“What’s up, Avatar?”
“Not much, Craig Robinson, good friend! How are you today?”*
*imaginary response, actual response was a stupid grin and probably my face turning a million shades of red.
The coolest thing about working on this set was getting a nickname from Craig Robinson. He’s a really good pool player. I think hearing that there were “pool experts” around intrigued him. He kept challenging us to play. The ADs scolded him (gently- extras get yelled at for breaking the cast/extras boundary, cast members get a gentle reminder that such intermingling is less than ideal).
I ignored the requests from Craig anyway, being the pool playing fraud that I was. So why did he call me Avatar? Well, as I have said before, being an extra is 10% fun and 90% boring as hell. It’s important to bring things to do. At the time, I was kind of into Avatar (which is also the link to click if you have no idea what I am talking about right now and would like to read part 1 of this story). I was working on a sketch while he was playing pool:
He stopped his game to compliment the drawing, talk sci-fi, and suddenly I had a nickname. Gush.
The pool expert thing intrigued the whole cast, actually. John Krasinski and Jenna Fischer finally broke down on the third day and just flat out asked, “are you guys really pool experts? It says on our call sheets that you are. It seems crazy that you aren’t actually playing pool and they just have you standing around all day.” It was nice to joke and chat with them. Then we had to shoot again and we went back to being invisible, despite standing next to one another. Hollywood is weird. This whole experience really underscored that.
Take, for example, lunch. Lunch on this set was even more amazing than breakfast. Food was custom-made. Want steak? No problem. Vegan? There are actual options for you. Dessert? How about bananas foster, flambéd before your very eyes. Anything you want, it’s yours. Just don’t sit at the wrong table. Which I did.
Being a bit of an introvert, I picked the table that had the fewest people. There were even a couple of kids there. I said hi to one of them. She was sweet. Her mother gave me a look of derision coupled with an awkward and confused smile. A lot of people were giving me a similar look. I felt like a jerk for being nice, so I just focused on my meal and went back to my Avatar sketch.
Later, I found out that “mom” was Angela Kinsey and I was sitting at the table reserved for the cast. Oops. That’s what I get for not being a regular watcher of the show. I was also told that some of the confusion might have been due to the fact that with blondish hair (which I had at the time), I look a bit like Jenna Fischer. Maybe someone thought I was a distant relative visiting the set? Of course, if someone had just told me that the table was reserved for the cast, much awkwardness could have been avoided…
For this reason, Craig’s no-bullshit acknowledgements that we were actually people in the actual world made him super cool in my eyes.
Despite the awkward moments, I had so much fun on this set. My fellow pool expert extras were all really interesting people. There was a perfect balance of quiet time to read, draw, reflect, explore, etc. and active time to talk and play. Between takes, I chatted with the tech crew (always a little more accessible and willing to talk than the cast). They shot on three cameras simultaneously and did about a million different takes to give the cast (particularly Steve Carell) the chance to improvise a little. I learned a lot.
And also pitied the poor editors who had to go through all of that footage. Yikes.
When it was time to wrap everything up, I actually got a little emotional. Couldn’t I just make a livable wage doing this for like a year or something? Later, I wrote a short story about a girl who lived on a studio lot. She dressed from the costume department, grabbed food from the crafty tables, slept on the stunt mats and because she was “no one,” she went completely unnoticed and got to be involved in a cool mystery. Sometimes it’s good being no one…
Maybe I will post the story here some day.
I ended up being on screen a lot from that shoot. Good food, good people, funny stories, fun work, fun show, fun episode, my face on TV, memories… really, I didn’t see how I could top this, given my previous “background actor” experiences. I decided to hang up my background acting hat and do things that made money (part of my fantasy story above was influenced by the insane cost of living in Los Angeles) and was on a more appropriate path to my career goals.
Yes, I was done with extra work. An interesting time in my life, to be sure. I would be happy not being part of that world ever again.
Then a year later, Central Casting called me and asked if I would be willing to work on Mad Men…