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  • Writer's pictureLizzy Shannon

More Extra Nonsense

My most recent blog was about my experience as a film extra in Northern Ireland. I keep waiting for the film to be released before I share the next part, but it looks like the production has been held up. So, as I seem to be using this delay as an excuse not to blog, I’ll go ahead and share without revealing the name of the film, or where the shoot was.

I arrived nice and early, and helped myself to the wonderful coffee provided, and hauled myself and my costumes onto the Ulsterbus to join the other extras. I recognized a couple of people from the previous day, and we huddled together, trying to warm up in the frigid winter morning.

We were taken from there by minibus to a small vacation home, just down the road from where the shoot was taking place in a farmhouse. When I clambered out of the minibus, I realized with horror that perhaps I had consumed too much coffee. My gut cramped, making me hurry into the house and straight into the bathroom. I know it’s embarrassing to talk about one’s bowels, but this story can’t be told without them!

I succumbed to awful diarrhea, and when finished, opened up a window in the bathroom to try and alleviate the stench. Unfortunately no air freshener was provided, but I did try spritzing some of the travel-sized hair spray I had in my bag. I stepped out of the bathroom and joined the other extras, hiding my mortification. No one appeared to have noticed, to my utmost relief.

Now, we’ll come back to the bowel situation, but shortly after that we got called on set. As we filed into the farmhouse kitchen, I recognized the director and greeted her with a big smile. The scene turned out to be a funeral with mourners gathered around an open coffin in the parlor. One of the extras, a very slim elderly lady was helped into the coffin and she showed remarkable patience playing a corpse for all of the takes.

My father had just died after many terrible months descending into dementia, so when the director encouraged us to cry, I had absolutely no problem switching on the waterworks. All I had to do was think of Dad and tears immediately streamed down my face. It was quite cathartic.

Then the director wanted to change the grouping in the parlor. She asked which of us had been in the kitchen scene, and moved them to where I stood.

She pointed to me and said, “I know you’ve been in the kitchen scene.”

I shook my head and reminded her that I’d only been in the bar scene.

“Oh, well,” she replied. “It won’t change anything for you to stay on this side of the room.”

I smiled and nodded, a little confused. I got the feeling she thought I was trying to push myself forward, or something. Which is the last thing I’d do! I love being an extra because there’s absolutely no stress involved. And I still get to be part of something I enjoy.

The director restaged us around the coffin and we prepared for the next few takes. Then she called from the doorway, “Lady with the red hair? Change places with Sam.”

I obediently moved from where I stood in plain sight by the coffin, to directly behind one of the main characters. I found myself squished between a man on my right, and a tall blonde young woman to my left. The woman didn’t budge an inch. Nor did she reply to my greeting or look at me at all.

I continued to cry on cue for each take, even if I was close enough to the actor in front of me to wipe my nose on his shirt!

The scene wrapped up and after a very nice lunch, we were let go. Back in the minibus I found myself once again squished beside the blonde woman. She again didn’t acknowledge me, so being somewhat contrary at times, I made a point of making polite small talk with her. Without ever looking at me, she told me how she’d been in every single project that had been filmed in Northern Ireland over the past few years. I’ve looked for her on screen since but have never spotted her. She’s very distinctive, so she’d be difficult to miss!

Then she said, “I’m sorry I’m not very talkative. I was sick in that bathroom in the house we were waiting in.”

Her scathing tone gave me the impression she blamed me. Me, the diarrhea fiend, who did it *on purpose* just to make her ill!

That should have been my cue to explain about the coffee, but I didn’t. Perversely, I was amused. In addition I felt embarrassed, and that, along with the odd encounter with the director earlier, made me come away from the experience a tad uncomfortable.

And once again, totally vindicated in my decision to leave professional acting long, long ago.


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