Doctor Who to The Duchess: What is it like to be a TV and film extra?
PUBLISHED: 08:00 05 June 2016
Imagine running down a staircase from a monster and screaming – only there is actually nothing behind you and a film crew is recording your every move.
For a TV or film extra, an entire day can be spent in a series of unusual situations and positions, including lying on the floor in fake rain, or turning the same page in a book over and over again.
David Kingsbury and Dean Harris from Weston have been extras for 10 and 15 years apiece.
They have recently begun giving talks around the town as The Odd Couple, and reporter Sarah Robinson spent some time learning what it takes to be an extra.
The hit BBC show Doctor Who is well-known for its unusual aliens and creatures – an experience Dean had firsthand when he joined the show as an extra.
He performed in an episode called The Lazarus Experiment, where the lead character played by Mark Gatiss turns into a giant monstrous spider during a black tie party.
Dean, aged 38, said: “We spent a whole evening running down flights of stairs and screaming and turning back in horror at the monster. But we didn’t know what the monster was, and there was just a green background behind us.
“It’s always interesting when you see these things on TV for the first time.”
Dean’s first experience as an extra came on Casualty where he played a nurse for five years.
He said: “I liked Casualty, because it had a real community feel. It was filmed in Bristol, and so it employed a lot of people from the local area.
“Midsomer Murders was good too, because it had great locations, and I spent the day in some beautiful picturesque villages.”
David’s first time on set was a small role in Midsomer Murders, when he played a passer-by, but since then he has been a body double for a famous actor on Merlin and spent a day lying in bed as a patient on Casualty.
He said: “You play a lot of passers-by as an extra. All you had to do was walk by when there was a crime and they were getting a car out of the river. I did that probably 10-15 times.
“I have played a dead body quite a few times on Midsomer Murders.
“I have been on Casualty 35 times. I was a patient in the waiting room first, and I hadn’t been in a bed until a couple of years ago.
“I had to lie there all afternoon with a face mask on and a fake drip.”
While spending a day lying in bed may sound like a luxurious way to make money, David said he could be on set for 12 hours at a time, but only work for 20 minutes.
It is his experience on the BBC show Merlin which ranks as his favourite, where he stood in for Richard Wilson, who played Gaius, but is better known for his comedy role as grumpy Victor Meldrew.
David said: “They filmed my hands handing Morgana a potion, and I turned over a page in a book for a day.
“I was the character – but cheaper than Richard Wilson. I was even in his dressing room for a day.
“Richard Wilson is very nice. I also had to lie on the ground as his character and film with Colin Morgan. It was supposed to be raining, but because it was summer, they had to improvise rain.”
Dean had a similar experience of fake rain on Casualty.
He said: “We were outside, and two children were supposed to be missing.
“In the script, it called for heavy rain – and of course the day we filmed had bright, glorious sunshine. They had to bring on cranes with hoses, and we spent 12 hours getting soaked when it was a glorious sunny day.”
An extra’s day can start as early as 5am on a period drama such as The Duchess, where David had to have a costume fitted and go in for make-up.
Dean had similar experiences in movie The Other Boleyn Girl, where he had a walk-on role with Eddie Redmayne.
David spent two months filming in a court in The Lost Honour Of Christopher Jefferies, but extras do not always get to enjoy their work. For example, David was a theatre rebel in The Duchess – but has never been able to spot himself in the crowd when watching it back.
However, he says lunchtimes are an interesting experience, offering a rare chance to mingle with the stars.
David said: “When you go for a lunch, there is a pecking order. The crew goes first, then the actors, and then us.
“On Jam And Jerusalem, I was standing in the queue, and asked Joanna Lumley if she wanted to go ahead of me. She was really nice and said no.”