Shout-Out to the Extra is a 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.
Maybe you missed the moment. In the aftermath of his team’s upset to those uppity ups from New Haven, Baylor’s Taurean Prince was asked by a reporter how his team got out-rebounded by Yale. Prince answered by explicating precisely what a rebound was and then observing that Yale got more of those than his team did. Mic drop. It was, as both Slate’s Josh Levin and director/screenwriter/producer Jerry Zucker noted, a version of the ambiguous syntax that so many of Zucker’s films, like the majestic “Airplane!”, used to such grand effect. Now I don’t think that Prince necessarily thought about that when he said the line. I’m sure he was peeved post-loss and peeved about a dumb question and felt like indulging his inner-Popovich. But sometimes a person can be a gifted comic without really even knowing it.
Maybe you know the story, maybe you don’t. It was first recounted on StarTrek.com 11 years ago and has been cited many times since, particularly as we inch ever closer to the latest “Star Trek” film. It concerns Layla Sarakalo, a San Francisco resident in the mid-80s, who learned one unfortunate morning that her car had been towed because a movie was being filmed on her block and she had missed the signs threatening to haul her and other neighborhood cars away if they were not moved to make way for the director’s chair and other moviemaking accoutrement. Not having the necessary money to get her car back. Ms. Sarakalo hit on the idea of scoring some quick cash to save her vehicle by working for the movie being filmed on her block as an extra. That film was “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.”
Maybe you know the scene in “The Voyage Home.” The crew of the Enterprise, who are, by necessity, aboard a cloaked Klingon vessel, have traveled back in time, to 1986 San Francisco, for reasons of requisite Earth-saving. You know how they do. But their ship has been drained of power and to acquire the necessary power to travel forward in time they plot to reel it in from a nuclear powered submarine. Chekov and Uhura are dispatched to find the submarine. They can’t, which leads to the classic scene of Chekhov, a Russian, at the tail-end of the Cold War asking passerby the location of the nuclear vessels while an incredulous, stone-faced cop looks on. No one is willing to help…save for one woman.
That woman was played by Ms. Sarakalo. She was not, it seems, meant to say a line. She was just an extra. She was supposed to behave like all the other extras and look at this crazy Ruskie with bug eyes and keep walking. Sarakalo did not. Told to “act naturally”, that’s precisely what she did. (Watch below. Sarakalo enters at the 38 second mark.)
Sarakalo plays this moment wonderfully, brilliantly. She plays it like a local who’s just been asked by a tourist for the location of some off the beaten path boutique hotel. She sort of scratches her head that way you do when you’re suddenly put on the thinking spot, and then she answers by not only echoing exactly what Chekov has just said, but by putting the perfect pregnant pause between “I think it’s across the bay” and “In Alameda.” It’s like she momentarily morphed into Jack Benny. And when you consider that she wasn’t even supposed to have a line, and that she just spoke off the cuff, it becomes that much more incredible, innately leaving a space for the non-existent rimshot, displaying a seemingly natural comedic timing that fit right into the wholly comedic motion picture.
Because she spoke, and because anyone who has a line in a movie is required to be registered for the Screen Actors Guild, the producers quickly enrolled Sarakalo in SAG rather than simply cut her line. Well of course they did! You can’t cut comic gold! She was never seen again, apparently moving on to run a Paris fashion house, and good for her. Yet I wonder if the motion pictures missed out. I see many a purportedly funny movie these days with professionals that consistently fail to be anywhere near as funny as Sarakalo, just trying to get her car back, was in a handful of seconds.
Pour one out for the extra.