Actor Matthew Gochman, star of our currently running show Mr. 80%, took time out of his busy schedule to write about his recent experience as an extra on the set of Boardwalk Empire for our blog. Here it is:
On Thursday, April 26th I had the honor of being a background actor (a.k.a. extra) on the hit HBO show, Boardwalk Empire. The shoot took place in Richmond, Staten Island. Just stepping onto the large shuttle bus from Manhattan to Staten Island, I felt a rush of excitement! I felt like I was entering the big time, finally! Inside the bus I found extras of all ages and body types: old, young, middle-aged, skinny, heavy-set, athletic.
In an hour we were transported to the cast and crew headquarters, a simple banquet hall where you would expect to attend church functions. We all descended into the basement and got into costume: probably the most uncomfortable part of the process. About 30 male extras and I had to squeeze into this small, confined space, where we had to slip on about four layers of 1920’s garb.
After I was done “suiting up,” it was time to get my hair done. The stylist slathered on so much gel that my hair had the texture of plastic throughout the day. The day before the shoot, I had to take a day off work just to trek into Steiner Studios in Brooklyn to get my “1920’s haircut.” The ultimate irony was that all this time and effort was put into my hair, yet I wore a hat throughout the entire scene!
Then it was time for the most important part of the shoot: craft service. The breakfast on set was absolutely extraordinary! Laid out under the craft service tent were scrambled eggs, bacon, pancakes, French toast, sausage, biscuits and gravy, and practically every breakfast item you can think of. There were even cooks on staff, frying up omelets on the spot. How any actor can possibly stay thin on the set of Boardwalk Empire is beyond me.
Before we were transported to set, the costume people lined us all up to check everyone’s wardrobe. If anyone’s tie was crooked, if anyone’s pants were too baggy—the problem had to be rectified immediately. Yes, the crew puts that much effort into the shoot.
The scene took place at a courthouse. Before it was time to rehearse the scene, my fellow extras and I had to assemble within a holding room, where we waited… and waited… and waited for approximately an hour. Note to anyone interested in being an extra: Bring a book because 80% of the job is waiting around! As long as I got paid to wait around, it made no difference to me.
Next, all the extras had to assemble on the courthouse steps, where we rehearsed the blocking of the scene. I chit-chatted with a fellow extra, a young guy named Rob, who was playing my friend. It was the first day on set for the both of us, so we were both truly excited. Then the A.D. (assistant director) grabbed an older man and older lady, and blurted out to Rob, “These are your parents. They’ll cross the street and you have to greet them.” That’s the funny thing about extra work. You just get paired off with random people on set, with whom you’re forced to forge a relationship. “This is your son… This is your daughter… This is your husband… This is your mistress.”
In the middle of rehearsal, rain started pouring down. We all went on break for about two hours. As I was returning from the craft service tent, I strolled past Bobby Cannavale and Paul Sparks, who were having a cigarette together. Cannavale is a new addition to the Boardwalk cast. A veteran character actor, he’s been on TV shows like Will and Grace and in movies like The Station Agent, Win Win, and Snakes on a Plane. Sparks is the blonde-haired actor, who portrays Mickey Doyle on the show. I was incredibly tempted to stop and ask if I can get a picture with them, but I felt it would be somewhat rude to barge in on their conversation.
While waiting for the rain to stop, I killed time by chatting with the fellow extras, several of whom were veterans in the extra/dayplaying field. One of them had worked with such actors as Michael Douglas, Jim Carrey, Katie Holmes, and Shia LaBeouf. They disclosed all sorts of juicy gossip about which actors were incredibly nice (a select few) and which were total jerks (the majority of them). Listening to anecdotes from these veteran extras was probably the highlight of the entire experience.
Finally, it was time to shoot. During the scene, Cannavale’s character (Gyp Rosetti) marches out the courtroom, having been proven not guilty to setting a member of the city’s law enforcement on fire. The members of the court all trail behind him, mumbling to each other about how they know he’s guilty and that they no longer feel safe in the town. Rosetti stops at the top of the steps, gloating about his “deed” and lighting a cigarette. In the scene, you see me and all the other members of the courtroom trying to steer clear of him. Since I walk right past Rosetti, along with the woman playing my wife in the scene, you’ll most likely see me on screen. After all, I was only a couple feet away from Cannavale and the scene is pretty crucial to the plot (meaning it probably won’t get deleted from the show).
Shooting the scene took about an hour. We did about 10 takes, half the time rolling with sound and half the time without. It became a bit tedious after a while, but it was still tons of fun. Being on a TV show was thrilling enough, but being on a show that I adore and watch on a regular basis was twice as thrilling!
If anyone’s interested in becoming an extra on the show, I found the gig through Grant Wilfley Casting, a casting agency in New York City that specializes in finding background actors and day players. Log onto http://www.gwcnyc.com/ to find out more information about upcoming castings available.