My second career as a movie extra began entirely by chance. The saga of how I was lucky enough to work with Kiefer Sutherland, Tom Hanks and Michelle Pfeiffer—to name a few—began when I worked on the Santa Cruz County film board with local casting assistant Judy Bouley. When she opened her own company, Central Coast Production Services, I was cast in numerous movies, beginning with one of the most iconic movies ever made in Santa Cruz, The Lost Boys.
Bouley’s career ultimately took her to Los Angeles, but my work as an extra was recently revitalized when Jordan Peele’s thriller Us came to town to film at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Casting directors Kelly Hunt and Tracy Dixon processed hundreds of extras to provide “background atmosphere.” I submitted an application and suggested to my daughter-in-law that she apply for my grandkids Brook, 10, and Eston, 12. While I was setting up a wardrobe fitting and admiring the patience Hunt displayed while juggling hundreds of extras, I mentioned that my grandkids had applied. Ta-da! They got the last two available spots!
Pay for adults was $106 for eight hours, and minors received a generous $160. The kids were restricted to an eight-hour day, which included three hours of school in a special trailer also serving as a holding area for parents. Each day, after getting blasted with sunscreen by the crew, we proceeded to the shoreline, our designated spot on the set. There we endured Mother Nature’s whims of extreme heat, wind and fog, but the weather had no effect on the kids. They scampered in the water, made sandcastles—and, in their exuberance, forgot the instructions to wade into the water only up to their shins. More than once, I had to drill them on the most important words an extra must learn: follow directions.
The idyllic scenes we took part in weren’t typical of what later happened in Us. But for a grandma who has never watched a horror movie in her life, to be able to bond with her grandkids for four fun-filled days, that’s a story without equal! I’ve enjoyed the thrill of working as an extra for movies shot around here well into my senior years, and here are some of my favorite extra experiences.
The Lost Boys
My first experience as an extra was unlike any other, because the filming took place at night. On the first evening, I reported at 7:30 p.m. and filled out the Warner Bros. pay voucher that was to be a passport for a three-night adventure. Over 200 people of all ages arrived dressed as instructed for a summer night at the Boardwalk. A production assistant acquainted us with the jargon of the shooting procedure, specifically warning us that we must not look directly into the camera. When we arrived at our location, the actors, crew and director were ready for us to meld into the scene. It took five rehearsals and numerous takes before director Joel Schumacher yelled, “That’s a cut!” The rest of the evening was spent ambling along the Boardwalk before wrapping at midnight.
The next night was a nine-and-a-half hour marathon. I reported to the carousel and was to pretend to have loads of fun watching the riders. After a dinner break, I went back to the same area, where the makeup gal was busily dabbing actors with sponges and brushes. When it was Kiefer Sutherland’s turn, I looked past the gaudy earrings and spiked hairdo into eyes that were kind and gentle. When he glanced over at me, I couldn’t help but smile.
This 1988 made-for-TV movie featuring Loni Anderson and Joe Penny was filmed in Watsonville. The blond bombshell played the publisher of a newspaper besieged by a series of murders. While Anderson and Penny acted out their scene inside the former Miramar Grill, I played a diner focusing my full attention on a scrumptious cheeseburger with fries, which were replaced after every few bites.
It was rumored that Anderson and Burt Reynolds, then engaged, were residing in a trailer nearby, but Reynolds didn’t visit the set while I was there. Since there were only a few extras working that day, we got to hang out with Anderson at the craft table. The usual snacks were available, but a decadent chocolate cake got eye-rolls from both Anderson and me at the same time. Chocolate lovers bond with all who share this addiction, and I politely held back while the star was served. Only then did I swoop in to enjoy a slice of heaven for myself.
Turner and Hooch
Bouley kept me busy in several productions before leaving the area. In 1989, I was invited to work in the Disney production of Turner and Hooch, filmed in Pacific Grove. My family had to peel me off the ceiling when she said that the movie starred Tom Hanks! Life could be put on hold for the chance to share three 10-to-12-hour days with my favorite actor, whose boyishness reminded me of my oldest son.
Hooch, a trained French mastiff, played a dog who was the only witness to the murder of his owner. He was to bound through our group of wedding guests, chased by police investigator Hanks. To stay flexible, Hanks spent time during breaks stretching his legs. Between takes of the chase, when my waiting spot was close to his, I couldn’t hold back and called his name softly. I told him that he reminded me of my oldest son Jeff, even down to the stretching ritual. He laughed and quipped, “Get that boy to a doctor!” A few extras joined us, and we continued to chat until our call back to work. Tom Hanks looked at me, smiled and said, “Let’s make movies!”
In this controversial 1991 movie starring Michael Douglas and Sharon Stone, I was cast as a clerk in the “Cloverdale Police Department,” filmed in a vacated bank in Carmel Valley. While acting office-like, I could easily take in the commanding presence of Douglas reciting his lines about 2 feet away. He was a true pro with striking good looks and such a tenseness about his work that it never occurred to me to try to connect with him. A funny thing happened when the film was released. My son and his friends were discussing a review of the risqué scenes, and one friend said he didn’t think his wife would let him see it. Jeff, deadpan, and with perfect timing, said: “My mom is in it.”
To my delight, I saw myself in the preview of the film, but I didn’t make it into the final cut. However, along with the privilege of working with superstar Douglas was the luxury of indulging in one of the finest catered lunches I’ve ever enjoyed on location, featuring lobster tail, grilled steak, asparagus, pesto fettuccine, and more!
In 1994, Hollywood Pictures closed the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk to make a film based on the real-life story of an English teacher, played by Michelle Pfeiffer. Hundreds of extras were hired to portray a typical crowd. At that time, Pfeiffer, 36, was one of the world’s highest-paid actresses, and on the second day, we had a chance encounter. During a break, while other extras in our scene went to watch the filming of another unit, a pal and I remained in our original spot near a deserted section. Along came the actress, strolling with her adopted daughter and a nanny. When the women turned to go back, the toddler continued toward us. We helped point her back in the right direction, to Pfeiffer’s relief.
The rest of the day, our group strolled the Boardwalk toting cotton candy and balloons while cameras filmed the action from the top of the Giant Dipper. Not so lucky were extras who volunteered to ride the Logger’s Revenge. They went around the watery course 41 times before their day ended.