Last weekend, my friend who does casting agent for a reality TV show called “Who’s Your [Redacted]” (It’s not out yet and I’m not sure if, whatever, I don’t want to get in trouble) but she asked me to come be in the b-roll of a scene where this van drives into Union Square and people gawk at it. I said yes, assuming I would be one of hundreds (thousands?) of gawkers, pointing—and for some reason I got it in my head—waving at a van as it drove by, at which point I would pop on over to craft services and then pop on home. The whole thing would take one hour.
But movie people are all liars as it turns out. First of all there were only four of us extras, or “recruits” as my friend kept saying into the secret service microphone clipped to her shirt. Secondly, we were not just going to be gawking (or even waving) at a passing van, but were actually going to approach said van in pairs and then act like we were surprised and then ask what was going on with it and be asked if we wanted a DNA test all under the watchful eyes of 3 huge cameras and about 10,000,000 gawking tourists, who had unwittingly stolen the job I had signed up for. “Just act like you would if you were to see a weird van like that in real life,” my friend said. But how would I do that when my natural reaction upon seeing a weird van would be to look at my phone or pretend to count something on my fingers?
The problem is, I’m terrible on camera. I get really nervous and my face starts shaking and I sweat and I also don’t know how to act. One time I was asked to be in a “fun” “little” “movie” for a magazine where I was interning and I was like okay because I was an intern and it seemed like an honor to be asked. They brought in a whole camera crew and it took all day and then they saw the video and immediately were like, “While we LOVE what you did, we’re going to redo the whole thing without you in it.”
It’s not that I can’t act like a character on camera, it’s just that the character I’m acting like is not a human being.
So there we were standing on a street corner with the instructions to cross the street, then walk down a block, then notice the van to our left and walk toward it. The first pair went and it took forever, which terrified me even more because I was left wondering what kind of crazy, embarrassing things they were being made to do and how many really hard questions about the Affordable Care Act they were having to answer in front of Barack Obama—which was pretty much the scenario that my level of fear matched. What it did not match was walking up to a van and saying, “Oh, what’s this?”
By this point we were all joking about how scared I was and I kept making jokes like, “I can’t breathe.” Everyone was laughing, me loudest of all, in a maniacal, desperate way that makes people move away from people on the subway. I really wanted to leave. Suddenly, it was our turn. It was three of us: me, my friend B and the casting agent’s boyfriend, Y. I had insisted they be in my group, because both of them are very charismatic and I knew that I could count on at least one of them to “steal the show.” No one had ever wanted something to be stolen from them more than I wanted that show stolen from me.
We crossed the street and marched shoulder to shoulder down the sidewalk, like anyone would do if they had just met up with some friends and were headed straight to a firing squad. We were approaching the place where we would “react naturally” to the van. I was on the left and the van was also on the left, which made what I did next even more awkward than it would have otherwise been. They started to turn toward the van, but instead of also turning, as I had spent 2 hours mentally preparing to do, I just kept walking, which, because of my positioning in the group required me to basically walk right in front of them and actually push them out of the way with my arm. I then hid in a doorway for the rest of the shoot, periodically saying to the two girls who had gone before me, “Do you think they’re going to come try and make me be in it?” To which they responded, “No one wants you in it,” and they were right. Later my friend texted me saying how much she appreciated me coming and how great it was that I had tried, and failed, but more importantly tried to conquer my fears, which made me feel like I had accomplished something that day, which is sort of all you can ask of a Sunday.