Saturday, April 01, 2006

When I Was Marlo Thomas

Got some advice from a screenwriter the other day. "Get on the set," he said, "be an extra. Do whatever you have to do but get on a set and make contacts." Hmm. You know, I actually did that once --

Almost eleven years ago, as a set person for Walker, Texas Ranger was at City Hall to get a permit for an explosion, he suggested that I appear on the set as an extra. I'm not a willowy glamour puss and while I have no qualms about singing to twenty thousand people in a stadium or speaking to a press corps with bulbs flashing, I can't pose for a family photo without breaking out in cold sweat. I am painfully aware of my crooked nose, fat face, squinty eyes, the eyelid that closes slower than the other and these giant cavernous dimples in my chin and cheeks. My sometimes pathetic insecurity demanded that I decline.

That weekend, the City Manager called me at home and informed me that it wasn't optional. Somehow, me standing in the background of a fake bank robbery was going to boost economic development in our small town. Fine. Whatever makes the boss happy enough to remember my pay increases.

The whole "extra" adventure can be underwhelming. I had specific instructions on what kind of clothes to bring, how to style my hair, where to get my wardrobe approved and how much makeup to wear. But when I arrived on the set at 5:30 a.m., my friend, Susan, and I were two of a hundred nobodies crammed into a cafe for the opening scene. Other extras were practically orgasmic as they jockeyed for seats near the shooting but Susan and I huddled in the back, mortified that we had so little makeup and bags under our eyes.

We were plotting our escape when the cafe fell silent. A producer was walking the room checking everyone out saying stuff like "too much hair", "get him in the back" and "we won't be needing that one". Suddenly, he made eye contact with me in the far corner of the room and said, (no kidding) "Bring me that girl!"

Huh? Me? Whoa!

I was whisked to a booth in the middle of the action and seated next to a kind faced Average Joe who instructed me to mouth my ABC's at him when the cameras started rolling and to not worry if his hand touched my knee. We were a couple. Right. Like the camera is gonna see your hand under the table? Oh well. I was just so flattered to be in the scene. "Don't be," Average Joe said, "they never let attractive people near the stars." What the? I swatted his hand from my knee and sought advice from the couple across the booth who affirmed that only plain (not too attractive, not too ugly) people made it in front of cameras so not to take the viewers eyes off the action in the scene.

Plain? Plain as in boring? Plain as in nobody knows I exist? Or, plain as in ugly but not ugly enough to call ugly?

The minute that scene was over, I scraped up what was left of my self esteem and prepared to go home. But Susan hadn't been used yet so I waited it out with her. Eight hours later, her butt was filmed passing a feed store. We were having a jolly laugh about which was more plain and boring, my face or her butt, when a casting person said we were both being used for the bank robbery. I'd already been used, I explained. No problem. They'd put me at the back.

I don't need to tell you that they did NOT put me at the back. Nope. I was right there at the teller window through eleven agonizing takes giving me plenty of time to assess my appearance. Not only was I not noticeable, but I was SO not noticeable that nobody expected viewers to notice that they had already not noticed me in the diner. Holy crap! What was wrong with me? Was I really that forgettable? Would my plain-ness accelerate with age? Would my kids bury me with a paper sack over my head or just close the casket?

Meanwhile, with each take, the bank robber got closer and closer to me until in the final take, he jumped on the counter behind me, shoved his gun in my face and screamed "do you think I'm crazy?" But I didn't hear "do you think I'm crazy?" I heard those horrible words, "they never let attractive people near the stars", and I erupted into tears. Really.

A director approached me after that take and told me what I good job I'd done. "You ever consider becoming a character actor?" he asked, "You really looked scared." Well, duh! I was terrified of blending in with the beige bank walls! Oh well. I smiled and thanked him. I didn't want to tell him what I had really been afraid of.

I have since seen that episode twice -- once on purpose -- and the scene does NOT show the bank robbing star shoving his gun in my face or getting anywhere near me. I choose to believe that editors decided that I was just too noticeable. Please. Nobody tell me otherwise.


Anonymous said...

email me ur pic *tis @ me blog*

i will lay praise, bitter truth, or a more balanced approach, whichever one u like.

most importantly though, i find u really interesting. a lil sexy even.

but thats just me.

MaryAn Batchellor said...

Well, it has been eleven years. Wonder what would happen if I showed up as an extra on a set today. I really don't think I want to know.

Anonymous said...

Chuck Norris is handsome, but not striking. imo

yeah, he will kick my ass if he found i said that.

Anonymous said...

::smiles:: who knows?

Anonymous said...

sides, we all lose self-esteem from time to time.

right now im near rock bottom.
dont let em' get ya down.

take it from a cynic!!

m said...

I was an extra in 2 ERs (scene cut out of one) and 2 episodes of the very-shortlived Turks.

All I got out of it was meeting George Clooney and William Devane and finding both to be great people.

That and some scratch. Not much.

MaryAn Batchellor said...

I got to to take a cheesecake picture at Walker's truck and sixty dollars for a fourteen hour day. You got to meet Clooney!