Ah, the wonderful world of background acting. An easy way to brush shoulders (literally) with your favorite actors, meet like-minded individuals, and stand around for anywhere from 3-16 hours (usually 10). But what is it REALLY like?
I booked my first show in June of 2017 after just quitting my soul-sucking corporate gig. I was to appear on Younger to portray a restaurant patron, cafe patron, bar patron, and passerby (such fancy names for nobodies, right?) I called the production’s hotline to get my call time and wardrobe info. Report time was 6:30 AM at the holding location (usually an empty church), plus 3 wardrobe changes (this is not the norm, and is REALLY “extra” for a background acting gig).
I arrived at the daunting time of 6:30, got my wardrobe approved, and waited around for a while amongst a sea of other background actors. My first thought: they seem like they do this every day. And, as I learned, a lot of them do. I met a woman who makes a career out of background work, portraying cops, party goers, detectives, all the cool stuff.
First Scene Work:
After grabbing free breakfast from a truck outside, rushed to eat (barely could even start TBH), I was directed to the first scene at La Esquina in SoHo (great restaurant, actually – never thought I would be filming a TV show there!).
I could already sense the chaos. Food was being placed on every table, background was being directed where to sit, stand, walk, production was running around and rushing to get started. I even got yelled at for bringing my carton of breakfast to set (whoops, #newbieprobs).
With no introduction or formal direction, I was told to walk to the other side of the room. Before realizing, “Rolling!” was called out, followed by “Background!” My cue.
And so I made a lap around the restaurant, trying not to obviously glance at Nico Tortorella and his co-star acting out their lines at a table.
After about completing about 10 of the same laps cut after cut, we were directed to wait outside. I think maybe 2 hours passed before we headed to our next scene as they finished up.
The next scene took place at an outdoor cafe. I was on a fake date with a girl across from me, pretending to talk and eat fake food. Lovely! I am now a pantomime expert.
Working with Hilary Duff:
At around 5 pm (yes…almost 11 hours later…) we were sent off by a van to Williamsburg to shoot 2 more scenes. My dream came true as Hilary Duff passed me as I waited to be called on set. She smiled at me as I remained a little starstruck. No one else seemed to even acknowledge her but me. Then, I got to walk pass her multiple times in her last scene of the season. Does this mean I can say I’ve worked with Hilary Duff before?! Technically, YES. Incredible.
The 5th and last scene of the day was definitely the most brutal. Taking place in a bar, I was handed a fake drink to bond with a new friend over at the fake jukebox while Nico chatted with some girl at the bar (ugh, I love TV). I replayed this last scene for what felt like hours. Over and over, I pantomimed with my new friend about music selection and pretended to select new tunes. Everyone was starting to get antsy as the director was constantly restarting the scene (what does it take, TBH??).
End of Day (finally):
9 pm: we were finally sent back to our second holding location and waited to be released. I got my form signed (6:30 am – 9:30 pm…what even? luckily: overtime pay after 10 hours) and headed home. Reason it was a 16 hour day? It was the season 4 finale shoot, and Younger is apparently notorious for being a difficult production to work with (crew really is awesome though!).
On the train home, I looked back on the long and strange day I had. It’s set work: it’s not necessarily a blast. It’s a TON of waiting around. It’s a TON of redoing your scene over and over again for final copy that you may appear for a second, if even, in. But was it worth it? YES. I got to “work with” Hilary Duff, learn set lingo, meet new people, and brag about my day on Instagram. My kind of day, tbh.
Oh, and the best part: I got an IMDb page made and credit for my work. Literally, #lifegoals.
Live in NY or LA and interested in becoming a background actor? Take a sick day from work and DO IT. You can learn more about registration with Central Casting here. SO MUCH FUN.
Final note: don’t forget to catch me on the season 4 finale of Younger on TV Land! I’ll post pics, assuming I actually made the cut!
-mike, the urban guy