Well, I arrived not really having a clue what I was in for. This wasn’t the first assignment I’d been offered but this was the only one that didn’t fall through.
The week previously I’d been offered a job as a possible body double for Charlie Cox and before that another role in a BBC documentary. Both fell through but it was good the casting agency called me to let me know – they were quite on the ball.
Today was the day I’d have my shot at being a background artiste, aka TV Extra.
It was a sunny Thursday morning in the middle of a British summer as I drove to a faraway place closer to Slough than London. I’d checked Google Maps to get my route right and there would be no room for mistake as that was to be the first day of my life as a budding actor.
I arrived in good time and once my car was parked met a nice chap name Justin who took my name and asked me to chill in the double deck bus just like I’d seen on Ricky Gervais’s TV comedy ‘Extras’.
It wasn’t long before costume and makeup got hold of us and then it was pretty much a waiting game. Other background artistes obviously were all too used to this and sat back in their seats on the bus reading magazines, books and one even studying for his Spanish examinations. It appeared people were from all walks of life and some of them really were of a wacky breed however all were very friendly.
Lunch soon arrived and that was when I caught my first glimpse of the star of the show, Billie Piper. She wasn’t looking as hot I thought she was but she was still looking okay. Perhaps makeup hadn’t gotten to her yet.
Let me stop you here before you get any idea whatsoever that lead characters, crew and background artistes leave their pretences at the door. Lead characters and crew do not share the same food – and if they do then they’ll get there first and background artistes will get called last. Neither do the three eat in the same areas. I heard a lot of background artistes mention that crew were ‘assholes’, ‘up their own assholes’, ‘up their own asses’ or just plain old ‘asses’ but maybe some are just jealous they’re not there themselves yet.
For those reading this who are a little hungry I must say that the food was very good and even seemed nutritious however this was on a BBC set and since then I have been on a few film sets where the food wasn’t a half as good.
After lunch we were pushed into a people mover van and taken to Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire where we all got out and did some more waiting before finally being told what we were going to do. Luckily for me mistakes happen and I was given a ‘walk-on’ which meant I’d actually get to have a small part in the TV programme and would interact with other characters. The setting was me on a gravel pathway in a park set in the 1880s in London (I believe) and I was a sweet seller and a gentleman and a little girl came to purchase some of my wares. Whether this ever gets shown is totally irrelevant – I’m now a top class background artiste and this should most definitely pave my way to success. Ahem.
The day came to and end and I can honestly say it was one of the best days I’ve had in years. I came out of there with a huge smile on my face, feeling like I’d discovered a box of adventure I’d never heard about or could have ever believe existed.
If you like hanging around, meeting new people and having a chat, don’t mind taking orders from some loud directors and getting paid for it then this could be for you. It’s not all roses however as work is sometimes scarce and it would probably only suit someone who is either out of a job (maybe a student) or in a job in which you can afford to take time off at a moment’s notice.
Pay for a day starts from about ?70 but can go up to anything around ?200 or if you’re lucky even more.
Who are these agencies looking for? Pretty much anyone really, all ages, races, religions, shapes and sizes – but most of all they’re looking for flexible and highly reliable people.
The TV production I worked on was for BBC’s adaptation of multi award-winning writer Philip Pullman’s The Ruby In The Smoke which stars Billie Piper as Sally Lockhart. It airs on 27th December 2006 on BBC1 at 8.30pm.
If you’re interested in signing up to be a background artiste then it wouldn’t hurt to contact either of the two agnecies below. I’m signed with both and these seem to be the best in London with the most work. Once you’re signed up and you get your first assignment they take out their registration fee out of your pay, so there’s no paying up front if you don’t end up getting work.