Sunday, March 17, 2013

SMASH with a bang, boom and a crash!

Thank you, thank you, thank you for the cast call to SMASH.  I've been wanting to get on this ever since it started... heard all my background friends talk about it but I just didn't score.  At least not until the last episode: the TONY awards episode!!! And it was worth the wait -big time.

My first day was for a "fitting"... a fitting of my own tuxedo on the hangers.  But I got paid to take the quick trip to Broadway Studios in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.  Wardrobe was located in the holding area and there were several people in tuxedos and gowns sitting around waiting to be called to set.  Ten minutes encompassed showing the wardrobe department my outfit for a quick approval, and filling out my I-9 form.  As it turned out, I sat down at one of the tables where a young bald man appeared to be conversing with "someone".  Problem was, no one was listening to his jovial tirades.  But he seemed to be having a good time!? At one point I saw him snacking on a box of "blue food" called Peeps.  They were artificially colored marshmallows that looked like little "chicks", which he literally kept stuffing into his mouth  -one after the other so that his cheeks were bulging like a hamster's as he gradually gulped them down.  OK?  I quickly handed in my form to the PA, who informed me that I would be needed for the next 3 days.  YESSSSSS!

DAY 1: Call time was 1:30 PM to the holding area at Broadway Studios.  The whacky blue-food-eating guy was still there so I felt reassured.  I arrived camera-ready in my tux and soon we were called to the set that was situated an the ground floor.  I walked in with about 50 other extras when I saw it:  the big SMASH sign hanging above the mock-stage that I've been watching with my wife on TV ever since the show began.  We were randomly seated -and then came the "icing-on-the-cake" moment.  A dance number was being performed with the two major actors.  Megan Hilty and Katharine McPhee... right there in front of me, second row, center stage!!!  My view was spectacular to say the least -and I didn't care one whit if I was going to be seen on camera or not (in the final edit only our heads were seen from the back -in silhouette).  But I was in ecstasy watching the two girls come out in their matching gold mini-skirted outfits, bantering with each other.  Katharine came out first followed by Megan. Upon seeing Megan's exact match of an outfit, she quipped, "Bitch stole my outfit!"  Laughter galore roils through the crowd.

The scene was the TONY awards ceremony and the last show of the 2nd season.  Background dancers were practicing on the stage... perhaps a bit more exuberantly than their tuxedo pants would allow.  Two of them had to change pants (on stage in front of us) and one even had it sewed while waiting for the scene to start.  The musical number sung by the two girls was "Always leave 'em wanting more"... (I know I did, even though they did a bunch of retakes -everyone of which was a gem.).  Our part as audience extras was simply to react.  DUH?  I felt like I won lotto to be lucky enough to be part of it all.
Breakfast at the crafty tables

Lunch was a walk-away (i.e. get your own food) but I didn't mind.  I had spied a sheeky-trendy coffee shop up the block and was looking forward to sampling their cafe latte.  So I put on my pea-coat and scarf, went to the stairs and as I scampered down, both Katharine and Megan were coming up. Eyes met and I thought I might have seen Meghan linger a glance at me a bit longer than... (but it was most likely wishful thinking).

DAY 2: Call time was 10:30 AM to the Millenium Hotel in Manhattan.  About 500 extras were called for the big audience scene at the Marquis Theater down the block on Broadway.  I arrived early and had a quick check in.  Not so for the other hundreds who followed.  It would be another three hours before we would be taken to the set.  Wardrobe and makeup checks for most of us was a quick glance from the pros and a quick approval.  Crafty was nearby outside the hotel and I got my breakfast before the big crowd would find their way here.  I'd already planned out my walk-away lunch to one of my favorite Indian restaurants a block away -in fact I was looking forward to it.  Unfortunately, lunch occurred very late in the afternoon because we were called to set and used for "tiling" the theater.  500 hundred people moved around at least six times to make the theater look full on the final cut of this scene.  I found it tiresome because none of the principals were on set.  It was an all-day deal without any thrills to pick up your spirits from seeing the celebs in action.
After one of the many re-seatings, I landed next to and got to chat with an elderly woman, whom I sort of recognized as being in various bit parts on other shows.  She'd been in the acting business all her life and her interest in being an extra was strictly to get a few extra buck$.  Her take on being an extra was that it really wasn't acting and that if you really want to be an actor then you have to keep going and going on auditions and taking acting classes... pretty much for ever!  I knew she was right.  I told her I liked doing the extras gigs and that my highest ambition in this business at my stage of life was to land a well-paid commercial gig.  (I could have told her that what I really wanted was to get the part of a future yet-to-be-written screenplay of a Star Wars character, that of Admiral Thrawn... but that might have been a bit too "off-topic" for her, and could have potentially caused the immediate ceasing of any subsequent conversation between us. )

DAY 3: Snow...wet...wet...SNOW! And like a dummy, I walked from Penn Station at 33rd Street to 44th Street, getting myself drenched (kind of). My coat, my shoes, my hair, all of which was "camera-ready", was peppered with large flakes of quickly-melting snow.  Which eventually melted my "persona" and eventually ten blocks later, I felt like a mess in motion.  I really should have taken the subway for 1 stop but felt like I needed the walking exercise and so I persisted with my trek uptown.  Mess or no mess, the wardrobe and makeup still only gave us a passing glance and ok'd us for the scenes!?  You just know you're not going to be seen on camera when they take that attitude.

