Putting the "Extra" with "Ordinary"
Quiz of the Day: Loch Ness Monster? Or Hugh Grant?
A few weeks ago, a friend in "the Biz" ("Biz" = showbiz, not a parasite living inside of Biz Markie) was describing her latest project: Working behind the scenes on the latest Hugh Grant movie "Music & Lyrics By." My friend Mike and I woke up at the crack of dawn to take the bus out of midtown and into Long Island, where we were dropped off at what appeared to be an abandoned amusement park, but what was actually "Adventureland". For those who don't know, "Adventureland" is a menagerie of various "stupid ways to die and/or have fun" set up in Farmingdale, New York. I'm not huge on carnivals, specifically carnies, so I was more than pleased to learn that the people operating the various rides (last inspected in what seemed like 1974) were not drug-addled carnies but, in fact, 14 year olds with no prospects. Safe at last.
Mike impersonating a teamster playing a carnival game.
This was my first experience being an extra, and I couldn't have asked for more. A Hugh Grant movie!! Are you kidding me? I don't think I can name another actor who elicits such heartfelt laughter and realistic seeming wedding dreams as Mr. Grant. I don't want to get "Jet Blue sale fare to psycho-town", but even the worst of his movies have ended up in my DVD collection thanks to his effortless smarm and sex appeal (barring Extreme Measures because, well, I'm pretty sure he doesn't end up in bed with Gene Hackman and his undoubtedly huge knickers. Otherwise 4 sure.)
The night before, I engaged in my geisha hair-and-make-up ritual. Every strand on my head had been straightened and glossed 3 times over in preparation. I wore an apropos "extras" outfit of off-white cords and a caramel colored blazer. I chose flats because, well, I didn't want to have my head lopped off by a boom mic.
How would my encounter with Hugh go down? Would he spot me, holding a parasol and drinking river water with my hands, and immediately invite me back into his trailer? Or would I accidentally take a sip from his coffee, leading to an awkward but upfront exchange about oral herpes, with my wit (and, might I add, herpes free mouth) overwhelming him with lust, leading us to peace the fuck out to his trailer? Would he go into his trailer, find me hiding under his bed Cape Fear-style, scold me for such a childish prank.... and then immediately invite me back to his trailer? I dreamed and dreamed.
Me, slyly taking a camera phone pic of Hugh Grant's stand-in, who bore a striking resemblance to Ty Pennington. I am so grateful my bloated face made it in! Proof that I was there!
Following extras check-in, Mike and I broke free from the pack and sat patiently on a bench watching them set up. In the meantime, I chatted up the director's older Jewish mother, who immediately out-ranked Mike as my "On-Set Bestie." I had a brief but thrilling flirtation with an adorable camera guy. I ate 3 bites of an Adventureland Quesedilla. I sat. I waited. I twiddled. And then...
Hugh Grant arrived.
Can you spot him in this photo? Answer coming up later. Hint: You can't see him.
Wearing adorable little velvet trousers, white cowboy boots, a white tuxedo shirt and a black leather studded blazer, he looked the part. The part is that of an 80s rock star who failed to hit it big as a solo artist and must resort to performing at, yes, Adventureland. My own Jewish maternal instinct kicked in, as Hugh looked very thin in person, smaller than he seems on screen. With him in the movie is Drew Barrymore, who speaking of petite, is tine-tine. Poor thing gets a reputation for being "not so thin" because she has a strong jaw, but I swear in 4 inch heels she was a little over 5 feet tall, waif-thin, and very cute. On the other end of the freaky-sized-celeb spectrum was Brad Garrett, better known as the brother on Everybody Loves Raymond. Much handsomer in person, I'm putting my comedy career on the line by saying that yes, I sometimes watch Raymond, and you know what? I laugh, so fuck you and your high brow judgment.
Seeing Hugh made me giddy. But I'm no asshole, I know how to behave. I wasn't about to go up to these actors and tell them that I'm a "fan" because, really, it's the douchiest, and my name ain't Massengil Collins. No, my plan was to pass Hugh on set, cock my head, wink an eye, give a tug at my jacket lapel, and say "Trade blazers?" For some reason, I thought this was brill. "Trade blazers! It's perfect!" I told Mike, who lowered his head in disgust and shame. Just random enough to get his attention, but coy enough to point out that we were both wearing ladies blazers.
I ran it by my friend working on the set, who immediately put me in my place and told me to behave. There would be no small talking with Hugh. If I didn't want to be sent back to the "Exta's Pen" (i.e. the Adventureland cafeteria, filled to the brim with 40-something actresses looking for their big break) I'd have to remain quiet.
