Guest post from Gaetano LePoer
My bucket list includes being in a Hollywood movie. With that in mind, I went to an open casting call for background actors for the upcoming HBO miniseries “Mildred Pierce,” a remake of the original starring Joan Crawford who won an Academy Award for her role. Amazingly I was selected. The five part miniseries stars Kate Winslet and Guy Pearce and is a 1930s period piece that takes place in Los Angeles. Part of the movie, however, was being filmed in Peekskill, New York.
As I prepared for the shoot, I knew the days would be long. After an initial report for wardrobe fitting and a 1930s era haircut, I had a 5:30 a.m. report for my first day on set. The folks who manage the background actors prepared us by running through our cues and pointing out where we needed to walk, stop, talk, etc. Their job is to synch the movements of the background actors to the main scene inside. My scene took place in a restaurant and my role was to walk outside on the street. During the eight to 10 takes for each scene, we’d repeatedly hear, “Cut!” “Reset!” “Let's do it again!” And then came my big break. The production team requested a “Lawrence Tierney” type – an old school, tough guy – to stop near the front door of the restaurant while smoking a cigarette and talking to a friend. After a few hours of shooting, it happens. If you are a background actor and they are sure that you are going to be seen in a particular scene, you are finished. They don't want the same background characters showing up in later shot.
While the directors, principal actors, wardrobe team, makeup people and set designers are true artists, I was shocked at the number of ne’er-do-well’s that were all over the set. The grips, best boys and gaffers are like a group of renegades from the used car business. As Howard Cosell would say, “they were the sleazy underpinnings” of a Hollywood movie. It really broke my expectation of the beauty of the Hollywood set. It was fun, but if there ever is a next time I will be prepared for the “Dark Side” of the business. In a sense, a movie is sort of like a hot dog – I still love them but I don’t ever want to see how they are made.