One extra gets a chance to be part of the magic of movie-making

Stonington - I told myself I wouldn't be star-struck.

And I wasn't, at least at first. Here I was, sharing the street (as an extra/background actor) with Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones, two of the mega-stars in "Great Hope Springs," and I didn't even stop and stare.

At least when the camera was rolling.

When it wasn't, I was just as bad as the rest, and who can blame us? Two Oscar-winning actors just strolling the streets of Stonington borough?

That was even before Streep nearly ran right into me as she came running around a corner in a scene where I was an extra in the background, walking with my "girlfriend," Katie. Streep is upset and running from Jones in the scene, and bam, turned the corner almost into me. My instinct was to console her. She's so convincing!

But I held my cool and am hoping that scene makes the cut. Katie and I worked well together and even followed our given directions ("Just walk by holding hands. Sort of exaggerate it, swinging them, because you're in profile. But don't look too enthusiastic," we were told.).

When I first went to the August casting call at Stonington High School, I didn't expect to be called back. I had said that any casting director worth her salt would realize a Volvo is a perfect car for this film. Last Monday, I received a call, and it wasn't for me.

"We need you to send us pictures of your car," the caller from the casting service told me.

"Sure," I said, "and what about me?"

"Pictures of the car is all we need now," she told me.

My car, a late 1990s Volvo station wagon, was accepted, and so was I. In an email Tuesday night, the 44 extras needed for Wednesday's shoot were told to bring two possible sets of wardrobe that included "no black, no neon, no logos, no city wear, no urban, no preppy and Mom jeans are great."

Right.

My call time was 11:30 a.m., and of course, my first choice of clothing was no good, so I changed into something more Maine-like, apparently.

By the end of the day, I'd been picked for two scenes. As we waited between cuts, my girlfriend for a scene, Katie, said she couldn't believe it.

"We're being paid for this," she said. "I'd pay them to let me do this."

It's a valid point. The fun is seeing the anatomy of each shot, which begins with the director and his assistants deciding what they want. They evaluate the light and different weather particularities, before bringing in a stand-in extra who practices the shot. Then the big-time talent gets there.

The street is watered down so the lighting in the scene "really pops," a crew member told me, and then the action begins. It's quite an ordeal to set up even the most mundane of shots, and seeing it firsthand gives you an appreciation for it.

The waiting, though, can be the hardest part, but there are plenty of interesting to people to talk to.

What I heard/learned:

• Most people were bummed that Steve Carell, the third star of the film, isn't in town for filming.

• The lunch line starts with crew members, then Screen Actors Guild extras, then the commoners. Don't question it.

• Can you believe how disorganized this is, but that it somehow comes all together?

• Isn't Meryl Streep beautiful?

Ultimately, what I learned from those, either first-timers or old hands, is that despite the long days and sometimes low pay, it's the chance to be there, to be a part of it, to see those people that you've only seen on the movie screen, live, in action.

Just don't let your jaw drop.

s.goldstein@theday.com

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