We are so far behind on movies that we should be embarrassed (we aren’t). You’d think we’d have caught up during nearly two years of semi-isolation, but we were too busy watching Friends for the first time. At least this means that there are always “new” titles out there for us to enjoy.
This explains why we found ourselves watching Forces of Nature, a 1999 rom-com starring Sandra Bullock and Ben Affleck.
The movie isn’t too taxing on the brain. We watched the plot unfold, already able to guess the ending. But then, in an airport scene near the beginning of the film, my internal camera lens swung from the main characters to background actors … because that was no ordinary movie “extra” exiting a cab: it was my dad. I’d forgotten that he’d been a part of this movie. Suddenly I remembered how much fun he’d had, how he’d told us about making the most of his scene (great flounce, Dad). Since an extra never knows if his/her day(s) of work will end up on the cutting room floor, Dad had been particularly pleased to find himself in the finished film. He’s on the screen for maybe five seconds, but he’s on the screen.
This wasn’t my first brush with Dad’s “background talent” work. He’s in Cry Baby (a 1990 John Waters film). Parts of that movie were filmed in my neighborhood, but since Dad lived an hour away, I didn’t expect to see him on my block. He was filming a scene at the laundromat around the corner from my house and thought he’d drop by.
You can find Dad in Barry Levinson’s Avalon (1990), but it’s similar to playing Where’s Waldo. He’s in a crowd waiting to enter a store on a big sale day, wearing a hat in a cinematic era where everyone wore hats.
He’s in 12 Monkeys (1995), too, sitting in a movie theater a row in front of the principals and therefore off-camera. But he’s there.
Locating him in True Lies (1994) is like trying to answer a trick question. That scene where Arnold Schwarzenegger rides a horse through D.C.? Dad’s there, but it was a cold day, so he elected to be a passenger on a nice, warm bus. You can’t see him, but he’s technically in the scene, and a paycheck’s a paycheck.
Dad was more visible in Homicide: Life on the Street (is there an actor in Baltimore who didn’t do Homicide?), where he had a recurring walk-on as a copy-machine repairman. But if you really want to see him in a movie, you need to watch Redneck Zombies, a 1988 gore-fest that has become a trash-cult classic. Dad has a featured role in that one.
Maybe it’s part of my father’s legacy to me, but I nearly always watch the extras. I appreciate the effort they put in, the time they spend waiting, the long hours they contribute on set. Most extras come mentally prepared with character bios and motivations. They work hard to help create the atmosphere of a scene.
No doubt, some actors are better at embracing the “extra” role than others. It can be fun to find the extra who is convinced that the scene is really all about him and the big break that’s sure to follow once he’s noticed.
But you know what? Maybe it is.
(You can read more about my father’s acting background here.)