The Extra's Pen: Where Dreams Become a Fast-Food Character Driven Nightmare.
We filmed our extra's scene, which was kind of cute. Mike and I played boyf/girlf, and the camera follows us walking behind a crowd of fans while totally disregarding Hugh's singing. We held hands and ate tri-colored snocones. We practiced looking "non-chalant", which may actually lend itself to our looking just a tad "chalant". I'm a solid head taller than Mike, so if and when you see the movie (which I get the feeling is gonna be great), and you spot a man and woman holding hands eating snocones, and you wonder "Are they dating? Or is that his mom?", that's me and Mike. And I swear to God, if my face ends up on the big screen, even for a brief mome, I will absolutely slit my throat in joy. Just like I did when they filmed my apartment in "New Jack City".
Mike and I sitting on a bench. This is a bird's eye view of 95 percent of my day.
During lunch, the PA's had all the amusement park rides opened for the people working behind the scenes. (Think key grips and the like.) We went on a hilarious roller coaster that looks like it's made for babies, up until you're dangled upside-down with your ovaries hanging out of your mouth crying out for Jesus to save you. Then there was a Haunted House ride that was basically a box on wheels moving slowly through a pitch black room, which is actually pretty fucking scary. This morning I was shocked to find bruises on my legs -- I think I was literally "Too Tall To Ride."
Me and a haunted house witch. Don't let the smile fool you: I was sure the moment I touched her she would reanimate into Karl Lagerfeld.
I had a brief, random encounter with Drew B. Someone brought a baby husky on the set and I, being half-mongoloid/half-carpathian, ran over to the puppy with arms outstretched and milk dribling down my chest, just wanting to embrace it's tiny dog-body. She was there along with her friend and some younger kids, and truly seems genuinely sweet -- I don't think it's an on-screen shtick with her. I managed to hold myself together and not remove the torah scroll I keep tucked in my bra with the 15 reasons why "Ever After" is one of my favorite movies ev.
Towards the end of the day, Hugh, Drew and Brad were filming the same scene they had been working on the entire day from a different camera angle. It must have been the 50th time they were running the lines, and Hugh seemed fatigued. Fragile, British, and fatigued. He kept mussin' his lines up, and getting progressively more agitated. It didn't help that he was surrounded by 5 year olds holding hands with their incredibly aggressive stage moms (see also: Me in 15 years.)
After flubbing a line for the 4th time in a row, Hugh freaked. I was standing behind the director watching the dailies, and all of a sudden I heard it: (spoken in the most high-brow British accent) "Fuck! Fuck me!! Fucking blighmy! Goddamn fuck!" The children all stopped walking. The ferris wheel came to a halt. A squirrel stopped eating a nut to look up. A baby cried. I, however, stood under the tent DYING laughing. Yes!! Some color! Some action! Hooray!!
There he is.
A few minutes later, he nailed the scene, and returned to his chair which I happened to be standing next to. (Don't read into it, there was nowhere else to go!) Hugh, the ultimate gent, turns to an older woman sitting nearby and says "I do apologize for the outburst." I couldn't help myself. "Are you kidding me?" I piped in, "That was the best thing I've seen all day! I was losing my mind, and finally -- fireworks on the set!"
I bit my lip... Did I break a rule? Would I get thrown out of the park like DJ Jazzy Jeff in the opening of Fresh Prince? I waited.
And, to my relief, Hugh gave a small chuckle... and then... he... LOOKED AT ME! And people, listen. His eyes were the deepest of turquoise, azul like the clearest waters of the Pacific. His built-in indigo laser beams bore holes directly through my skull. I died inside.
Another "on the sly" pic of the back of Hugh's chair. I came thisclose to scouring it for hair follicles to auction off on Ebay.
But that was it. He didn't say anything back, and I'm pretty sure my internal "freak out" mechanism kicked in, because I made some crack about killing myself on the Long Island Rail Road, and the convo kind of ended right there.
When I told my friend working on the film, she got a little dismayed but laughed. I'm basically an asshole, but this is common knowledge. Mike and I took the train back into the city, exhausted, a little burnt, but aware that we just had one of the best days of our lives.
Later on that evening, I got a text from my buddy. Apparently she went up to Hugh following my departure, and said "I'm sorry my friend accosted you." (Accosted is a major thorn with me, as I was standing right there, but nevertheless.)
To which he responded: "Oh no, I liked her."
"Oh no, I liked her."
I haven't eaten in three days.
That also might be thanks to this french-fry smoking cone of french fries, who reduced me to a chain smoking meth head on set.
(Big thanks to my friend who made this most amazing day possible!)