A Weekend in the Life of an Extra

By Dan Zak
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 27, 2007; 11:46 AM


7:15 p.m. Call time. The "National Treasure: Book of Secrets" people have set up headquarters on the blacktop desert at the old convention center site at Ninth and G streets NW. Beside a cluster of white tents, the costume crew is approving what we extras are wearing. I was told to dress like a young lawyer researching a case. Navy slacks, white shirt, subtle tie. For me, this is a nightmare. But I repeat to myself: You're doing this for the picture. It's all for the picture.

7:16. A jogger makes his way through the lot and actually mutters "crazy extras" as he passes us. What's crazier: being an extra or bothering to jog through a closed-off area for the chance to mutter "crazy extras"?

7:30. The hair and makeup ladies vet our appearance. The hair lady asks one willowy woman to take her wig off.

"But why?" the woman asks.

"Because it looks like a wig," the hair lady says.

The woman complies, removing her billowing, wheat-colored wig to reveal a head of troubled, bleach-blond hair. In 10 minutes, the hair lady makes it look voluminous and photogenic as the woman sits in front of a vanity, holding her wig in her lap as if it's a slumbering pet.

"Cellphones on vibrate!" bellows Maryellen Aviano, the extras casting coordinator.

8:10. Still under the tents, waiting to be transported to the Library of Congress. One extra is clipping coupons. Another is doing a crossword puzzle. Another reads P.G. Wodehouse.

8:39. In a big white van heading to the library. One extra talks about the shooting of the Civil War epic "Gods and Generals" a few years back and how difficult it was to use portable potties while wearing a hoop skirt.

9:02. The marbled halls of the Library of Congress are clogged with heavy cables snaking their way from equipment to outlets and generators. The gaggle of extras that has just passed through security is gossiping about working on "The Bourne Ultimatum," which shot here in February.

9:47. After waiting in the background holding area at the library, we readers are positioned at desks around the circular reading room. The camera is a couple of floors up, pointing out over the balustrade and down toward us on the ground floor. A crew member hands out books for us to "read." I get a 1966 edition of "Society and Prostitution Today."

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