Many actors debate the advantages/disadvantages of being an extra on a production.
You probably already know this but the extras, or background actors, are the… well…they’re the ones in the background.
Being a background actor means you are ON CAMERA but you don’t have any lines.
The arguments actors make against doing background work are many:
– It’s a waste of time
– It doesn’t pay that much
– You’ll get labeled as an extra and will never get to work as a principal
– It’s demeaning
– It’s competitive
– It’s boring
I get it.
But, here’s my story…
Many years ago, I auditioned for a Pepsi commercial.
I got a callback for a principal role!
The next day I got offered to be part of the background.
Not really what I was hoping for, but I accepted the job.
I showed up to a highly-secured set.
We were told that the commercial was to star MADONNA.
This was 20 years ago – at the height of Madonna’s fame.
There were hundreds of background actors on set.
I tried not to hate myself as they shoved us all into a small room – our “holding area.”
I tried not to think thoughts like, “I’m such a loser – why don’t I have a REAL PART in this commercial?!”
“No!” I said to myself. “Those thoughts won’t help you!”
“I’m grateful I’m here. I’m grateful I’m here.”
That was my mantra.
I’ve always loved everything about show business.
I’m always dying to learn more. To improve in any way I can.
Later, I quietly sidled out of the holding area and found an inconspicuous corner on set where I could watch the action.
THE DIRECTOR WAS AN ARTIST – miraculously able to manage hundreds of crew and cast members while simultaneously taking good care of his star.
I watched as the choreographer taught the dance routine to Madonna and the two lucky girls who were hired to dance beside her.
Despite a bit of envy, I was in heaven.
Like a kid in a candy shop, I couldn’t get enough of what I was witnessing.
But… one of the lead dancers was struggling…
The poor girl.
She was slowing production way down.
THIS WAS A MULTIMILLION DOLLAR SHOOT and no one could falter.
Madonna seemed frustrated.
The director quietly whispered something to the struggling girl.
She nodded and walked off the set.
“Eeekkk, that’s rough”, I thought.
Then, the director looked up and said “Is anyone here a dancer?”
OMG. Do I dare?
I raised my hand.
By the grace of god, the director saw me first.
He pointed at me.
I jumped to my feet.
I stood beside this mega-star known to the world as Madonna.
She smiled at me.
The choreographer wasted no time showing me the steps.
The crew watched on, wondering if I too would be replaced.
Somehow, I was able to find enough composure to learn the routine.
I WAS TERRIFIED.
During lunch I was presented with new contracts to sign.
I was now a principal performer which meant I was going to get a bigger salary!
I was also being signed into SAG – the Actors Union that was so hard to get into!
However, the coolest thing that happened to me that day was getting to watch a STAR up close.
MADONNA WORKED LIKE HER LIFE DEPENDED ON IT.
After 9 hours of intense physical dancing, she would shout, “Let’s do it again – I think it can be better.”
This was no prima donna.
SO, THE BIG LESSONS HERE?
– Work hard.
– Be grateful to be where you are, no matter where that place is.
– Take every opportunity to learn.
And mostly, DO BACKGROUND WORK.
You never know where it will take you!
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