The wait in holding was long but eventually they herded us over to the Marquis Theater to reprise our roles as audience-atmosphere at the TONY awards show.  But this time, the major characters of the story were sprinkled around us.  The first scene was with Christian Borle and Debra Messing.  Their roles were to chit-chat with each other and being bored out of their minds, resigned to not winning anything.  But of course their names are called and they suddenly realize that they've won.  Debra lets out a melodious laughter as she and Christian rush to get their TONY with renewed enthusiasm.  I was placed a couple of rows to their left but near enough to watch them between takes.  Debra was very natural and very pretty in her gown.  Borle was way too serious and stoic -and much taller than I expected.

The next scene was Anjelica Huston and her on-screen "boyfriend", played by Thorsten Kaye -who looked much younger in person than on screen.  They are supposed to walk down the theater steps after being announced for an award.  There were numerous retakes and the combination of long gowns and long steps took their toll. Anjelica trips and almost falls (not part of the scene).  You could see that her usual composure was shaken.  But a few pats of makeup and hair adjustments put her in the right mood again.  At one point she even interacted with an elderly extra who profusely complimented her.  She in return gave him a Hollywood-peck on the cheek.  Pernicious envy and gossip whispered through the crowd of extras for most of that scene -albeit in a friendly way. It happens whenever a principal interacts with us.  Vicarious living is under rated.

A few rows away sits Anjelica's on-screen bastard-of-a-husband played by Michael Cristofer.  I had been in another series with him, Rubicon, which was cancelled. He's a terrific heavy in many of the roles he plays.  Subsequent scenes included Jeremy Jordan, Katharine McPhee, Jack Davenport and the cute Krysta Rodriquez.  Katharine also trips on the steps as she, Krysta and Jack leave the theater early -perhaps in disappointment.  At one point the director asked to wake up one of the extras sitting in our row.  He'd been sleeping through the scenes and Jack, in his Astralian accent quickly and humorously ratted him out -"Oh! There's the bloke.  Wake up...".  The sleeping extra stirred but not to consciousness.  The scene continued nonetheless.

So this "last day" was a real star-studded episode.  You kind of felt that it was the grand finale for SMASH. Rumors among the extras was that the show's second season was not as good as the first -and consequently suffered in the ratings.  The word on NBC was that they had been making some bad decisions on show cancellations -and this show might fall into that category as well.  Too bad.  My wife and I love the show for  its content of multi-talented actors as well as for the terrific songs performed -and the twisting story lines.  One of the elderly female extras told me it was mostly watched by women.  And after I polled some of the guys I sat next to about the show, I found she was mostly right.  None of the men knew what the show was about, never watched it and had no interest in watching it even after their appearance in it tonight.  One young lady candidly told me that she had absolutely no interest in musicals -she only participated in drama... this from a perspective actress.  It's hard for me to understand that some people just don't like musicals, they just don't get it -and some of these people are actually (no pun intended) in show business!   Don't they want to be happy?

ASIDE:  Now if I were "screenwirter-of-the-world" I would suggest the following fictional plot continuation:
It turns out that Marilyn had a daughter (circa 1960) and she lived a reclusive obscure life in the bowels of showbiz.  At 30 she has a daughter who is now just starting to break into theater. Derek secretly discovers her and creates a new show -the legacy of Bombshell: MM

It was interesting to see the young director, Michael Morris, call up each of the actors whenever their last scene was shot.  All of us clapping for their "season wrap" a la standing ovation (sans prompting).  It all appeared to be one big happy family.  This had to be one of my best extras gigs.

EPILOGUE:  The show aired on May 26, 2013.  They edited Derek's speech to be more benign. The booing and his retort during his acceptance speech were taken out.  Perhaps the powers that be wanted to make him look more "redeemed" as opposed to a "dragged into the muck" type of character. My stint in the crowd was captured by the "pause" button on my HD tv.  And, a few months later, I received an email from the same casting agency stating:

"Hi there,

You worked this past March in a scene on Smash in your formal attire and the Wardrobe Department was very impressed with your look.  We are shooting a similar scene on another feature film... and want to use you in a similar scene."

Hmmmm... "very impressed"... I love rave reviews!