Chasing Matt Damon: Keys to being a great extra.
In a conversation with a friend, he mentioned that as far as acting went, he’d be happy ‘just being that guy who chases Matt Damon around in all his movies.” Sure enough, most of Mr. Damon’s movies involve him running from someone or multiple someones-many never even having a speaking role. They’re simply an extra, a nonspeaking role-but an important role, nonetheless.
My friend hit on an interesting subject: that in most movies, there are supporting roles that need to be filled. We all think of Matt Damon as the hero type beating up the generic bad guys and running from unnamed agents, but without those agents and officers, the movie would be pretty boring. One of his newer films, The Adjustment Bureau, proves that point: take out the chase scenes and you lose half of the film. Landing a gig as an extra can be fun in itself, but if you want to get called back for more, or even a greater role, there are a few things you can do to get out of the background and start chasing Matt Damon.
Whether your in a feature film, small independent or local TV commercial, your role as an extra can be a stepping stone to bigger roles. The first, and most important thing to remember is that your character is exactly that-a character. They were created by someone-usually the writer but not always-with a specific role in mind, even if that role is to smile and nod in agreement or look confused as Matt Damon runs through the restaurant. You may only get a second or two to make your impression (assuming your scene wasn’t cut altogether), so you’d better make it count. Here’s a few things to help make you stand out of the crowd.
If you’re lucky enough to land a role, do your job and study the part. Where is the scene taking place? If there isn’t a wardrobe for you personally, be sure to wear something appropriate and flattering. Get your hair and nails done. Wear the good tie. Look your best. Think on if you personally have been in a situation like the character and recall your conversations. Why is your character in the location to begin with? The director/writer may not have given you a back story, so go ahead and create it yourself. Is it a hot date? A job interview? Whatever it is, you’re in that locale for a reason other than the lead actors’ fight scene, so be that role first. Then, when Matt Damon comes crashing through the window, you may actually get caught off guard. That reaction is what people will remember and will make the scene as authentic as possible. Think what you would do in real life. Would you pull out your phone and get a photo? Do it! If your role has a tad more camera time, you can add depth to your extra by giving him or her a personality flaw or mannerism, such as nail biting or head scratching (don’t overdo these as they are bad habits and can be seen as defects, resulting in no work). Daydream and snap out of it. Smooth your clothes out. Anything that makes you more human and less extra. In the TV series Family Matters, neighbor Steve Urkel was only supposed to be a one-episode extra. The actor’s ability to make the role his own landed him not only future appearances, but most people still refer to it as ‘the Urkel show’ and can’t remember the actual title.
Finally, if your character does a bit more than smile and nod, you may find yourself with a speaking role. This means more money on the check, but can also mean more work in the future. The above rules apply-make the character real and believable. You’ll have to be careful here not to upstage the main actor, but if they’re a pro then they’ll most likely welcome the push and pull you might be able to provide for their character to shine. Learn who you’ll be talking to and develop a routine or game you two can play. Are the characters old friends? They probably have faith in each other, or the opposite. Let this come out in your speech. Is your character inquisitive or shy? This will come out in how you hold your body in relation to the other actors. Being a real person will make you stand out in the directors mind, and if they need someone to play off of in another scene, they may just give you a call.