Perks Of Being An Extra: What It’s Like To Be An Extra On And Off Camera

“So, I guess we are who we are for a lot of reasons. And maybe we’ll never know most of them. But even if we don’t have the power to choose where we come from, we can still choose where we go from there. We can still do things. And we can try to feel okay about them.” Stephen Chbosky, Perks of Being a Wallflower

When I heard Perks of Being a Wallflower was being filmed in Pittsburgh, I stood up straight against the back of my sister’s plush purple wall and smiled real big for a head shot. The movie had already started filming ,and I was afraid I was going to miss the scenes with Paul Rudd ( I did, and I do not ever want to talk about it) so I looked for the email of the casting agency in the dark reaches and endless abysses of the internet. I sent the picture to anyone even associated with the movie and I heard nothing.

-Tripp-
-Tripp-

It was the summer of 2011 and I was in-between my sophomore and junior year of college. My family had just moved 30 minutes north of the home I grew up in. I was unemployed despite what I thought was a promising interview at Lowes Hardware Store. No, I could not name more than 4 tools and did not know how to open a paint can, but I got an A both semesters of Organic Chemistry; are you trying to tell me no one ever walks in here and ask about hydroboration reactions?

I was out of money, car-less, and bored out of my mind. When I say “out of money,” I don’t mean, like, I only had a few hundred dollars, I mean literally out of money. I think I had $7.25 in my account. My biggest decisions for 3 months was whether I was going to watch a western or a samurai movie. A decision I did not take lightly, mind you.

Can you please stop sending me pictures of your head? I do not control who is going to be an extra in Perks of Being a Wallflower. Some guy who has 3 of my headshots

When I did not hear back I was more disappointed than I had been in a really long time. A really long time being a week ago when I watched Doc Holiday slowly die in Tombstone (arguably one of the greatest westerns of all time).

I felt like my last chance of making something of my summer, of stepping into the spotlight, and of getting enough money to buy Taco Bell without having to overdraw my account was gone. I thought I would have to spend the rest of those humid days of freedom counting down the weeks till the leaves changed and I could reopen my text books. I would be forced to waste my summer escaping into the lives of samurais and cowboys in order to forget my own. I would, after all be a non-essential observer of the living who contributed nothing to the narrative. Someone who was all too content to be a blur in the interesting stories of those who mattered. I would be an extra one way or another.

Not to mention I was an enormous fan of the book. As someone who tries, albeit pathetically sometimes, to write, the writing in Perks is phenomenal. It’s so relatable to me that it’s scary.

Two weeks after I sent out the flurry of head shots. My parents gave me some money to drive and see my girlfriend. I am not sure if they gave it to me because they wanted me out of the house, they thought it would provide incentive for me to shower, or a combination of the two. As I was driving I got a phone call:

Me: Hello
*Turns down Modest Mouse*
Lady: Hi, is this Corey Rearick?
Me: Yes?
Lady: Are you still interested in being an extra for Perks of Being A Wallflower?
Me (casually): Umm… yeah, sure.
*Swerves into oncoming traffic*

I was told that my hair was too modern. I had no idea that curls and indifference were in style, so I told them I would part it (which I only did on the first day). I was also told I would need clothes from the 90s. Easy. I needed a spring, fall, and winter outfit. Being that most of my clothes were thrifted from the 90s, I grabbed all of the clothes on my floor and met with a British woman (who I presumed to be Emma Watson’s mother being that they were the only British people on set) who laid out 3 very distinctive outfits for my role as a high school student. Naturally, I forgot everything she said the moment I left her and decided that my winter outfit would be a buttoned flannel; fall, the same flannel just unbuttoned; and spring, just the grey shirt that I had been wearing under the flannel. No wonder Lowe’s didn’t want me.

I was actually sitting to the right of Charlie during this scene. On the zoom in, you can see my perfectly toned left leg. It took Logan/Charlie 4 takes to say “Have a Good night,” or something like that.

It was my first day on set and I had not been this excited since the end of 7 Assassins (arguably the best samurai movie of all time). We were filming homecoming and were told to pair up, guy/girl. I walked up to three girls standing in the center of the floor looking for a guy to dance with, but trying not to look too desperate. It was a homecoming dance, alright, only the stakes were higher. Failure to make a move would not only relegate me to the wall with all the other real life wallflowers, it would mean not being in a movie.

I was staring immortalization on the silver screen in the face, and it looked like 3 extras who didn’t want to dance with the long haired sweaty kid who was so excited to be there, we were all worried his asthma would start acting up. I took a deep breath and started walking up to them. Maybe the music had already started playing and my heart was racing because I knew I might be too late or maybe I was flashing in and out of my real memories of Homecoming. My throat was dry and I was probably sweating too, maybe I was the one with the asthmatic wheeze now. I realized when I walked up to them I had no idea what I was going to say.
Honest to God, this is what came out:

“Ladies. Don’t fight over me.”

I had no idea what to say in between take of us dancing. “Have you ever seen Ip Man? It’s a very mediocre samurai movie.”

Please do not talk to the actors and actresses. We know you are fans but please do NOT approach them and make them feel uncomfortable. Some Director Guy

That was ringing in my head the first time I saw Emma Watson. I had decided on the ride over that if we made eye contact and fell in love that my girlfriend would understand.

