RUTH ZAILKIND OF ARLINGTON HAS

been a professional actress for almost 30 years. Well, more of a professional extra, really, appearing in more than 50 movies, including "Being There," "Gardens of Stone" and "Tin Men." Although she's had a few speaking roles, her best performance may have been in "Broadcast News."

Called upon last spring for extra work, she was told to come dressed as a bag lady. Wearing wig, tattered dress and dirty pink tennis shoes with holes for toes, she carried three weighty, weathered bags to the Westin Hotel near Georgetown for her noon call.

Upon her arrival, she was first chased away by a film crew member who mistook her for a real homeless woman and told her there were no extras working that day. Next, she was stopped by a policeman who made the same mistake. Then she was barred entry into the hotel by a bellhop, politely avoided by her fellow extras and unrecognized by a production assistant with whom she had worked on several films in the past.

"I put on the outfit, I become the character," says Zailkind, who had a similar problem on the set of "Being There." "I was completely unaware that I was not recognizable."

Given the tribulations she suffered for her art, Zailkind's fans are advised to look sharp. She arrives on screen about 23 minutes into the movie and can be seen sitting on a bench in Washington Circle. But be alert. Her appearance only lasts about two seconds. ::