Fight! Fight! I ran into the room and saw a circle of teenagers shouting at two kids rolling around on the floor. I scanned the group. “There’s my guy,” I thought.
Before filming the big fight scene, all the extras were waiting in the halls. An old woman with a very friendly smile turned the corner and headed off to find some food. “Wait…was that the woman from that old show? The Jeffersons, right?”
Marla Gibbs had walked past. One of the teens on the set was starting to piece things together. All the kids knew who Jake T. Austin was, a child star in Disney’s Wizards of Waverly Place, but it took a while for them to recognize Florence the maid.
The difference in age in the two Grantham and Rose stars, from the 17 year old Jake to the 81 year old Marla Gibbs, meant there was a full three generations between them. Whenever Jake came through, all the kids got excited. Whenever Marla Gibbs came through, all the adults got excited. I’m somewhere in the middle—a little too young for the Jeffersons and waaaaayyyy too old for Wizards of Waverly Place. Guess that left me right in the middle. Cool, calm and collected. Even keel. I was ready for some punk to go ahead and make my day. I was ready to fight.
In the hours after filming my epic “dual walking” sequence, I began to notice a strange energy rising among the extras. While the adults in the room sat and talked about directors and celebrities they had worked with in the past (a favorite topic of conversation among extras it seems), the kids were getting restless. I’m sorry, I take that back—the kids were vibrating. They were ready to fight, so much so that a teenage playfight broke out in the extras room and spilled into the hall. Deadlegs for all! The guys had spent lunch playing football with Jake out in the hot Georgia sun, but they still had way too much energy to burn. I began to think these punks might be better served making one another’s day.
Finally the time came to shoot the scene. In it, Jake’s character Grantham was being taunted by another inmate, played by first-time film actor Cody Robinson. Unable to take it any longer, Grantham throws a punch causing all the other inmates to come running in, forming a circle around the two on the ground. The guards try and break up the fight, but it takes the entrance of Marla Gibbs’ character Rose to calm everyone down.
I’m a skinny guy, so I reasoned I wouldn’t exactly be the one winning the fight, I would only attempt to do so. As the director placed all of us around the room, one of the kid extras could barely stand still. He kept jumping around, throwing fake punches, talking about who all he was going to “take down.”
Right away I knew. “There’s my guy.”
Fight! Fight! The inmate extra I was standing with before the fight broke out went whizzing past, shouting as he scrambled. I turned and ran (in stark contrast to what I had been doing in the two previous scenes), finding the back of the overly excited kid. I put my forearm on his back and my hand on his shoulder, trying to pull him away from the ring of testosterone. He jumped, he shouted, he waved his arms and positively never budged and inch from the circle. I doubt he ever realized I was there at all. There’s my guy.
We tried the scene once or twice with a stand-in reading Marla Gibbs’ lines, just so we could get the hang of the pace. After telling off the kid beating up Grantham, Rose turns to the crowd that has gathered and says something like, “Everybody move. [pause...walks slowly forward, no one moves...] NOW!!!” After this everyone scatters, including the guards. We practiced pretending to be intimidated a few times until we all understood what we were supposed to do.
Finally Marla Gibbs took her place. The scene ran as it had before—fighting, excitement, my guy—and we neared her entrance. Rose walked in, told everyone to move and, as before with the stand-in, no one budged. Unlike before, however, when she shouted “NOW!” there was no need for acting—the entire room cleared out (I saw some of the crew running down the hall). Even the kids who were so geared up for the fight were genuinely intimidated.
“Did you see that?” “She looked straight at me!” “I’m not sure I even want to go back in there!” Marla Gibbs was on and she wasn’t messing around.
They shot the scene from outside the circle, inside the circle, from high in the air to laying on the ground and for the next four hours I had a blast. I was supposed to look like I was breaking up the fight, but really, thanks to my guy, I was just hanging on for dear life. Since I didn’t have to focus so much on what to do physically, I felt bold enough to improvise a few lines (“Hey! Hey! Break it up!” Acting!).
Sadly the day was over. My first experience on the set of a film was done. I walked out the front door for some air and noticed there was a gang of little kids peering longingly into the building. “Oh yeah,” I remembered, “Jake.” As I left I saw Jake T. Austin head out to sign autographs and pose for pictures with alot of very excited kids. Unfortunately there wasn’t a gang of little old ladies waiting for Marla Gibbs.
It was too bad I couldn’t come back the next day, but I’ve heard they are looking for tall, skinny extras for another film they are shooting in Atlanta called Hunger Games (Sorry…Catching Fire). Maybe I should look into it.