Be at Stanstead Airport at 6.30am, wear smart clothes and bring options, the text read.
Extras agencies are nothing if not succinct.
At 5am I got up in the dark, dressed in my best suit and wondered what the day might have in store.
My last extras job had seen me dancing in a Manhatten nightclub (actually upstairs in a pub in West London) with no music playing, stone cold sober in the middle of the morning. On the plus side, Simon Pegg shook his bum at me – always good for a giggle.
Arriving at the base, a shanty town of trailers, buses, trucks and gazebos, it was still dark and there was frost on the hard muddy ground. I still had one foot in my car when an immaculately dressed, very camp man, with one of those hairdos that a hurricane couldn’t shift, assailed me with his clip board.
“Name?” he said.
“Leah Mooney,” I said.
He rifles through pages and then ticks a sheet.
“Grab some breakfast and then wait on the bus until you’re called.” (Why do these officious types always use the passive voice?)
The breakfast of bacon, egg, beans and hash browns was rubbery but surprisingly nice. The cup of tea was shite.
Standard extras conversation: “What agencies are you with? What have you been on? Who have you met? What were they like?”
Categories of extras:
Snobby Stage School Types – “Oh I just spent three months on Eastenders, darling. I swear I came this close to a speaking part.”
Young Dumb but Really Quite Sweet – “This is my first shoot. Have you done many? I really hope I get it right.”
The Normals – “I was in a film with Ralph Fiennes last week. Lovely bloke, nice company, shame about the food.”
And the Total Bellends – “Well, I could have gone to RADA with my talent and looks but really feel that’s it’s become too commercial for my artistic sensibilities.”
I find a group of Normals and Youngsters to begin a film set friendship with.
“It’s a film,” a bohemian looking girl, with fabulous huge curly hair, said.
“I thought it was more likely to be an advert at an airport,” an oldish gay gent said.
“Nope, definitely a film,” fab hair said. “I’ve worked with this lot before.”
“Ahh,” we all say, cupping our hands around polystyrine cups.
Officious camp clipboard man comes onto the extras bus (yes, they really have those) and gestures at us with said clipboard.
“You four,” – Fab Hair, Older Chap, a pretty young girl with blond hair and me – “Go over to costume, in the blue trailer, to be checked over.”
We go without question.
A terrifying woman with hands like JCB diggers asks older chap if he has smart trousers with him. He does.
“Put them on and let me have a look,” she barks at him.
Fab Hair is fine apparently.
Pretty Young Girl is too scruffy in her trainers. She makes a cringily nervous attempt to explain that she has boots with her.
“Put those on then,” the costume woman cuts her off with.
I look fine in my pin stripe brown trouser suit and white shirt but then she spots the bag I’m carrying. “Is that your suit bag?”
“Goes well with the suit.”
“Keep it with you. Make sure they put it on your chit. You get extra for having your own props.”
Nice, I think.
An hour later we were told to present our passports ready to go through airport security. Older Chap, Fab Hair, Pretty Young Girl and me stick close together as we board the bus that’ll take us to the main terminal. We cleave to each other as we get hustled through the employee security area and into a waiting area (with no chairs) near where the passengers disembark the planes.
Fab Hair, Older Gent and I sit on a small squat radiator that is just that bit too warm to be comfortable but we tolerate it by shifting from cooked cheek to cooked cheek. A huge curved glass window was at our backs as we watched technical people rush around with miles of cables and equipment that fab hair and I kept speculating about its purpose. Pretty Young Girl was sitting cross legged on the floor but kept having to move to let testy techies through.
Everything stopped to allow a large group of genuine passengers to pass by on their way to the baggage collection area. Most of whom gawped at the equipment and tried to work out what was going on.
As a snooty stage school type was humouring one of the Bellends, Officious Camp Clipboard Man was passing along the row of extras asking some of the women to stand up. Pretty Young Girl and Fab Hair started to get up but a wave of the clipboard told them to remain seated. He told me to stand up. The other girls looked worriedly up at me. Was I about to be ditched?
Haughtily, he looked me up and down.
“You’ll do,” he eventually said. “Go and stand over there. You’ll be told what to do.”
I went over and stood next to a girl in a blond wig. Fab Hair gave me a thumbs up as I walked off. Older Guy and Pretty Young Girl wouldn’t meet my eye and didn’t speak to me again.
Wiggy and I stood in the middle of the walk way while the crew buzzed busily around us.
I smiled at her. She smiled back. We stood looking around. I looked back at her and did a little eye brow raise. She did one back. We looked around. After some time, a very fashionably dressed man told us, in a polite and friendly manner, to move to the left; back a bit; forward. “That’s perfect. Don’t move,” he said and then spoke into his walky talky.
Emma Thompson and an actress I recognised as the short haired one in The Commitments walked towards us.
She was right. It is a film, then, I thought as the actresses shook mine and wiggy’s hands. “Thanks girls,” they said and we walked off as the actresses stood in the exact spaces we had vacated. I understood. We were ‘standing in’ so the famous actresses wouldn’t have to get shuffled about like we had done. Wiggy was a runner who had been standing in for Emma Thompson for the whole shoot. She was chatting away when the fashionable man said, “You, girl in the suit,” – me – “Stand in that spot on the walk way and walk straight forward on action.”
I did as I was told.
Settling in for a long wait, I was looking around when I saw something that made me think, Fucking hell, there’s really no doubt that it’s a film now. Dustin Hoffman was standing at the other side of the walk way – looking at me.
“Don’t let costume put you in anything but that suit,” he said to me. “You couldn’t look better in anything but that suit.”
“Cheers,” I said. Lame, lame, lame, my brain screamed but he had moved off and I was feeling star struck like a bloody teenager.
A few takes later – “Action.” Walk down the ramp. “Cut.” “Reset.” Walk back up the ramp. “Action.” Walk down the ramp. “Cut.” “Reset.” – I totally out-lamed myself. Dustin Hoffman walks past me and says, in a thoroughly charming cheeky way, “Gotta have that suit.”
And I, in a totally cringy sad bitch way, say, “You can borrow it if you like.”
I still shudder to think of it.