In 1994 or 1995, I was working as an extra on a film or TV show. Martin Landau was one of the stars of the production. He was easily approachable. We sat next to each other at lunch one day and had a nice chat. He got bored with me, however, when I told him how much I loved his performance in Woody Allen’s 1989 movie Crimes and Misdemeanors. He thanked me and then I made the mistake of asking him what he thought of the idea in the film that there is no objective good and evil without a transcendent God as the source of morality. He said he didn’t want to get into that. And that was the end of our conversation.
I learned from that experience, and also from telling Robert DuValle one evening how much I liked his movie The Apostle, that stars don’t usually want to hear about how much you like their work. It makes you an annoying fan. If you drop that shtick, however, you can usually talk to TV and movie stars just like anyone else. You can talk about books or sports or politics no problem.
Part of the routine directions you got as an extra was not to make eye contact with the stars, but you’d usually meet them at the crafts service table and could often have a chat.
I found Liza Minnelli more fun than any other star I met. I think I was portraying an Orthodox Jew with long sidelocks and we sat on the sidewalk and had multiple laughs for about 20 minutes. Perhaps I reminded her of Peter Allen, her former husband.
A lot of extras complained about mistreatment on set but I found we were usually treated like gold. One day was hot and I was in this heavy furry uniform on Babylon Five and I started swaying and the stars on the show pointed me out and I was rushed to the side, had my uniform removed, cold water brought to me, and I got my final SAG voucher that day so I could join the union.
There was usually tremendous sexual energy on set. The good looking women were constantly on the prowl to connect with the powerful men and the powerful men were equally on the prowl to nail the hot chicks. Sometimes this hot slutty wife I knew who worked as a stripper on weekends in Las Vegas would take multiple guys home with her after a shoot. In that hothouse atmosphere, if you weren’t getting it, you felt like a real loser, and a moderate amount was never enough. You always wanted more and more and more.
As Yggdrasil wrote in his review of Eyes Wide Shut: “The sexual predation at the party is blatant. It is also accepted by all the party goers as if it were the natural state of enlightened humanity.”
I always brought books with me on set to while away the down time, and I was surprised how few people did likewise. On a typical 12-hour work day, you were only required for a couple of hours.
I had this fantasy I’d be discovered and become a big star with lots of sexual access to women. One day my hijinks amused the assistant director on 1995’s Strange Days and I heard him discussing whether they could give me lines but ultimately they decided no. I never got a speaking part in anything that paid.