Well, as far as film extras gigs go some are good, some are bad and some are just like being on the front lines of war. My two and a half days as a background extra on ITV's hit 3-parter #InPlainSight was an absolute scream! I mean, I should have paid THEM afterward...Well, maybe not, but you get my drift. So what separated this one from all the others? Well you'll have to stick around for my filming breakdown.
As I'm with an extras agency based in Scotland, I often get cryptic text messages for roles in various TV and film productions. On this day I received one that was looking for males for a few days work on a new crime drama starring the ever brilliant Douglas Henshall. Having been a fan of Henshall's from his days on the ITV show #Primeval (not his finest hour but he made it enjoyable) I replied AVAILABLE and waited for news. After getting a reply I had my filming dates and the ball was now very much rolling.
The show, which was originally titled simply 'Muncie' after Henshall's detective, is about the real-life exploits of one of Scotland's most notorious murderers from the 1950s. Peter Manuel, played venomously by Martin Compston, committed various murders, thefts, and rapes throughout the early 50's and was finally caught and sentenced to death by hanging. He became one of the last people to be hung in Scotland and the drama really delves into his character and his need for the police spotlight. Having done a little research I was more than ready to get involved in this intriguing thriller.
Clothes make-eth The Man
Now, I've been part of many productions which all had different and varying background roles. So what was I getting myself in for with this one? I knew I was playing a detective in the 50's and with that, I guessed a suit and tie was in order. I quite enjoy wearing one as it's not my usual attire either at my "normal" day job or when I'm sat at my keyboard in a stained T-shirt writing articles (like right now). I was given a sweet blue suit to wear and ushered into makeup for a haircut and a little brill cream styling. It's the normal thing and you have to have your hair cut and styled to whatever the period of the production. I can understand totally why they can't have modern styles in a period drama but I always think it'd be good if they cut your hair just enough so people wouldn't stare for weeks after. I mean, taking my sideburns up past my ears is a no-no in my book.
As you can see from this official (hmm) picture taken from the set, I was getting on with my fellow background artists like a house on fire. Whenever you take on an extras job you never know who you're going to be stuck with for hours on set so it's always good when you click with people. I like to joke around a lot myself in everyday anyways so usually I get on okay with folks, on this production though I laughed a little TOO much.
Arriving at the set which was going to be my working environment, I was blown away by what I saw. The design team really pulled the stops out to make this a great, realistic looking police HQ and it had echoes of #LifeOnMars which I loved. Plus, just before takes, a crew member would blast pungent smoke from a fog machine to make it look like we were smoking 40 a day. Very fitting for the time, they even gave us E-cigs to smoke in certain shots. It only occurred to me on day 2 that they 'may' have contained nicotine.
So there we are on set, filming our odd parts in the background of the main actors. Whether it was walking to a filing cabinet and back or sitting at my desk on the phone I was loving it. Everyone was having fun and the shoot, although long, was going fairly smoothly. Trust me, when it isn't YOU, as an extra, will find out pretty quickly. Tempers can fray on-set and usually shit rolls down hill meaning you need to listen carefully and don't miss your cue otherwise you've just cost the production time and there's no worse theft on a film set.
So there I was on set re-doing a sequence of events that led me from going from those filing cabinets in the shot above to my own desk and pretending to talk to another, extra called STEVEN MACKAY. Now, during this scene we were joking around more and more and I was really struggling to stop laughing. During one take, a badly timed brothel joke was almost the last straw. I walked across to my desk and pretended to speak to my fellow extra. He turned towards me with a handful of paper props and simply said, "I've fucking had enough of this" to which I began to laugh and shake silently but very obviously. I couldn't control my face and was grinning ear to ear, which wasn't good because at that point I was still facing the camera's and that was where I had to stay. All I could do to try and disguise what was happening was to turn slightly to the side and pretend to put out my e-cig in one of the ash trays on my desk. As they called cut I covered my face and laughed/wept openly. Strangely not one crew member mentioned anything to me after the take and only my fellow background support seemed to notice - thank god!
Watch Out Henshall's About
Now, we all can get star-struck when facing some celebrity that we've admired in some way or another. I've faced this a couple of times but can quite honestly say I've never actually had egg-on-my-face quite as much as when I worked on this production. The first morning I was there, which coincidentally was the first shoot day, I saw #DouglasHenshall in full detective Muncie apparel walking across from me on the lot. I was talking to a female extra at the time and I suddenly stopped, turned my head and as Henshall looked over I both nodded and shook my head in a way I've never ever done before. He walked on and I returned to my conversation although I'd no doubt lost any credibility as a fellow extra or human being.
Back to the set for a moment, I was again joking around with some background support when I glanced across towards the main police chief office at the front of the room. This was between takes and the crew were still setting up the shot, who should be stood in the doorway staring at me? You've guessed it, Douglas Henshall. I can only assume he'd recognized me as the nodding idiot from earlier in the day and he was giving me his trademark intense stare. I've been told since that he gets deep into character when filming and this was evidence as later when I watched the show I saw him directing the same look towards murderer Peter Manuel. I'm not sure now who looked away first but If I was a betting man I'd put my money on Henshall.
See my actual cameo footage in the show in my video blog below and why not SUBSCRIBE to hear about my future exploits - or mishaps!