Guy in background eating pizza. Girl at coffee shop. Old man buying newspaper. All of these are roles taken by a certain class of actors called extras. And all of them sound pretty simple. How hard is it to mess up clapping after some other actor’s speech, or gasping as Spider-Man swings overhead?
Apparently, it’s very easy.
Joker’s Dancing Henchman – Batman
Dancing can be a scarring experience. For many un-coordinated people, as soon as music hits, their first thought is “I hope I don’t have to dance,” because they’d rather mournfully watch a crowded, gyrating floor than even entertain the notion of letting their bodies move in a fashion other than “walk.” I think that’s why there was so much dancing in the 1989 Batman movie. It let nerds live out their escapist fantasies of dancing, beside the Joker, no less. It’s much safer than flailing your atrophied limbs in real life and hoping that the pizza bites will be cool enough to eat soon.
They say that if you’re bad at dancing, you should go small. Clap some, keep your elbows close and hope no one makes eye contact. Many of the ungainly, Joker jacket wearing henchmen in Batman did just that. They knew that, if they tried to dance, it would be an experience scientifically referred to as “social decay.” They also knew that they had to let Jack Nicholson’s Joker have the spotlight. So they kind of moved their arms and bounced on their heels and tried to look like they were having fun.
Plus, the Joker predominately hired fat guys to be his henchmen. If you’ve ever watched a YouTube video, you’d know that God laughs every time an obese person hears music. Gathering overweight people to dance is the best way to prove that human spines and legs don’t work properly, and are doomed to fail at any moment. So, for the sake of bodily safety, the Joker’s henchmen kept their parade classy.
All except for this guy. He didn’t get the memo on not upstaging Nicholson. The only memo this guy ever gets is “Dance” and he shows up for work early every day. He pumps his arms in the air, spins around using his gun as a sort of cane and even does this little karate kick. He knows that Gotham City is about to be pumped full of poison gas and he is fucking stoked. If you invited this guy to slow dance, you’d still be suffering from whiplash. This guy is the answer “Yes” to the show, So You Think You Can Dance?
Boat Guest – Godzilla: King Of The Monsters
Extras are especially important in monster movies. If a giant beast destroys an empty barn, than you might as well pop in your yoga instruction video, because you’ll get more violent excitement out of that than the bullshit you’re seeing now. But, if a monster stomps its way through a crowded city, burning hundreds and stomping on thousands – that’s pure entertainment.
In Godzilla: King Of The Monsters, Reporter Steve Martin is on a boat, heading to some island. There are other passengers on the boat, and they’re all waving goodbye to their loved ones. One guy takes it a step further. He waves to literally everyone.
Steve Martin walks behind him in the shot, and it’s fairly certain from the circular pattern that this extra took the direction “wave” and was going to make it count. He starts by waving a bit to the right, then to the left, and making little circular motions with his arms, to wave to the people in the balcony seats. After a little while, he repeats the process, and his facial expression slowly drops to reveal that he has no clue why the scene is taking so long.
Then, to top it off, right before we fade into another shot, he looks at the camera nervously. If he was in a crowd and his eye twitched slightly to glance at the lens, it wouldn’t matter. But considering that he is one of the only two people in frame, and the other person, Raymond Burr, has only changed expressions twice in his life (entirely undocumented), it’s painfully obvious.
Then again, maybe he did know every damn person on the dock he was waving to, which makes it all the more tragic, because he likely ended this movie crushed under giant Zilla feet.
Student – The Mirror Has Two Faces
Inspirational movies love having clapping scenes in them. We can think on our own? Awesome! There is love in the world? That’s great news! Let’s clap the shit out of this silence.
Regardless of how motivated you are to challenge the world after a great speech, there needs to be a hint of subtlety. Wait until the lady is done before you go nuts. I know that your brain is thinking about all the cool stuff you can accomplish now that you know it’s what’s on the inside the counts, but keep it to yourself. Or you’ll end up looking like this student here, played by future Hostel director, Eli Roth.
Note: He is the guy on the left in the red sweater. This is just before he loses the ability to control his body.
The rest of the students keep their composure. Eli goes ape shit. He claps too much and looks excitedly around him, as if he’s the only person who can see the mother ship landing behind Barbara Streisand. His smile is one that only comes if you’ve been waiting to get revenge on someone for fifteen years, and his body language is a last ditch effort to scare away brown bears. If you measured his blood pressure in this scene, medically, he’d be dangerously diabetic. This kid prematurely ejaculates before he’s even seen the girl. If you told him that it was impossible for humans to fly, you’d better have the money saved to fix the upcoming hole in your roof.
Assistant Coach – Forrest Gump
Sometimes, extras are people who want to be actors. They’re going to theatre school, and standing in line for auditions or sweating through an improv class. Or they’re doing none of that, and they’re put in Forrest Gump as an Assistant College Football Coach.
Note: He is the guy on the far left.
This guy has two lines in the movie, and they’re the same thing: “Yeah!”
He manages to mess it up both times. First of all, even with two lines, you can tell that he’s not trying. He acts like he’s attempting to get fired from his job. If you told this guy to pretend that his sister was dead, he’d switch the conversation to one about erections. If he was role-playing a “Fire Fighter,” he’d lay a calculator on the bed, and tell his wife to turn around as he worked out the heating bill.
He calls out “Yeah!” There is a pause, where he looks excitedly at the head coach, much like a dog bringing back a dead bird to its owner, and then, realizing that the first “Yeah!” will get no attention and was, in fact, not his big Hollywood break, he does the only logical thing.
He yells “YEAH!” again and laughs, directly in the face of the other coach. I don’t know any other foreign languages, but I imagine two straight “Yeah’s!” means “Fuck Forrest Gump” in all of them.
Guards – Captain America
It wasn’t until Iron Man that Marvel really, really cared about making a good superhero movie. Sure, the first two Spider-Man movies were good, and I love the Blade series unabashedly, but other than one X-Men film, everything pre-2008 was a garbage can of disappointment.
And if they didn’t care much in 2000, imagine how little they cared in 1979? If you can imagine that little amount of caring, than you have probably experienced firsthand what it’s like to murder a loved one. There’s no other way. Take a look at Captain America.
Seriously, look at him. I wouldn’t trust this guy to pretend to protect a Denny’s.
They say a hero is only as good as his villains, and when your villain is a bunch of rented cops, trained to point their guns at empty space and nothing else, there are no heroes. The cops in this movie run around aimlessly, with no hint of energy, and point their guns at nowhere. Captain America will jump onto a high ledge, in plain sight of them, and the cops would be aiming at the floor.
Captain America does the jumping away trick about four different times in the space of thirty seconds, and not a single extra can muster up the chops to do anything but act like it’s the most boring thing in the world. At one point, one even fires at Cap’ and when the hero blocks the bullet with his shield, the cop should, by all means, emote with some kind of frustration.
Not these guys, though. They just stay still, remain stoic, and waited for someone to yell “Cut.” If you hired them to patrol a mall, they’d spend half the day wondering who dressed them in the cop uniforms. To them, “Protect and Serve” is merely an option.