My latest book, HALLEY, has just been released by NewSouth Books: www.newsouthbooks.com/halley
My acting career seemed to go by in a flash. Maybe that’s because the part in front of the camera only lasted one very long day.
My husband and I heard they wanted to hire “extras” for crowd scenes in BIG FISH, and we said why not? They were shooting the funeral scene at the little church behind our house and the pay scale wasn’t bad.
First came wardrobe approval. I took my favorite skirt, blouse, and (since the weather was cool) a warm jacket to be approved at the assigned place in the Cloverdale area of Montgomery, Alabama. Everything passed. The day of the funeral scene shoot, we reported at dawn to the Pine Flat Presbyterian Church Cemetery only to find that they had changed my wardrobe. I had to wear a skirt well above my knees and a light weight jacket too thin for March. Furthermore, they decided that my husband did not look right for me, so I was matched with a college professor a head shorter than me. My husband was several tombstones away with a good-looking blond.
We rehearsed walking toward the point where the camera was set up. Assistant directors mounted ladders to observe, and then shuffled us extras around. They even broke couples up and repartnered them. But I was left with the “husband” I’d been assigned and Benjamin remained with the blond. Again we marched, and again we were shuffled. Benjamin and the blond got further and further away. My back began to ache. My feet were numb with cold.
It had warmed a little when the stars appeared–Jessica Lange, Danny DeVito, and so on. We had been warned not to approach or speak to them. I really didn’t want to, except maybe to get close enough to hear DeVito. Whatever he was saying was convulsing the crowd around him.
We extras kept on standing. Then a murmur ran through the crowd. “The director!”
Tim Burton had arrived, and he was every bit as weird looking as he appeared in the gossip magazines. He took his place behind the camera.
“Finally! The man next to me said. “We’re going to get started.”
Dream on! Tim Burton left the camera and consulted with assistants. “Extras back to starting positions!” one of them ordered. We marched. We marched again. We stood. My legs were numb, but my feet were screaming. Across the cemetery, I saw Benjamin gallantly helping the blond to a tombstone just high enough to serve as a seat.
Good idea, I thought and looked around. I found a very thin marker just behind me and plopped down–just behind the marker! My skirt fell down around my rear end and since the bend of my knee was supported by the stone, there was no dignified way of getting up. My pretend husband looked at me and then looked quickly away.
“Benjamin!” I yelled. “Help me.” He came running.
“Hope they captured this on film,” he said.
After that, I stood, I marched, and I stood some more. Except for a lunch break that is how the entire day went. When the sun was going down an assistant asked who would like to work the next day.
“Not me,” I said, thereby dooming a promising show business career.
Now when I watch BIG FISH, I have to slow it down to a creep and get really close to catch a glimpse of me in that minute or so of funeral footage. But in my closet hangs the leather coat I bought with my pay. Too bad I couldn’t wear it at the funeral!
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