Extra! Extra! Read all about
A day on the campus set of Proof proves that they
also serve who sit and wait…and wait…and wait…
Photo by Lloyd DeGrane
|Gwyneth Paltrow between takes in Harper
On about page 75 of The
Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, an analogy flashed
by like a rocketing meteorite. The title of the sci-fi satire summed
up how I was spending an early October day: stargazing, along for
the ride during the campus filming of Proof, an adaptation of the
2001 Pulitzer Prize– and Tony Award–winning play by
David Auburn, AB’91.
And like the hapless hitchhiker
Arthur Philip Dent, I had time to wonder just how I’d gotten
here—here being my seventh hour as an extra, hoping to be
prominent among the mourners in the final cut of a cinematic memorial
service. After all, at the onset of the five-day invasion—led
by British director John Madden, who was flanked by Anthony Hopkins
(as Robert Llewellyn, a U of C mathematics professor who crosses
the line from genius to madness), Gwyneth Paltrow (his grieving,
possibly brilliant daughter Catherine), and the village it takes
to make a film—I, like most Hyde Parkers, had played it blasé.
Then came the last-minute
casting call. “Unpaid, volunteer extras” were needed
for four hours. Hopefuls should show up the next morning “dressed
appropriately” for a memorial service. “From that pool,
casting agents will select approximately 150 people to be included
in the scene—therefore, showing up does not guarantee you
a spot as an extra.”
No pay, no guarantee—not
very enticing. But there was more: “Unlike the previous casting
call, producers are particularly interested in utilizing individuals
age 30 and older. Younger participants are certainly welcome, but
priority will be given to those individuals who look older.”
For once, being a woman of a certain age was a plus.
Besides, I had a 17-year-old
daughter to impress. Because her friend Alex’s back porch
overlooked the back porch used for several Proof scenes, Hanna had
already seen Madden, Hopkins, and Paltrow in action. Here was my
chance to catch up.
It also turned out to
be a chance to catch up on my reading.
I signed in at 9 a.m.,
taking a seat at one of a battery of folding tables set up at the
east end of the Main Quad. By 9:10 the casting director had okayed
my wrinkled skin and black-and-cream outfit. By 9:40 there was nothing
left to read or edit. A quick call to the office produced the day’s
clips and, as insurance, The Hitchhiker’s Guide.
At 10:50 a T-shirted guy
greeted us through a bullhorn. We’d move to Rockefeller Chapel
and start to film in ten minutes. At noon we settled into pews,
straining to hear Madden outline our role: Listen as Robert’s
colleague gives a eulogy; laugh at his joke. Look startled, then
embarrassed as Catherine makes an unexpected, shocking speech, and
follow her with our eyes as she flees the chapel, her father’s
grad student (Jake Gyllenhaal) in pursuit. We’d be done, Madden
said, by 2 or 3 p.m.
The survivors finished
at 9 p.m. Along the way, others decamped to attend lectures or pick
up children. “At any other school,” a casting crew member
complained, “people would be kicking down doors to be an extra.
But here they all say they have to go to class.”
Was it worth it? Sitting
on hard pews, laughing for the eighth time at the same slight, donnish
joke, or waiting between takes, I wondered. But watching from a
few feet away as, face contorted with emotion, Madden mouthed Catherine’s
outburst along with Paltrow, the magic of making movies kicked in.
Come next summer, I’ll
be looking for the back of my head, making its first appearance
in a major motion picture. And if my head hits the cutting-room
floor, the experience was still worthwhile.
Want proof? I saw Paltrow
kiss Chris Martin of the band Coldplay. Ask my 17-year-old how cool