Paul W Franklin writes weekly for Bleeding Cool about the life of an Extra.
"Your half way there, hooray!"
This is the message that some ill-educated A.D. had written and taped onto the end of a flimsy plastic bench that was filled with Extras, waiting to go into Hair & Make-Up for our next major film, John Carter of Mars. Bleary-eyed and no doubt muttering something about the declining state of the English language, I fumbled a biro from my bag and turned 'Your' into 'You're'. The dogsbody in question was in fact standing close by, and apologised, saying it was early. It was indeed, But that's no excuse, I thought.
Even at five thirty in the morning I'm an unforgiving Grammar Nazi.
Still, of all the things to moan about, this was about 1000th on the list. If Harry Potter 7 was my favourite big gig, then JCoM (Jay-Com) was my least. And I don't think I'd be far wrong in saying that goes for almost all of us.
Let's start with the costumes. There must be some book somewhere, some sort of guide one follows when creating other-worldly stories, that states that people from other planets wear ludicrous clothes. In fact if you look up Mars in this mythical inter-stellar encyclopaedia, it probably says: 'Martians are similar to Earthlings except more tanned, and dress like tools.' Add to this the fact that the scenes to be shot involved a wedding, and you won't be surprised to learn that the Costume Department went to town.
No, they didn't just go to town – they went to Vegas. With a car full of vodka and mescaline, painted the town red, yellow, purple and any shade other than black, got out of their fucking skulls, killed a hooker, raped a dog, and woke up at some point in the future with not one clue of what the hell happened.
[Memo to self: Sounds like a good premise for a film…]
And the resulting hangover was this: Sandals that redefined the phrase 'bad fit'; M.C. Hammer-style bronze pantaloons; a belt that I think belongs to one of the Klitschko brothers; a fetching gold dressing-gown that Hugh Heffner would've approved of; an all-over tan that took 15 minutes to apply; a curly brown shoulder-length wig; and the crowning glory (literally), a hair-piece that looked like a lampshade.
A two-foot double-lampshade.
I thought I'd got away with just the wig, which was bad enough since it was too small for my head (I have a double-crown like a telepathic alien) and had to be glued/pinned/tied in place, but as we were lining up for inspection after breakfast on day one, the so-cliché-it-can't-be-true French lady in charge of costume decided that my head needed further adornment, and my jaw dropped to about navel level as the lampshade was picked out for me. Returning to my colleagues was almost as embarrassing as that time at school when I was 4 and in the toilets there was one of those long metal urinals, and we used to try and pee as high as we could, and I had a go once mid-lesson and it sprayed back in my face, and I went back into class and had to explain to the teacher what I'd just done.
Almost that bad.
The only saving grace was that it wasn't the worst headgear on show. That accolade went to the chap with what can only be described as a giant scarab beetle humping his skull. Neither he nor I should be too difficult to spot in the movie, so feel free to point and laugh. I'm over it. Honestly.
And another thing! Apart from bumping into other people's wedding bonnets, like stags locking designer horns, I had to walk through the entrance to the toilet wagon sideways.
The lampshade was that bloody wide.
Anyway, once I'd got over the embarrassment and made it onto set, I filed up onto a raised circular stand that overlooked a central wedding platform. You know that disc at the end of Flash Gordon, that Flash and the crap Bond actor tussle on? The one that tilts and has spikes? Like that, minus the spikes. And the tilting. It just sort of rose up. But it was pretty cool. And also pretty high.
So high in fact that one of the bridesmaids who was circled around the Happy Couple on said platform fainted. Luckily for her, she sort of half-fainted and managed to collapse inwards, a damn good thing because she was standing right by the edge, about five metres above ground. A few people leapt to her aid, and she was carried back down the scaffolding to recover. Of course, nobody had asked her beforehand if she had trouble with heights, and she'd been heard in the ladies loos that morning worrying about going up onto the podium. However, to her credit, she was back up there not long after, and filming recommenced.
Enter Taylor Kitsch on some kind of hoverbike.
That's the pretty boy who played Gambit in X-Men. Wearing, well, not much.
So the story goes something like this (not-much-of-a-spoiler alert): There are two warring races on Mars, and a man from one of them, played by Dominic West (yes, the English dude from The Wire is in it, so it must be good, right…?) is getting hitched to a woman from the other race (uh oh). Then Taylor turns up, guns blazing (and by guns I mean biceps) and… all the Extras over-act.
Let me tell you about Taylor's guns, since I mentioned them. If you watch the film and think 'Day-um, Taylor's looking pumped' it's because he cheated. No I don't mean steroids. I mean he had one of those chest-expander devices on set, which he yanked and stretched a few times up until about three seconds before 'Action!' then gave to his aide. And while we were sniggering and I muttered 'Tosser' under my breath, I was also thinking I'd probably do the same.
Although maybe not in front of a crowd of 200…
But, if we're talking about things we'd rather not do in front of large crowds, I think I'd rather flex my toned body with an 80s home-workout kit than do what I did later in the shoot.
During a pre-wedding scene, in which the whole city is bustling and buzzing with excitement, I turned up later than others onto set (you may have noticed, I'm not that keen…), and then asked a medic to patch up my heels, which had incurred some nasty blisters from the sandals. The sandals that fit like a glove. A glove on a foot. So it was just before they started filming when I asked an A.D. what I should do in the scene:
Me: Hey, what should I do?
A.D.: Where've you been?
Me: Getting seen to by the medic.
A.D.: Okay. Um, well just start here, then come out and run up the middle there. Well, not run, but look like you're in a bit of a hurry.
Me: Okay, what's my motivation?
A.D.: [Gives me a look] Er, you're excited cos they're getting married.
(I like to be thorough.)
And so, a few moments later when the cameras rolled, I commenced a hurried jog down a long packed walkway, brushing past people as I went, pretending to be excited. And then my stupid ill-fitting sandals slipped under my sole, one of them caught a tiny bump, and I went sprawling lampshade-first onto my front, like a Total Wipeout contestant.
It was at that moment, prostate on the ground, surrounded by a gasping and laughing crowd, looking like one of The Three Kings bearing an item from the John Lewis lighting department on my head, that a certain phrase often used by teenagers came to mind:
'Fuck my life'
Seriously, fuck it.
Next time: Marine training drills, forgotten lines and Nazi rain on Captain America and X-Men: First Class. Paul W Franklin is a pseudonym.