The crowd of starved extras, crammed into the heated gym, was abuzz with news that real live celebrities were coming. My date – I mean, partner — and I were chosen to be part of a tunnel, in which the actors would enter during the scene. We were also asked to kiss during filming. I’m not sure my girlfriend would have understood that one, and I didn’t want to make Emma jealous. There was a nerdy couple next to us though who looked like they were bobbing for apples in each others throats, which I thought was especially odd because no one told them to kiss let alone like the guy was leaving for war. My partner told them that they were a cute couple. They wiped the saliva off of their mouths, pushed their over sized frames up their nose and said that they were just friends actually. In other words, they were home-schooled and hormonal.

No sooner did the sea of extras part and the tunnel form when Emma Watson started walking my way. Like some kind of Ancient Greek Hogwarts Goddess. I think half of us expected her to perform a bit of magic. Hermione was here, and was she looking me? She was getting closer. Once she got close enough, I decided that I would smile. That’s all it would take. My life as a trophy husband spent painting in a loft in London was about to begin.


Featureflash / Shutterstock.com
Featureflash / Shutterstock.com

Out into the center of a tunnel, like the protester at Tiananmen Square, steps a pale skinny Potterling girl. She is breathing heavy and has a constipated look on her face. I think shes about to barf? No, wait. She’s about to break our only rule.

Constipated Pale Girl: Emma, I just want to say that I am a really big fan of yours.
*HEAVY breathing*
Constipated Pale Girl: I wrote an essay about you in school.You were beautiful in Vogue last month, I have the picture on my wall!
*Eyes as big as Supernovae, heavy fast breathing, maybe she’s crying a little now. A silent but collective sigh of every extra, producer, crew member, and director drifts to the top of the gymnasium.*
Emma Watson: Aw, thank you, that means so much to me. You are very sweet. STUPIFY!

Only one word of that is untrue.

Later that night Emma walked briskly passed me and bumped into my shoulder. She said a quick “Sorry” in an angelical thick British accent and kept walking. I said “It’s okay.” I could officially tell everyone I met Emma Watson and she flirted with me, but it was whatever. It felt like I was stepping into my theatrical escape I was chained to only a few days earlier. Clint Eastwood wasn’t here and neither was Bruce Lee and I would have traded them both for Emma Watson if they were.

What people do not realize about being an extra is that 90%, maybe more, of your time you are just waiting.

Waiting in the auditorium to be picked for a scene, waiting on set for filming to start, waiting while the directors talk, waiting at lunch in a line for cardboard food catching the occasional sweet scent of the cast and director’s 12 course buffet. The worst was my last day there, we were filming graduation. I waited outside,in the blistering heat, standing, for 8 hours in a cap and gown. I walked down the gravel runway of the schools track and exhibited the enthusiasm of a recent graduate by high-fiving the same strangers at least 30 times. My feet have never hurt so bad in all my life. If you have not stood for 8 hours, I do not think you can understand what kind of pain this was. I could feel gravity pulling — no, yanking — my tendons to the center of the earth. Upon describing this to my parents, after filming, they suggested counseling. I think that was just another rouse to get me to shower.

I did most of my waiting in the cafeteria. I moved cold stale pizza around on my plastic cafeteria tray and talked to 2 girls about how we thought the movie would turn out.

Fill a cafeteria with 100 young adults, half of whom think this is their big break, and don’t be surprised if you can’t hear yourself think. On the last day of shooting in the cafeteria, the director politely told us all to shut up and begin setting up for the next scene. It was a fight scene and it was about to go down behind my table. If you’re not familiar with the scene, you should watch it (try your best not to get caught up at 2:04).

Touch my friend again and I’ll blind you. Charlie

For the first time that week the cafeteria was completely silent. I found myself in the front of a semi-circle of extras with Logan Lerman (Charlie) staring into my eyes and real tears streaming down his face. Looking back at him I forgot that I was a hungry, tired, and underpaid movie extra. I also forgot that I was a bored college student who was watching in summery bliss as life passed him by. I forgot that I get lost trying to find my new home and that I terribly miss my old one. I forgot that I didn’t have enough money to go see my muggle girlfriend who is less British but more beautiful than Emma Watson. I forgot the fact that I had been a real life extra for a long time before being one in a movie.

And in that moment I was part of Stephen Chbosky’s story. I wasn’t any kind of extra, I was a high school student. Nameless, with hair before his time, and I had been wearing the same flannel all winter and had only recently unbuttoned it for spring. On top of that I had just seen that quiet Charlie kid beat the pulp out of some football players that called the gay Patrick kid a “faggot.”

When the director yelled “cut” and my time as an extra in a movie came to an end, I decided that my time as being an extra in my own story had to come to an end, too. I had to log off Netflix, it wasn’t my account anyways. As hard as it was, I needed to get over the fact that I had a new home and no job. I had made a million excuses to myself that summer as to why I couldn’t volunteer locally, study for my test to get into medical school, or practice writing. I decided that every summer from that summer forth I would not relax. I would not give myself 3 months of free time only to slowly become an extra of my own life again.

For reasons I don’t understand I am not happy when I have to spend mass amounts of time just doing whatever. Free time is time wasted to me. It has gotten so bad that I don’t even like weekends anymore. I thrive under pressure and stress ,and am most happy when I am busy. It took a jobless summer and the prospect of being an extra to learn that.

The next summer I applied to do research fellowships at schools all over the country. Most people applied to 3-5 and the very ambitious students apply to 8. I applied to 19. I wasn’t going to spend 90% of my time waiting to live again. I wasn’t going to be an extra ever again. I spent the summer of 2012 working in a lab at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. It was the busiest and most stressful 3 months of my life and I had never been so happy. TC mark

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