My life as an actor, part one
By Simon Barget
Before the real roles I was an extra. And when you’re an extra you just spend your time in thrall to the main cast. You’re totally irrelevant and the only reason they need you is to make the others look good.
One of the filming days was a very hot day, an unseasonably hot day, and we were out on the Isle of Dogs by the cranes and the gantries, a place you’d never willingly go to -- this was before they spruced it all up -- and there were no office complexes or flats, no malls, no boats or wharves or anything green, just disused workshops and factories and grime, and there was no sign of life, just us, and we were standing next to this abandoned car park baking and sweating, forty no-hopers in suits, and they had all the vans and lorries set up full of equipment, and the sky was a horrible cloudless blue, piercing, and there was a ready crew constantly parading about shouting, these men with their ear pieces always making a commotion, they rushed past us shouting in our ears leaving us trailing in their wake, whilst we stood in our suits waiting and waiting, trying not to sweat, not knowing what they were going to do with us. When they got round to us it was like herding dogs. And without so much as a moment’s warning we were hustled into vans and taken somewhere out near Greenwich, and it was a baking July day, and they never told you what they wanted out of you, you just had to wait for the orders whenever they came.
And it was almost like you couldn’t talk to anyone. Yes you could talk to the extras but there was no communication whatsoever between us and the crew, and the men who were barking orders, I didn’t know really who or what they were, whether they were directors or just assistants, or whatever, who even cared, all that mattered is we had to wait to be spoken to. No one dared say a word, even the most garrulous of the extras, the loud annoying ones who talked a lot of shit about all the other roles they’d got in the group, well when the crew came back they’d suddenly go silent like the headmaster had rocked up. They might even have assigned a team leader to each group. All I know was I wasn’t one, and it seemed to me like it had been fixed from the start, the team leader had already worked on the productions, and so they just chose someone they knew, someone they’d already communicated with in the past.
And then we got out of the vans and they told us all to stand on the Common, in the piercing sun, and after all this urgency you’d have expected some filming to take place, but there was none, no sign of filming, yes there were cameras and gates and lights and all the equipment, there was the crew still shouting, and sometimes it seemed there was even more crew than extras, bear in mind there must have been at least fifty of us, and then the crew just carried on talking amongst themselves, oblivious, while we had to wait again, again waiting in the baking high sun which was now giving me beads of sweat at the temples and at the front of my chest on my dress shirt a wet patch.
I don’t remember seeing anyone from the main cast. Were they even there? Honestly I started wondering if the production was even real. But I suppose they were keeping us as far away from them as possible. If you couldn’t talk to the crew, well you weren’t even going to come close to the stars for that risk to be incurred. And everything was either main cast or extras. The catering vans, the transport, the production and payroll offices, everything was separated, everything us and them, and still I wondered if they were hiding behind that one-way glass, but the worst part of it was the waiting and not knowing what you were supposed to do.
I don’t remember there being any filming at all, but we still got paid. And then we were gone, back home, and there was nothing to show for it, and I never saw those people again and it was as if I had never even been there in the first place.
And now I am on the other side. I don’t have to wait. Now I don’t have to be a part of someone else’s twisted vision. The difference is enormous. When I come on set, everyone comes right up to me, we talk, we’re on the same level. I park in the car park and walk straight in to wherever the set is. People acknowledge me. When I was an extra I didn’t feel like I was playing a part, I felt like a nobody, invisible, and everyone deserves to be seen, however briefly, scantly….or else you might as well not exist.