Working as a movie extra sounds like a glamorous job filled with chatting up stars and wandering around incredible sets. Being an extra or “background actor” seems like a life of easy work-- surely there must be opportunities to see celebrities hard at work, and perhaps even some hopes of being picked out of the crowd and getting a shot at stardom.
However, the reality is often very different-- especially for female extras. Working as an extra isn't as exciting it as it seems, and often involves a lot of standing around and waiting in extremely uncomfortable outfits and shoes. While some extras love their jobs, some extras leave the set with bad experiences and horror stories, vowing never to return.
These female extras have worked on some of the biggest film and TV show sets in recent entertainment history, such as The Great Gatsby, Crocodile Dundee, Goodfellas, Homeland, and The Sopranos. They have seen just about everything there is to see behind the curtain-- from on-set injuries, to infighting extras, to angry celebrities-- and they have dealt with every kind of objectification, being exploited on pretty much a daily basis.
Get ready to hear about the worst experiences ever, because here are the 15 Confessions From Female Movie Extras.
Extras can perform a variety of tasks on set. For example, those who closely resemble a star's physique may be used as a body double on set. These extras are sometimes used as stand-ins for a celebrity that is not on set.
Body doubles have been used by countless celebrities, such as Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic, the cast of Friends through the course of the series, and many others. However, this may not be the big break that most extras were hoping for, according to film extra Emerald Jones.
"If we end up playing Dakota Johnson's bottom or Cameron Diaz's hair, we won't be able to tell you about it. Doubling for an A-list actor can be part of our job, but we're contractually forbidden from talking about it afterward,” said Jones.
Conditions on set can something take a turn for the worse and become dangerous for extras, causing illnesses or injuries. For example, 28-year-old extra Andrea was injured unexpectedly on set while playing a background character.
"I was an extra in a high school movie, and there was a prank scene where the sprinklers went off on a bunch of extras. We were told it would be some sort of color (that was the prank), but when they shot it, the sprinklers sprayed paint," explained Andrea.
"Everyone started freaking out, and I was shoved to the ground by another extra, which caused the sprinklers to shoot right in my face. I was taken to a set nurse and given eye drops, but when I took my contacts out, they were stained the color I was sprayed with," she went on to say.
Alison Gordy has worked over 350 acting gigs in her career, most of them as an extra. She paid her bills with the money she made as a background character in popular movies, TV shows, and commercials. However, she noticed it was easy to get typecast as an extra.
“Because I am an unknown to the casting people, the best I can hope for is that they will call me in purely off my picture-- which is me on a motorcycle. I get a lot of biker chick roles– I play a biker chick in my commercial for Mrs. T’s Pierogies along with Bam Bam Bigelow who plays my boyfriend," she said.
"I play hookers, punks, bartenders and other fringe type people that they can’t quite figure out. It beats saying 'Here’s your coffee, Sir.' [since] these parts are usually more interesting and, hopefully, funny," Gordy stated.
Being cast as an extra does not guarantee any form of job security, as extras are hired and fired constantly and it can be quite a competitive market. Sophie Redman was an extra in the 2004 tennis movie Wimbledon when she was fired from her role.
"My last day we were all sitting on Court No 1 filming one of Paul Bettany's big tennis scenes. I was so bored by then, we'd been doing it for two weeks. Anyway, they couldn't afford to fill all the seats with extras so they had dressed up mannequins and set them up in the rows," Redman explained.
She went on to say, "I happened to be sitting in between two of these mannequins. I fell asleep against one of them until someone on the set came over and asked me what my name was. At the end of the day when we went to sign out they told me not to come back."
Seventy-three year old Lizzie Cahill got the chance to be an extra in the 2013 film adaption of The Great Gatsby, which starred Leonardo DiCaprio. Cahill played the wife of a philosopher and is visible at Gatsby’s party.
At 73, Cahill was surprised to be casted alongside many younger extras. She was excited to be a part of the movie, though, despite the long and tiring hours, but she was uncomfortable with how she was treated as an older woman on set.
“I felt really out of place. I was the only older person there until Baz’s (Luhrmann) mother came along and I think Leonardo’s (DiCaprio) mother did a quick spin around the dance floor as well. But all of the young girls were models and they were all prancing around and they didn’t really want to talk to me because I was so much older," Cahill stated of her experience.
Maura excitedly responded to a call for extras for a new Angelina Jolie movie, but was ultimately less than thrilled by the work that she had to do.
“A tiny, curt woman wearing headphones ushered me into a casting room, where I was labeled 'Extra #514,' and told to go to wardrobe. Another tiny, curt woman (I can only assume this is a prerequisite for movie crew members) told me the black frock and blazer I was wearing was 'acceptable,' and that I should go get some breakfast before we went to the church, where the scene would be shot," Maura said.
"One small scoop of cold oatmeal later, me and another 530 extras were led down 50th street like cattle. When we reached the church, I was given a pew to sit in and told to be quiet. I expected to feel intrigued, even excited to be on a movie set. Instead, I felt punished. What had I been thinking? I ended up sticking it out for about 50 takes of the most monotonous eulogy I have ever heard until we broke for lunch.”
Amy Rogers has been a regular extra in a number of popular TV shows. She is used to the uncomfortable working conditions on set, such as waiting all day and not getting used on camera or working all day and then getting her footage cut from the final version.
She explains how working as an extra is more detailed than people imagine. To give the impression of a real-time scene from footage taken over days or weeks, extras must play a part in maintaining continuity in meticulous detail.
“You’ve gotta wear the same clothes every day," Rogers explained. "The production assistant will take your picture for continuity to make sure you haven’t taken off a necklace or something. For the Homeland finale, I wore a pair of leggings and a raincoat for a solid week.”
