My Film Career As An Extra On The Beach

Published in Dan's Papers, The Hamptons, June 2006

A friend suggested I attend the open cast call. The producers for The Nanny Diaries needed Hampton’s types. “You look like a Hampton’s type,” my friend said.

“Well, thanks, I think,” I replied and so, on a lark, I showed up for casting at Southampton High one gorgeous Saturday afternoon. This served as yet one more excuse for me not to have to sit at the computer and work on my thesis, or to re-edit my unsold novel for the umpteenth time. And while driving there, I even allowed myself the fantasy of being discovered at this ripened age, like the leggy Betty Grable had been at the soda fountain. Betty who, you asked? Never mind.

When the phone call came three weeks later, only days before the shoot, I’d already suffered through a rash of rejection. Had I looked too ethnic, too large or too old? I tried to pacify myself by remembering how my H. S. choir teacher scolded me for never blending in. That was it! I was simply too frontline for extra work. But then the efficient and pubescent casting director called to say they wanted to “use me” for the beach scene they’d be shooting on Monday. While she read off a long list of instructions, I was already lathering my thighs with the anti-cellulite cream samples from Bloomies.

Nervous and giddy, I told the youngster that coincidentally, I’d planned to start a serious diet on Monday. “Are you saying you don’t want to do this?” casting girl pried.

“ No, of course I’ll be there. Thanks!” For effect, I tossed in that I’d be attending a fundraiser in the city that very evening, but there was no response. Just “Please don’t wear red or white. And, by the way, we are looking for elegant.”

“I can do that,” I answered and hung up before she changed her mind.

In my head I had this image of flowing chiffon and large straw hats, very upscale Laura Ashley. I was relieved that cover-ups were both acceptable and welcome.

The next day, I went out and bought two ensembles costing more than triple the amount I’d earn for my few seconds of fame.

On Monday, May 22, the day of the beach scene, the temperature on Main Beach, East Hampton was 47 degrees. Fourteen extras, men, women and children had been stationed for hours at the airport, where it was even colder, before being shuttled in vans for the much anticipated scene. Hundreds of film crew members, surrounded by huge trucks filled the parking lot at Main Beach waiting our arrival. This was true Hollywood excitement. Right here in East Hampton. We watched breathlessly as Scarlett Johansson, who plays the Nanny, was positioned in a phone booth near the snack stand, before each of the extras were given their camera marks. That’s when I knew. Knew that the perky seagull bopping at the water’s edge had a better chance of being in the shot than me and my “movie husband,” a lovely gentleman named Joel who the director had paired me with and now placed alongside me, way down by the sea shore. Far. Very, very far.

He left us shivering in the wind, saying, “Hey, you two, look busy, spread out a towel, sit down, relax.” Joel and I, who became fast friends, might have been better off burying each other in the sand to keep warm. Instead, every time the director yelled “ACTION”, we rose to our feet (at least twenty times), kvetching about bad backs, achy knees and the sandy gusts that brought back memories of that famous box office failure: Ishtar.

But there we were: the only two “authentic, Hampton types, elegant and senior,” delighted that someone had chosen us, even if for background or that one wide angle shot that usually winds up on the cutting room floor.

And now, I’ve returned to my computer. Finally, I know where I belong.