Wednesday, February 08, 2006

House Rules

February 7th/8th, 2006

These past two days, I've been working "House M.D." again, which is probably my favourite show to work. They really put you through the paces on this one, and I've been switching between playing a visitor, a hospital administrator, and a patient (didn't have to wear the suit today, thank Buddha).

One of the things I like so much about the show is how uniquely unfriendly and misanthropic Gregory House is. While some of that has to be natural to his character, Hugh Laurie is always perfectly nice to be around. As I remarked before, Laurie on the set is as American as apple pie and frivolous lawsuits.

The 7th was a really long day, but they all are. We shot a scene where a religious nutjo--er, a very spiritual young man, decides to try and faith-heal the terminal cases at the hospital, all the while singing, "Go Tell It On the Mountain." We shot the scene from every conceivable angle (including the Steadicam being the faith healer, then switching over to being a cancer patient).

"House"'s holding is in the cafeteria room of the hospital set on Stage 15 at 20th Century Fox. It is fairly comfortable, except we must be silent, we can't have food in there (is that irony?), and can't sit in the booths. The Fox lot is my favourite of the studios (it's nice to see a three storey Darth Vader greet me each day, and I usually buy a "Firefly" boxed set every time I work there), and it's also the second nearest to my apartment.

This is a tight-knit group. Right now, I'm listening to a girl talk about her recent experience as Keira Knightley's photo double and sometime stand-in on PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN 2 and 3. She had many adventures on the production, getting very drunk and being unable to spend her per diem in Barbados or wherever it was.* THAT would be a gig, wouldn't it?

There's a guy on set--a regular extra--who has a peculiar hobby: he takes toys and action figures and modifies them to be knights and monsters and hybrids, using paint and glue and props and toothpicks and such. He brings a large case filled with paint and accessories and just works on them all day while the rest of us read or sleep or talk or fart around. He took one of those Prequels Clone Troopers and turned it into some kind of marauding barbarian with a battle axe. I could not be more impressed with this guy if he told me also worked on PIRATES 2 & 3 as Orlando Bloom's butt double.

On practically every TV show, there are regular extras--background players who return for every episode, constantly on the set or office or etc. They don't have to jockey for work, but are contacted by the production company to come back week after week. Probably the best example of a regular extra I can think of was the alien Morn on "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine," who became such a joke in the production that they gave him his own episode.

There are advantages and disadvantages to being a regular on a show, they say. The disadvantage is that it can get boring spending all day doing the same thing at the same place with many of the same people (you reading this who has a real job can surely attest to that). The advantages are myriad. Chief among them is that it's steady work--anywhere from one day a week (the "Criminal Minds" regulars get less work since there's so much location shooting) to five days a week (regulars on shows like "E.R." or "Lost" or "The Office," where it's usually all set in one place). Also, you get to know the cast and crew, and begin to feel that they are your friends and family. There's a better chance to get upgrades like residuals or dialogue that way (nearly every one of the "Scrubs" regulars said they'd gotten a line at one point or another), and of course, the sexual benefits are outstanding.

I have only been a regular on one show, Fox's "Boston Public," years ago. It really was an interesting, almost familial experience, going to that fake school every week and seeing many of the same "students" and "teachers." I got upgraded to a Stand-In one time, and on a couple of occasions, costar Anthony Heald had me read lines with him (he and I were reading Thomas Harris's "Hannibal" at the same time, and I delighted in telling him about reaching the reference to his late character from "Silence of the Lambs"). You do make friends on these sets, and I remember that one of the extras called me one night in a drunken stupour to tell me that I was a good guy and "I love you, man." I miss Aris.

I've mentioned that you see the same faces at many of these jobs, other extras booked through the same service, or of the same age group and/or look. One of these, a bookish, homely girl named Kelly, spent a little time with me, telling me about the advances of a tall, darkly handsome extra on the set who, despite Kelly's boasts that she is engaged, continued to flirt with her and at one point, bluntly asked if she wanted to make out sometime.

This was to her horror, apparently, but to me, it was a moment of admirable boldness. "He ASKED if you wanted to make out?" I wondered.

"Make out sometime," she clarified, "Can you believe it?"

Well, I couldn't, but the man had very thick Pierce Brosnan hair, so he was capable of anything. I asked, "Could that really work?" and she said, of course, that that level of confidence is greatly admired by the ladies, who are often sick of games and would prefer a direct proposition.

Then, said she, "You ought to try that sometime. You're good looking enough."

This surprised me to hear, since it's common knowledge that I was so ugly at birth that when the doctor slapped me, somebody called the ASPCA on him. Later, Kelly went on about the handsome extra's persistence, claiming that he grabbed her hand and then her butt. I found that increasingly hard to believe, especially since there was a girl on set who looked like Gwen Stacy. Maybe there's a certain attraction in a girl that spurns your advances, but I'm now wondering how much of her story is true.

I don't know how much longer I'll do this extras thing--sometime I'll explain the fun-filled hoops you have to jump through to join the Screen Actors Guild and how far I am from getting there--but I'd really like to be a regular on something again. I'd say my chances aren't good, but if there's any show that it might work out on, it would be this one.

I either mentioned it before, or thought about mentioning it before, but the assistant director used to get my name wrong. Today, the A.D., who I still think is the greatest A.D. in the business, kept calling me "John," even after he realised his mistake. Maybe I look like a John (the toilet kind?), I don't know.

I had asked for the next day off--I had an appointment at six--but when they asked me to return, I had to go for it. Before she died, my grandmother gave me some advice. "Listen to me," she said, "Never turn down an offer of food, work, or sex."

And I don't mean to, Mister Frodo, I don't mean to.

Rish Outfield, M.D.

*It was the Bahamas. Apparently, there's very little to do there on days off. Boo hoo.

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