What It's Like To Be A Background Actor When You Don’t Give A F*ck About Acting

Hi Friends,


For those of you who don't know, I spent a LOT of time in LA being really, really poor. With mounting bills comes mounting opportunities for side hustles. Thus, my "acting career" began...


gif

The reason why I'm writing this in the first place is because I was actually a background actor in the pilot episode of the new HBO series Winning Time. After hours of hair and makeup, did you catch me at the white party??


ANYWAY, let's get to the good stuff.


First and foremost, let me reiterate that I have never had any intentions of becoming an actor and, by no means, did that have anything to do with why I moved to LA. Once I moved here, however, and for SEVERAL years after the fact, I was making nickels. If I wanted to survive, I needed to start picking up side hustles. With so many legitimate casting sites and flexible hours, background acting was a perfect fit.


After I booked a few smaller gigs, I quickly realized that I had a ~desirable~ look because I'm "soooooo racially ambiguous". Shout out to my mom and dad for that one. Couldn't have done it without you. So when I tell you I accidentally fell into this world, I really did.


The first big show I did background for was How To Get Away With Murder, but arguably the most fun show I ever did was Winning Time. For this show, filming took place right before the pandemic. Given that this was a period piece, a fitting was required prior to actually shooting. The fitting took place at some random building near Downtown Los Angeles. I followed the instructions I was given and walked into the room where I was greeted by friendly faces and rows beyond rows of GORGEOUS clothes. I'm talking shoes, gowns, and all of the most incredible accessories you'd ever seen.


I. WAS. IN. HEAVEN.


From there, I was asked my sizes and dressed like a living Barbie-doll. After a few different gowns and an overwhelming amount of positivity from everyone present, we finally found THE dress. I looked like a Grecian goddess with my white, draping dress and vintage gold-chain belt. I was LIVINGGGGG for this moment. Filming wasn't for another couple of days, but now I was really excited.


The day of filming finally arrived and I'm pretty sure I actually worked a half day for my full time job before heading to set. It was probably about 1:00 PM when I arrived for my call time. Once I checked in, I sat with the rest of the cattle on little metal chairs under a pop-up tent next to a dirt road and a large parking lot on a blazing hot California day. At this point, I am wearing jeans and a black shirt with sneakers, pretty basic as I know I will have to change into my dress while I'm there; but, I didn't want to look a total mess in shorts or something like that.


The thing no one tells you about becoming a faux movie star is that filming is just a whoooooole bunch of hurry up and wait. We all sat under that tent for at least an hour before one of my favorite parts of the day arrived.


DING! DING! DING!!! You guessed it. Time to eat. *Heart eyes* As a girl who was, again, POOR at the time, the fact that food was provided was a huge reason why I took these jobs. Even with a full-time job, it was still hard to afford the basic necessities of life -- you know, rent, food, water, etc. -- so I really had to be strategic in finding ways to supplement meals to make my budget work.


WITH THAT BEING SAID, this was not my first go-around with craft services, so I knew this first meal would not be the best meal of the day. It was something along the lines of ballpark food. Hotdogs, burgers, fries, and a few other things I don't remember. This was also the first opportunity to grab snacks though, which is KEY to making it through a full day of filming. I made sure to grab alllllllll my favorite snacks to make sure I had some for now and later.


Next up was wardrobe. We were all given numbers that correlated to our outfits from the fitting, so when it was my turn, I handed over my number and received my items. Then, in a trailer with at least four other girls I got changed, put my belongings in the bag provided and made sure to hide my snacks. (Never leave your snacks out in the open because hoes have the stickiest of fingers at midnight when they haven't eaten all day because they were too concerned about looking skinny because today was going to be the day they got their big break... but I digress.)


I'm not going to lie, I felt like the absolute sh*t walking to hair and make-up in my gown. It really was stunning. Once I got into the trailer, I was told they wanted me to wear this long, brunette wig to give me big 80s hair and I was down. Other than in a middle school colonial presentation, I had never worn a wig, so I was excited to try something new. The trailer we were in was too full so I was taken to a private trailer where the next tier of actors were getting taken care of.


The girl in the seat next to me was having a great time chatting it up with her hair stylist, so I tried to do the same with mine.


She wasn't having it.


My comments, questions, and compliments were all met with mumbly Ebenezer Scrooge grunts from the mouth of a youthful, Black woman. The best part is I genuinely do not typically care to speak to people I don't know, so the fact that I was even trying and got shut down felt like such a slap in the face. I probably would have gone the whole rest of the day without speaking to anyone had I not made a friend on set, but we're not there yet.


Once the monstrosity of a wig was glued to my head, it was time to wait for the shuttle that would take us up to the house where the white party scene would be filmed. On the shuttle is where I first met the girl that would be my set buddy and once we arrived at the house, it was confirmed.


HERE is where the real fun would begin. That is... unless your dream is to become an actor.


It was time to begin ACTUALLY filming scenes for the show. For everyone that wants to be an actor, this is a time to be extra quiet and smile for the cameras, even when they aren't around. For me, however, this was the time where I did what I needed to do, but also made sure to live my very best life at the same time. The number of times other background actors told me I wasn't doing something right or being quiet enough or blah blah blah, I just told them not to worry because this business wasn't theirs to mind unless they wanted me to get louder instead of quieter.


I will say, there was no one more bold on set than this one extremely random older man who kept trying to make phone calls while we were rolling... like sir.. what? LOL. Watching John C. Reilly dressed as Jerry Buss personally kicking this man off set after his third phone call was f*cking hilarious.


Quick Tip: Make friends with the assistants on-set and leave the "important people" alone. As important as they may be, only the assistants will funnel you snacks through the hours upon hours of filming, even though you're a background actor and literally don't matter.


Anyway, as we were getting close to the end of the day, it was time for our second meal. Now THIS RIGHT HERE was about to absolutely, unequivocally SLAP. We're talking filet mignon, teriyaki salmon, gnocchi, cheesecake, the f*cking works. THIS was the entire reason why I started doing background acting. When you have the opportunity to enjoy a craft services dinner, you would think you were eating among kings and queens.


Did I have seconds? Absolutely. Once again, I had no one to impress, so there was no reason for me to not eat or display ~unladylike~ behavior while eating. This is what made working from 1:00 PM to 2:00 AM after having worked 9:00 AM to 12:30 PM at my full-time job completely worth it.


The one thing I could have done without, though, was the wig...


That was a totally fun moment, and I mean MOMENT because after nearly twelve hours, my head was so itchy and that glue was a STRUGGLE to get off my irritated skin.


Sooooo... I guess what we have learned from all of this is: craft services, good; wig glue, bad.


Love,

Coco