animals. We had to act scared as of course there wasn’t anything there.
It was fascinating to watch the stunt people at work. This was a group of very dedicated actors. One scene called for a stuntman to lie prone while a hoard of untrained Extras jumped over him. In one scene masonry rained down on these stuntmen (stunties as the crew called them) and following the shooting of the scene, the crew was very quick to check that nobody was hurt.
We are all aware of special effects in the movies but we actually saw how some of these were achieved. And at the end of each shot, we were able to view the rushes on small projectors.
Occasionally we would glimpse Peter Jackson the director. He would stride around the set in his shorts on his little stubby legs. He was the only one in shorts. The rest of us were dressed appropriately for a cold June day in Wellington.
My life as an Extra lasted only 5 days, but I wouldn’t have missed it for anything. And no, we have never been able to recognise me in any of the scenes from The Two Towers.
“Acting is the expression of a neurotic impulse. It’s a bum’s life. The principal benefit acting has afforded me is the money to pay for my psychoanalysis.” Marlon Brando, 1924-2004 American actor.
- Open casting calls and auditions for Legendary Pictures ‘Man of Steel’ (castingnotices.wordpress.com)