Saturday, August 31, 2013

Zen moments on the set

It's funny how watching one show can create a certain kind of subjective-inertia. It all started with me receiving an offer to view free TV shows via my iPad.  One of them was about the Buddha -narrated by Richard Gere (who else?). I selected it and learned quite a bit more than I knew before over the course of a couple of days as I concluded my viewing.

Shortly after, I met an actress who told me that she was getting married in a month... and that it was going to be a Buddhist wedding!  Because of my previous nights' viewing of the Buddha's life, I was able to chat for an extended time with her and I made a new friend on the extras' circuit.

A few days later, while doing a "walk-away-lunch" from the set of GIRLS, I passed a monk... yes, a Buddhist monk, who was peddling "lucky amulets" to passers-by on 5th Avenue.  I had seen him before but this time I wanted to know how much he wanted for the "interesting" paper lamination of a Chinese figure. He pressed it into my hand and I grabbed some change in my pocket and put it into his hand.  He looked at the paltry amount and wanted more -but it was too late!  I had pocketed my "booty".  He then offered a bead-bracelet for $10... I was out of money and told him so.  His friendly insistence proved unprofitable and he was losing money with every second he was "devoting to me".  We parted company.  I never knew that Buddhists were so tenacious.

The camera catches Bebe looking at my balding pate.
Shortly after this incident, on the set of Blue Bloods near Battery Park, Tom Selleck entertained us extras between takes by posing what he called "a Zen question"... which went something like this:
"If you're stuck in a deep hole filled with pig-shit up to your lips and a man comes along with a bucket of cow-shit and throws it at your head... Do you duck???"
Raising a studious index finger, Tom told us to think about this "Zen question"... and then walked away to his chair where he continued a conversation with Bebe Neuwirth in a nonchalant manner.  (Tom must be a great guy to go out with for a 'few drinks'.)

Michael Schiavello interviewing Steven Seagal
And the last Zen-related episode (in this personal series of mine) occurred while I was channel-surfing on my TV. Steven Seagal was being interviewed at length and during this interview he mentioned that he was an avowed Buddhist since it's the only religion he knew. He grew up in the Orient while learning martial arts. Strangely though, he confessed that he didn't understand the mystical aspects of the teachings -although he did experience short bouts of "higher awareness", but without any means of being able to repeat them at will.

Acting Strange
All these "Zen occurrences" happened within the span of a week.  And lately I tend to peek at a page of the Tao Te Ting every now and then... it helps to fan the fires of my own pseudo-enlightenment -or at least to rekindle them.  Yet, in spite of all these latest impressions, I think the best trek to take involves the idea of Wei Wu Wei...DO WITHOUT DOING.

Interesting faces on The Blacklist

Episode aired 10/14/2013

It was a great day in Yonkers, NY when we did our background gigs at the courthouse.  Only a couple of us were picked to be part of the lawyerish scene wherein the two FBI agents react to a commotion in one of the courtrooms.  The episode with a body-cleanup villain was called The Stewmaker -but we didn't know that at the time.  As extras, we're usually kept minimally informed about the plot for... DUH, obvious reasons (not that I'd ever give away any spoiler secrets here).  I've always intended this blog to be a kind of cathartic experience on my part: sharing my impressions about what it's like to be in the background as an extra -in both adulation and venting modes. And judging by the number of visitors to this blog (other than an occasional "anonymous" spammer), I have no problem with writing into the void.  In fact the older I get, the more I void.

But I digress.  So, getting back to the shoot inside the courthouse... I was paired up with an attractive young actress who was telling me about her upcoming marriage when the AD's and PA's began shouting their "QUIET PLEASE!" mantras.  And as we kept our chatter down, one of the main characters, Lizzie, played by Megan Boone decided to entertain us with one of her aloof moments.  She'd been gazing at the tee-shirt of one of the stand-ins, which had a Star Wars print on it stating: "When you think about it, all galaxies are far, far, away."  Megan decided to repeat that sentence several times while asking the poor stand-in "but what does that REALLY mean???"  The stand-in, feeling uneasy, cleverly changed the topic and Megan was sidetracked with a call to rehearse the scene.  After rehearsals, there was another break of silence and Megan began again by giving us all a once-over look after which she exhorted with wonder-filled tones (and Betty Davis intonations): "Look at all these...." (she almost created an uncomfortable silence as she searched for the word)..."interesting faces!  It's so great to work with such...  (pause)... interesting people."  Our silence to her mini-soliloquy was deafening. We didn't know what to make of it.  Was she trying to make a connection with us (we extras are not allowed to talk to the principals) or just channeling her inner-philosopher? It's worth noting that in the first episode, her character is asked to "profile herself" by her FBI boss. She answers with descriptions befitting herself in real life.

Nonetheless, Megan was excellent with her lines... her acting... her character persona.  In fact both my wife and I got hooked on the show -it's really good!!!

Friday, August 02, 2013

Pigeon droppings in the park

The set was at Washington Square Park on a sultry hot summer day in NYC.  My partner and I were slated to be chess player extras but the scene was changed and we were recast as bystanders and walk-by people. We were walking back and forth by the fountain sucking on water bottles between takes and watching the scene repeat a number of times:

...the two principals sit on a bench with the Washington Arch behind them; a man approaches a group of pigeons feeding nearby.  He suspiciously picks up one of the pigeons to check for a message on its feet as he notices one of the principals giving him chase.  He tosses the pigeon down and books it through the Shirlock chases him (and Watson does the capture).

That's me with the maroon shirt and green cap in the background!

The day wore on and the temperature got hotter and some of the "trained pigeons" started to stumble, fall and eventually have seizures -dropping all over the place.  Their keepers were rounding them up from under the shade-providing benches, when suddenly the unexpected happens.  A red-tailed hawk swooped down and snatched one of the weak pigeons.  Someone should call CUT!

Nonetheless, the scene was completed by the end of the day.  The running culprit was handily caught by the chasing principals in classic martial arts fashion down a lane that did not include any chess players.  And OH HOW MUCH WE ALL WANTED TO PLAY CHESS (mostly because it would have been a nice cushy sitting gig)!!!

But we did get a chance to sit on the park benches occasionally and watch the park's activities.  On one of these occasions as an impromptu actor was putting on his Shakespeare soliloquies nearby, a resident celebrity happened to walk by.

It was Arsenio Hall -dressed "not to be recognized" with a blue backpack slung over his shoulders.  I said hello to Arsenio -and he gave a low-key wave towards me as though not wanting any further recognition. Not a problem -I didn't want to be recognized either. Other park "celebrities" included a regular entity sitting on the benches, who was repeatedly covered by trusting pigeons while kids were asking the penultimate question from their onlooking parents: "What's an extra?"

And so July finished up with a number of gigs under my belt.  Among them Bird man, American Hustle, Spiderman 2 (London Calling), Elementary and a Verizon commercial.  All of them excellent experiences that make me long for more when my submissions to new cast-calls go unanswered. But that's part of the deal -there are no guarantees of long-term employment in this business... not for extras, nor pigeons.