Not all that glitters is gold! I found that out pretty quickly living in Los Angeles. L.A. is so multi-faceted, the glitter and glamour of Hollywood, the rich and famous in Beverly Hills and the dirt, poverty and grit of East and South Los Angeles. It has traffic and smog, heat waves and droughts, concrete jungles and too many people. I also has pockets of neat little ethnic neighborhoods, big open urban parks and hidden gardens. It is a city that never ceases to surprise.
For a while I got swept up by the city, I was such a naive country girl. There were promises of riches and money that even I couldn’t resist. I fell for not just one, but two pyramid schemes in my first five years in Southern California. Then I got smarter! I figured out that there are tons of sweet talkers living in the city preying on those naive little girls from rural or foreign upbringings. I am now amused at myself for wasting my hard-earned money on such scams! It was a lesson that I needed to learn…twice!
Like so many others I ended up going from one meaningless minimum wage job to another, while desperately trying to find the thing that I was meant to be or do. I still work in low paying jobs, but my desperation has ceased. I am closer than ever to simply living each and every day. Not perfect yet, but learning.
For a while I worked as a movie extra and let me tell you, most of the time it was a blast! I love the energy on a movie or TV set, the constant buzz and the hard work that goes into just seconds of film. I had some really cool gigs, like the 7 weeks working on “The Longest Yard”. We got fed so well on that set that I definitely put on some weight. And for once my bank account looked pretty darn good, getting an average of 11 hours a day of extra work. Everything over 8 hours pays overtime! I also met some people on that set that are still good friends to this day.
My very first job was on “The Bernie Mac” show and they dressed us up in 80’s fashion – with the hair and all- for the episode. I felt like a star and definitely got a taste of the glitter! My first job spoiled it for the rest of them. They all started blending into each other, and since I worked non-union, we mostly got treated like maggots.
There was the occasional set that stood out, like the gig on “The Practice” that invited all the extras for a dinner screening of the most recent episode once we had wrapped for the day. And yes, we got paid to eat and yes all the cast was there as well. I sat at the table with Camryn Manheim and James Spader, both very nice people as I might say. Or the time I was a pedestrian on “Crossing Jordan” for a night shoot and we were all freezing cold. It was a scene with Miguel Ferrer and Steve Valentine and they both came over to chat with us extras and keep us entertained while the cameras were turned around. We had a blast!
On “Joan of Arcadia” I played a homeless person. The casting company decided to add a few real homeless people to the mix for authenticity. They were then invited to eat lunch with us and I still remember the smiling and excited faces of those people. They all got the leftovers of the shoot to go and it was amazing to see their appreciation!
“Joan of Arcadia”
Then there were the jobs that stand out because a crew member made me feel like a second class citizen for one reason or another. Like the hair and makeup person that got furious at me because I didn’t set my barely long enough hair in rollers exactly the way I was supposed to (it was the first time I ever set my hair in rollers and yes, it was not a good job). She yanked my hair so hard and burnt me with the curling iron until I had tears run down my face.
There is the Casting Director that told me to my face that I wasn’t “pretty” enough to be a casino patron on “Las Vegas” and made me a dealer instead. They didn’t have a dealer uniform small enough and wardrobe ended up changing me to a patron anyways! Apparently he was told off by production and for subsequent gigs he booked me as a Money Change girl, their uniforms were small enough to fit me and were “sexy”.
I got burned out pretty quickly doing extra work. It wasn’t being on sets or not always being treated right. It was the daily uncertainty, the constant calling in for jobs, and most of all the very frequent rejection that started to get to me. I decided not to work as a movie extra full time anymore and over the years just did some gigs here and there to supplement my income. It was so much more enjoyable that way.