Okay, so now I have my tan and am a size 0 (plus 6) so time for me to be an actress, right? Well, kind of. I signed up to be an extra. This is the easiest job in the world and yet you have to have ironclad dedication to actually get any work. There’s a hotline you can call everyday to see what gigs are available. Let’s just say it was a tad limiting. Here are some things I actually heard on the line:
“For an episode of According to Jim we need women in Sci-Fi costumes.” Yeah, left mine in storage.
“Hi Ladies. Today I am looking for very upscale women with designer clothes and luxury cars, not black, white, or red.” I left my Bentley in the shop.
“Hello there non-union women. I need a blond, size 4 or less, 5’8” or taller, gorgeous bombshell model types who will be riding bicycles in bikinis…” Oh, too bad I’m just not tall enough.
“Today I need women who can juggle.” Uh, no.
“We are looking for Hispanic looking women who look like they just came from Mexico, in fact you will be swimming in water from the border.” It was for my favorite show Weeds, but no can do.
“Hi Ladies. You must have the ability to de-bone and filet a fish…” Is this what they learn in acting school?
“Hi. We need a woman with lots of tattoos and lots of piercings…” Blast.
After wading through all these odd requests, they finally called me and I was booked for my first call to be background in a scene on the hit TV series “24.” Yep that’s right—just look for me in the November 24 movie: girl in the wool coat (even though it was shot in the 100-degree San Fernando Valley) standing behind the new president of the United States as she is sworn in at the inauguration.
Actually I was in the background with dozens of other extras. Extras are a strange lot. While I was sitting in the ‘extra tent’ awaiting instruction, some old lady with an air of Alzheimer’s about her came up to me insisting she had to do my hair. I think she was just another extra honing her sharp acting skills and she was playing the part of the ‘slightly insane bad hairdresser.’ First she started combing my hair. The she started teasing it. Now, bear in mind, I’d taken special care to straighten my naturally curly/frizzy hair that morning so teasing usually wasn’t a good thing at this point. Then just a minute into her work, without a word, she just up and left. She reappeared a few minutes later with a chair. She used this to place the comb down. Now that we had the important extra chair we needed more space so she asked the guy behind me to move. I said I could move, but she said, “No! You stay!” Wow. She was fierce. Then she proceeded to put my hair up into some kind of bun. I warned her that my hair was layered and that with one bit of breeze, pieces of hair would be flying everywhere making me look like a disheveled mess – not the coiffed politician I was today. Suddenly she just put it in a pony tail with a barrette I’d brought just for this very reason and walked away. I smell an Emmy.
As extras we really spent most of the day sitting around reading and eating (junk food from Craft Service) and making small talk. There was a thin, kind of cute younger guy next to me that I started talking to only to find out very, very soon that he too was insane. It went a little something like this:
“Hi. I’m Lisa. Where are you from?”
“Oh, everywhere. It’s a long story.”
“Oh, were your parents in the military?”
“No, my family was in a cult and we traveled a lot and I hated it and I have put it all behind me now and I really don’t want to talk about it.”
“Oh, I’m sorry.”
After he continued to talk for twenty minutes about ‘what he didn’t want to talk about’, I tried to change the subject. “What do you want to do?”
“Well, I want to take documentaries and make them into science fiction fantasy kung-fu films.” He said matter-of-factly.
“Are you joking? I mean how do you propose to take a documentary about, oh, say the Holocaust or starving children in some underdeveloped country and make it a science-fiction film?”
“Well, I know that only smart people watch documentaries so this way I can get people who don’t usually watch these kinds of movies to watch and learn something at the same time.”
Of course. I tried to pretend I was reading and slowly get away from this genius so I turned to the guy next to me just as he was spitting his chewing tobacco into a cup. Nice. I guess when you are doing a job that has no requirements whatsoever you are going to encounter some pretty ‘interesting’ people. That was the gist of my short-lived (one day) career as an extra.
One day we decided to join a friend at a place Madonna has made famous worldwide. No, not her crotch – the Kabbalah Center. We thought it would be interesting to see what it was all about. And I’m always open for new experiences even if just to learn a little something more. Well, let’s just say I didn’t learn a thing and the service consisted of an hour of singing really loud in Hebrew (I think), clapping, and well that’s it.
We learned that like in orthodox temples, the men and women are separated so I was left to my own devices on the ladies side. But not for long. Soon the recruiters were on me like flies on a matzoh ball. I met Miriam, a beautiful girl who had been taking classes there for quite some time. She was super friendly, if not maniacal, and answered every question I asked with wide eyes, a huge grin, and an extremely enthusiastic: “That’s a really good question!” She spoke to me in a sincere, albeit brainwashed, sort of way. She tried to explain some things, but I was too distracted by her stepford beauty and culty staring into my soul. At a slight break in the festivities, I approached Mark across the aisle and asked how uncomfortable he was.
“On a scale of 1 to 10, I’d say an 11.”
And with that we left. Shalom friends.
Other LA-type activities we did all summer:
- We strolled around the Santa Monica shops on Montana and Third Streets, the bohemian boardwalk of Venice Beach, and the public tide-line sand of carbon Beach in Malibu, aka ‘Billionaires Beach’, walking by the homes of the likes of David Geffen, Courtney Cox, and dozens of other over-paid celebrities.
- We sat in the audience at the hilarious Late Show with Craig Ferguson. Twice. It happens that the CBS Studios are right around the block from Mark’s flat… so why not? Plus I realized I knew the director as I’d interned for him back in my early TV days at my fist gig – “Late Night with David Letterman” in New York City. He gave us a cool tour of all the studios and I even got to touch the famous Price is Right wheel. “Come on Down!”
- We saw the an improv/sketch comedy show at the Groundlings and Second City LA.
- We hiked to the Hollywood sign, which I later read is a high security zone complete with cameras and recording devices to watch your every move in case you trespass anywhere near the nine precious, big white metal letters. Want to check out the sign yourself? You can here –24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
- We went out to various bars and restaurants around town – from the fairly cheap and casual Hollywood staples like Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles, the Farmer’s Market, and Astroburger to swanky ‘hotspots like STK, Bar Marmont, and AOC Winebar.
- We watched the Chicago Cubs beat LA and had overpriced dogs and beer at Dodger Stadium.
- I got to cruise Sunset Boulevard in my friend, Neal’s, cute little VW convertible, with the top down and the music up, actually giving me the feeling of being a real ‘Angeleno.’
- We caught a show at the beautiful landmark the Hollywood Bowl.
- I took a couple rock climbing classes at REI Outdoor Store.
- I had a Pastrami Sandwich at one of LA’s oldest delis: Canter’s.
- We ate Sushi on Ventura Blvd where there are no less than 50 sushi joints.
- We strolled through Barney’s New York in Beverly Hills where I tried on one $2000 spiky high-heeled Italian shoe. I sold my car for that same amount. I wonder if they were priced per shoe and the pair was really $4000.
- We made the requisite ‘run for the border’ and took a day trip down to Tijuana.
And of course this is the center of the entertainment industry so I was bound to bump into some celebs, right? Well, sort of. Besides seeing Craig Ferguson and his guests (Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and some other actress I long forgot), Cheap Trick doing Sgt Pepper’s at the Hollywood Bowl, and the cast of “24” in person, I also ‘bumped into’ such D-list, third-string, second-tier celebs as Daniel Baldwin, Terrence Howard (literally running on the treadmill in front of me), Tom Arnold (shopping at the Apple store), Bruce Jenner (at a Starbucks), ‘The Office’ big guy, Brian Baumgartner, and the guys of the hit British sketch comedy show “Little Britain” (if you don’t know it yet… you will).