I Almost Won an Emmy for My Work as an Extra on Desperate Housewives

I arrived on set a little after 9:00 AM. I had come equipped with half a dozen wardrobe changes, a clean shaven face and an eagerness to work with the legend, Teri Hatcher. That day’s filming took place in a Los Angeles bowling alley. One of the directors gave me a pair of bowling shoes and told me that it would be a long day of shooting. I took my clothes, draped them over top an old arcade game and grabbed a granola bar from the catering area. I sat down next to the other extras and immediately started to quietly judge them. One guy, a fifty-something year old, was rehearsing lines. I felt sorry for him because he truly believed that he might be offered a speaking role in the day’s filming session. Come to find out, he had swiped a script from one of the producers and was reading the lines of James Denton. He tried to speak loud enough to garner attention but all he did was make a fool of himself. Another woman was knitting a quilt. She had an entire bag full of yarn and thread. At one point I saw a kitten pop it’s head out from the bag. She calmly pushed it back inside and continued to knit. I couldn’t believe she had brought a goddamn cat to the set. I also noticed a group of young college-aged kids sitting around talking about all the union jobs they had gotten and how many roles they had “almost landed.” I recognized the one kid from the set of King of Queens, because he was wearing Heelys (sneakers with skates in the heels). I distinctly remember the time that kid skated by Patton Oswalt and overhearing Oswalt calling the kid, “a goddamn asshole.” I agreed.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I spent the next few hours incredibly bored. I completed a crossword, took a nap and received a verbal shellacking from an assistant director for going through the lunch line too early. He yelled, “the extras need to wait until all the crew has gone trough!” He viciously pointed for me to return to the holding area. By the time I got to the lunch line all the good chicken and fish was gone so I had green beans and a dry piece of bread for lunch. As I gnawed through my bread I couldn’t help but to miss my jobs back home in Ohio. I had washed cars, washed dishes, and waited tables, but at least I hadn’t been treated like some sort of unworthy peasant. Sometimes a television set does have a feudal feeling to it. But, as an extra, my job was to keep quiet and do as I was told. The perks of doing the job? Free food. Easy money. And an opportunity to make your mom scream on the phone while she watches you bag groceries on an episode of Ghost Whisperer. Other than that, being an extra in Hollywood really sucks.

Anyways, an hour after lunch I got called over for a scene by the bowling lanes. They placed me in a seat and gave me a bowling ball. They told me to mingle with the other extras in my area. For those of you who don’t know, on a television set, when the background people are “chatting,” they’re actually not saying anything. They’re just uncomfortably acting like they are speaking without making a sound. It’s incredibly awkward and sometimes can last all day. One time, on the set of The O.C., I had to “ask” Rachel Bilson what kind of coffee she wanted and she looked at me like I was some sort of jackass. I was served cold chicken and paid a non-union stipend for embarrassing myself in front of a television star. So, on this day I had to pretend to talk to strangers and pretend to bowl without making noise. Of course, they placed me with the “skater boy” kid (Avril Lavigne was really popular at the time) and the cat lady. I was pissed. However, Teri Hatcher was right behind my seat so I immediately motivated myself to give a great effort. I was going to fake bowl the hell out of that scene and I was, for once and for all, going to leave my everlasting mark on Hollywood.

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I had to act like I was serving coffee. I looked and acted like a dumbass.

Once the director started filming, I was up and on the move. I kept acting like I was bowling strikes. Every time I would let go of the ball I would immediately hold up an “X” with my fingers (even though I was instructed to throw quiet gutter balls). One time I even did a spin move before holding up the “X.” I high-fived the cat lady and had a great silent laugh with the skater boy. Even though I was in the background, behind Teri Hatcher, I was dominating the scene. I had a pep in my step. I began to method act and felt emotionally connected to the great Pete Weber. I had become the part and there was no turning back. I could tell that Teri Hatcher was impressed. After each take she would sit closer to me, as if she wanted to be near me. I overheard her talking to James Denton about how great my acting was and I’m pretty sure she even requested that James be removed from the scene and replaced with me, but I can’t be certain. I had finally gained the respect of the people I had always admired. I was about to get my big break in the ultra competitive business. The days of union paydays were within my grasp.

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As you can see, Teri Hatcher made sure to be close to me during the scene. And I didn’t disappoint!

And just when I thought the day couldn’t get any better, it all came falling down like a ton of bricks. As I went to bowl another strike, I slipped on a small pile of kitten shit and let go of the ball too early, throwing it about three lanes to my right and striking William H. Macy who just happened to be on set visiting his wife, Felicity Huffman. The ball struck him squarely in the nose, breaking his glasses and causing him to fall from his chair. The entire set went quiet and everybody looked at me like I had just committed a crime. Still method acting, I didn’t even respond, but instead threw up a giant “X” with my arms and pointed to the heavens, thanking God for my abilities. All of a sudden that asshole assistant director came running over to me, yelling verbal abuses. I quickly snapped out of it and realized what I had just done. I looked at Teri Hatcher for sympathy but she refused to make eye contact with me. “Teri,” I called out as I reached out for her to defend me. She wouldn’t look up and I was escorted away from the set. The director called me many hurtful names before throwing me out of the bowling alley.

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This man is the reason I had to leave Hollywood.

I was never called back for another acting job and decided to move back home to Ohio. I went back to school and started a Master’s program in education. A few months later I received a letter from Conan O’Brien. He was preparing for the 2006 Emmy Award show and wanted to reach out to me personally. He stated that he had reviewed the nominees and thought it was disrespectful that I had not been nominated for my scene with Teri Hatcher. He described how he had petitioned for me to be a performer on stage with Megan Mullally, but that William H. Macy had intervened and not made that request possible. Instead, the producers chose business mogul, Donald Trump (this is absolutely true). Conan went on to share his deep sympathies with me and told me that he would forever hold my performance in high regard. He told me that my performance had inspired him to stay in show business and he even compared me to the likes of Brando, Dean and Hanks. I was flattered and never sent him a letter back. I’ve now been teaching for ten years and I’ll admit, that sometimes I wonder what could have been. But every time some kid talks back to me, or a parent sends me a nasty email, or I struggle to provide for my family on a teacher’s salary, I think of William H. Macy and I know that it all worked out for the best.

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I should have been holding that pitchfork.

 

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