Shaina found out she was pregnant only after responding to an extras casting call for the 2015 movie Black Mass.
“I was barely 3 months pregnant, and the morning sickness had not started yet, thank God… We started shooting at around 7am, by around 2pm you could see the heat rising from the ground, it was so hot. I knew I had to keep hydrated but I was torn because that would mean more trips to the bathroom and I did not want to be an inconvenience. All the water in the world was not going to help me that day," she stated.
"Before I know, I was getting light headed, dizzy, and I told the girl next to me (who by now was my friend) 'I think I’m going to pass out.' She offered me water but it was too late, some guy grabbed me and walked me inside of the school (where we were shooting). The entire time everything was black, I thought I was going blind but apparently that is what happens when you faint/[are] going to faint; I had never fainted before in my entire life,” Shania explained.
After The Great Gatsby, Lizzie Cahill went on to work on the 2016 film Gods of Egypt. She witnessed plenty of tension and altercations between the film’s stars while she was on set, but the stars weren’t the only ones fighting: the extras got into their share of arguments, as well.
“This girl, I think she was slightly disturbed in some way, but one of the boys next to her who had a bit of an ego, he tried to tell her what to do. She turned around and told him to f*** off. He was off the next day doing something else, and then this other guy was dumb enough to do the same thing to her, so she turned around and had a go at him. That was a bit interesting,” Cahill said.
Twenty-seven year old extra Kelly found out the hard way what celebrities can be like on set, and it was an experience that will haunt her for a long time.
"I was working on a commercial where the newest face of the brand was a very famous, award-winning actress. When she got to set, she ignored everyone around her and immediately began fighting with the producer. She was screaming like crazy and having a tantrum," Kelly remembers.
"To make things even more awkward and crazy, she started chucking makeup at the door that the producer was standing near. All these packages of eyeshadow and foundation were getting thrown, breaking, and spilling all over the place. Tons and tons of product were destroyed. It was insane! Whenever I see her in a movie now, my mind goes back to that moment when all that makeup went flying."
Extras who are willing to take on the work may find themselves in some potentially embarrassing situations in pursuit of a better part or more screen time.
Juliet Diamond worked as an extra while she was going through drama school. She has had a few experiences that she considers extremely humiliating, including one scene where she had to kiss one of the movie's leads. Now a professional actress, Diamond does not look back on that part of her work fondly.
"I had to snog somebody in Messiah. He was one of the leads and he wasn't attractive. But they never used it in the final film. I thought, 'Lucky guy, he got a snog for free.' And I had to audition for that role. Talk about exploitation," said Diamond.
Alison Gordy ran into problems with the crew when she was cast as an extra for The Sopranos.
“I got called in to ‘read’ for the one line part of 'Stripper #2,' which in itself was not offensive; what bothered me was the insipid lines that the bouncer in the scene said, as well as the passivity of my character, and oh by the way, she just happened to be topless when she was talking," she stated.
"The capper to all this was the casting director instructing me 'don’t act.' That did it. James Gandolfini can act all he wants, but I have to lend reality to this hackneyed script– with three topless women saying trite dialogue– reinforcing this stupid male fantasy! I wrote a letter to the casting director saying as much," Gordy explained.
The 2015 sequel Magic Mike XXL required hundreds of female extras for the male leads' strip shows. Many of the extras on set reported having a great time filming the scenes, but for some female extras, the filming proved to be a little too exciting.
Thirty-three year old Sarah Turner Holland became an extra on the film because the production had kicked out a lot of extras and needed more.
“When I got there, people who had been there all week said some people had started fighting. There were girls who were in the back and they wanted to be in the front, and they didn't understand continuity and that kind of stuff, and people started fighting — like, knocking chairs over, taking earrings off. And they had to escort people out and not let them back on set,” Holland said.
There's one thing to say about playing an extra on set: it's always fascinating. One extra named Jessica got an interesting opportunity to be featured...
"I was an extra on one of the murder-mystery-type cop shows, "she said. "While I was working, they asked if I wanted to be featured. I was like, 'hell, yes!' They had me fill out some form and asked if I would be comfortable holding my breath during takes. I said yes, so they said I'd be playing a dead nurse and I would need to change into something slightly revealing. They asked if I was okay with that, and I said I was. I mean, it was a basic cable show. It's not like I'd be naked on TV!"
"I headed to a little trailer. This is where I was handed a nude thong and was asked to change in a little area. I emerged, breasts in hands. Then two people walked up to me with plastic wrap and began to plastic wrap a tube top and miniskirt. I was handed a robe that looked like it was stolen from a hotel and some flip-flops," Jessica explained.
"They took away the robes, and we were covered in fake blood. We weren’t allowed to sit after that, because we’d mess up the makeup, so we stood for about three hours with towels around us while they fixed a lighting problem. When we shot, we got to lie around in a bunch of debris," Jessica stated. "When the show came out, you couldn't even see me."
It is sadly unsurprising that some female extras are objectified, over-sexualized, and pursued by production crew members and cast who have power on the set, often creating uncomfortable situations for the extras.
The stories of the “casting couch” have been around for decades and show no sign of going away. According to some female extras working in Hollywood, those days are far from behind us. Frankie Shaw, an actress and director, shared her experience with crew members pursuing young extras.
"On certain shows, the directors and writers and creators sort of prey on the young extras. They're really excited about casting the best-looking extras, then they ask the extras out."
She once heard a cinematographer say, "I love these extras. They're like salmon in a trap. Salmon in a trap."
Do you know anyone who has been an extra on a movie or TV set? Can you believe how deplorable some of the situations are? Let us know your opinion in the comment section!