Confessions of a Background Extra: Fainting To Lighting Trees on Fire

Project Casting

Here are two stories from background actors working on some of the biggest TV shows and movies.

Background extras never seem to get any of the credit. They work long and hard hours in tough conditions, served sometimes bad food, and paid way less than the speaking actors on set. That’s why in our new Project Casting series, Confessions of a Background Extra, we are going to highlight the stories of background actors and their experiences on set. Some of it’s good, some of it’s bad but, most importantly all of it is real.

If you have ever wondered what it’s like to work as a background extra, well here’s your chance to hear straight from the horse’s mouth.

Pregnant and Fainted – Black Mass.

Here’s Shaina’s experience on the Johnny Depp feature film Black Mass, which filmed in Boston, Massachusetts.

So…It was a Sunday when my husband and I decided to go to the open casting call for Black Mass starring Johnny Depp. If one day things happen to go my way I would love to be an actress but, this was just for fun, the experience, and well, the money; after all, it is a job.

There was a huge line but surprisingly it moved really fast. We gave our information, sizes, and had our picture taken and it was over. This was in April and I was either pregnant or going to be but I did not find out until May.

This was going to be my first time being an extra in anything let a lone a feature film. After waiting for months and even forgetting about the casting call, a lady emailed me regarding a fitting…I missed the first email but she emailed again (she must have really needed someone that looked like me, I thought).I was very excited and I responded quickly.

Soon, I was fitted and a week later I found myself waking up at 4am to go shoot the “Busing Scene” as they called it, my poor husband took the day off to drive me. By then I was barely 3 months pregnant, and the morning sickness had not started yet, thank God.

Lucky for me I have a very small frame so my stomach was pretty much nonexistent. They had plenty of food, It was not amazing but it was edible. We started shooting at around 7am, by around 2pm you could see the heat rising from the ground, it was so hot.

I knew I had to keep hydrated but I was torn because that would mean more trips to the bathroom and I did not want to be an inconvenience. All the water in the world was not going to help me that day. Before I know, I was getting light headed, dizzy, and I told the girl next to me (who by now was my friend) “I think I’m going to pass out”. She offered me water put it was too late, some guy grabbed me and walked me inside of the school (where we were shooting).

The entire time everything was black, I thought I was going blind but apparently that is what happens when you faint/going to faint; I had never fainted before in my entire life. Next thing I know, I’m sitting on a bench, some guy (I’m guessing paramedic) was taking my pulse, giving me a banana and water with this yellow tablet that he added to it.

He asked me If I had been drinking water because it is really hot outside and I said yes but I’m also pregnant. You should have seen the look on his face! He then said, you should stay inside and cool off, after lunch, you can go back with the rest of the extras.

That was a close one! We did not finish shooting Until about 7 pm but it was fun for me, I spent the day walking pass Benedict Cumberbatch, and I even got to talk to Joel Edgerton, he asked me if my Afro wig was real and he talked about how hot it and how his friend had to shoot in the winter while wearing summer clothes.

After a year of waiting for the movie to come out…come to find out the scene was cut, at least now I can share this fun little story! I will never forget the experience, it was worth every minute and I would not mind acting as Job for a living.

Lighting Trees on Fire – Salem

Here’s Rhett’s experience on set of Salem where he ran through the forest in the middle of the night and the cast accidentally lit trees on fire.

So it was for an episode of Salem in Shreveport. When we got there for fitting we had to wear wool socks all the way up our thighs near our butts! We wore all black pleather armor suits with a bonnet and Bobby pins to make sure no hair would show past our long black hoods. All of this hot stuff in 85 degree Louisiana weather. We were told it would be a fun night and that we wouldn’t start shooting until midnight. Which actually ended up being at 1 haha. They gave us fence posts (heavy fence posts) with oil at the ends on some tied rags and then lit them. We had to shoot two scenes, each in real woods with real flammable bushes haha. Both running but one had us run slightly downhill about 50 yards with about 3 feet in between each of us. Some people were in front of us so the flames were right in our faces and couldn’t see yet they expected us not to hit their 20,000 dollar cameras. A couple bushes caught on fire causing us to have to reshoot some scenes and we didn’t actually leave set until the sun started coming up. And then one of the scenes didn’t even end up in the episode!

Do you have a great background acting story? Tweet us @ProjectCasting and we will LOVE to hear your experience!