This is the first installment of our new sporadic series in which Cinema Romantico shouts out the extras, the background actors, the bit part players, the almost out of your sight line performers who expertly round out our movies with epic blink & you’ll miss it care.
For Slant Magazine, I recently watched and reviewed “Elstree 1976”, a crowdfunded movie focusing on ten bit-part players, extras and actors in support, in the original “Star Wars” movies. These genial people warranted their own documentary, of course, because it was “Star Wars”, which is partly what the movie is about. But there were also threads, if not necessarily enough, in regards to the semi-dreary life of a working actor, and that is what got me to thinking. It got me to thinking about all those people on the edges of frames, lurking in the background, doing, like, stuff, probably in take after take, while the real stars stand in the foreground, swallowing up nearly the entire view of the camera. All extras deserve praise, really, not just the ones who were temple guards at the rebel base on the moon of Yavin.
I like to over-indulge on reaction shots in “Independence Day”, and even its follow-up’s trailers, as my longtime and very frustrated readers know too well, and often those reaction shots involve extras. But there is another extra in “Independence Day” that has always caught my eye, one who is reacting, but to someone else in the frame as opposed to special effects on the blue screen. She appears near the beginning, right after the approaching alien ship has become aware to Space Command at The Pentagon. General Grey, played by a gruff Robert Loggia, enters and gets briefed and is told the ship is “slowing down.” And if it’s slowing down.....
He walks to a nearby desk to pick up a phone. As he picks up the phone, however, notice the seated woman just to the left of where Loggia is standing. She’s at a computer bank. She’s wearing a headset. She’s talking to someone on the headset. The actress, though, isn’t content to just sit there and not act like she isn’t really there being the nameless Space Command employee. She notes Loggia picking up this phone, like it’s her phone, like she doesn’t care how many stars this General Dude’s got, whatever, hey, why don’t you ask if you can use my phone next time. Then she goes back to work cuz she’s at work, man, and she’s got work to do. Then Loggia’s General asks for the President. A pause. Loggia barks: “Then WAKE him!” And that actress, she turns, quick, put out - like, why is this General Dude making such a racket? I’m working here, can’t he see that, what’s wrong with him? So rude.
And I love it. I love this extra. She’s there; she’s working; she’s playing something.
Pour one out for the extra.