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Seen But Not Heard

A day in the life of a “Tokarev” extra

The excitement is electric in downtown Mobile. Standing before a frenzied press, flashing cameras and waving microphones, Paul Maguire makes an exciting announcement. But it’s not real. Neither is Paul Maguire.

He is actor Nicolas Cage on location shooting “Tokarev.” I am an extra, which gives me the right to say, “I worked with Nicolas Cage,” except my day’s work might buy dinner for four at Wendy’s. His could buy Wendy’s.

The scene is late fall/early winter. So naturally, we shoot in Mobile during the dead of summer. To achieve the illusion of cold weather, extras wear winter suits and heavy jackets. Standing outdoors, walking in an unreal winter wonderland, it’s a very real 93 degrees. Unscathed by the sea of human sweat, Cage is ready for his close-up.

When perspiration forms on Cage’s forehead, an aide dabs a moist towel on his Oscar-winning noggin. Another assistant offers him water while a third helper combs the actor’s hair. In a previous life, Nicolas Cage was King Tut, but now life is better.

About a dozen area residents, mostly from the local news media, play the parts of press conference reporters. The scene may take up 60 seconds in the movie. It took three hours to shoot. “The first thing you learn about the filmmaking business is patience,” an assistant producer tells me. “It’s all about hurry up and wait.”

It is also all about what movie producers call “the talent,” what you call “movie stars,” and what extras call, “the untouchables.” On the first day of filming, we are told how to address “the talent.” In two words: You don’t.

“Do not approach Nicolas Cage or Danny Glover,” we are
warned. “Do not shake their hands, ask for autographs or engage in conversation. If either talk first, you may speak back.”

Once, during a break, Cage and I make eye contact. He smiles and says, “hey,” as a worker dabs his forehead. I respond, “hey,” back, but no one cares about my forehead.

“It’s not that movie stars are conceited and ‘play Hollywood,’” someone explains. They are here to make a movie, not do autograph sessions. Time is work, and millions of dollars have been poured into this picture.

I’m here to make a movie too, not for millions, but for fame, glory and “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.” Perhaps you’ve heard of the parlor game we actors in Hollywood and Satsuma play. It’s based on the theory that everyone working in film has six or fewer layers of acquaintance from actor, Kevin Bacon. Here’s mine: I met the script girl for “Tokarev” director Paco Cabezas, who directs Nicolas Cage, who starred in “Rumble Fish” with Matt Dillon, who acted in “Wild Things” with … wait for it … Kevin Bacon.

I am also in the bit-part movie business for the pay, allowing me to treat my family to a high-class burger dinner. I’ll save you a seat, Mr. Cage.

For more information on how to get involved in the local film industry, check out mobilefilmoffice.com.

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