Sunday, May 21, 2000

Would you strip to be in a movie?

'Yes!' say local would-be extras

By Margaret A. McGurk
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Kelly and Kimberly Malone of Milford apply to be extras in Traffic..
(Steven M. Herppich photo)
| ZOOM |
        When Cincinnati State student Stan Griffith hooted loudly in a hallway at school Saturday morning, everyone within earshot knew why. It was The Last Question.

        Mr. Griffith was filling out a short application to be an extra on Traffic, a feature film about to launch three weeks of filming in Ohio under director Steven Soderbergh (Out of Sight, Erin Brockovich). Mr. Griffith had stumbled on the casting call set up to find hundreds of extras for the Michael Douglas thriller, and on a whim, decided to fill out the form. Name, phone, age, height, weight, clothing size, color and model of car (they may need some extra cars), then The Last Question:

        “Are you willing to do nudity?”

        “I'm still debating,” Mr. Griffith said. “But I filled it in with pencil, so I can change my mind.”

        The question provoked chronic guffawing all day, as hundreds lined up to seek a place in the first major Hollywood production to hit Cincinnati in seven years.

        Some extra wannabes worried that checking “no” might send their applications to the reject pile. Some joked about what kind of scene might require naked extras: A nudist camp? An orgy? A skinny-dipping incident?

        None of the above, said Johnny Liska, half of the casting team sent ahead of the film company to oversee the call.

        “We need a body double for the girl,” he said. “Maybe the boy.” He was referring to a pair of teen-age characters whose love affair is complicated by drug addiction. So any agonizing by, say, middle-aged men was in vain. But not the waiting.

        “We need so many people,” said Mr. Liska, as many as a hundred different people every day for 10 days or more.

        Since April, about 2,000 people mailed resumes and photos to the Greater Cincinnati Northern Kentucky Film Commission and local casting agent Linda Winters. Some 1,700 showed up in person on Saturday.

        That wasn't enough for Danny Dehring, the casting director who arrived with Mr. Liska. “I wish we were overwhelmed. I wish we had 10 times as many people,” he said. “I thrive on chaos.”

        Even before the official 9 a.m. start time, a line snaked along the steps to the Cincinnati State gymnasium, around a corner and down a long hallway and out the entrance to the visitors' parking lot.

        Film commission director Lori Holladay and a crew of volunteers helped direct traffic, hand out and collect paperwork and take pictures of applicants who did not bring their own. A few took the time to step in front of the camera for their own shot at extra-dom.

        The doors opened a half-hour early, and Mr. Dehring and Mr. Liska started shuttling groups of 15, then 20, then 30 in and out of the gym to hear a quick rundown:

        Anybody do extra work before? Who is free to go to Columbus, where two or three days of filming is scheduled to begin Monday? The average work day for an extra is 10 or 12 hours. The pay is $75 a day. Most chosen work only one or two days.

        “It's a 6 a.m. call,” Mr. Dehring told the job seekers. “You get up in time to get there, change your clothes, go through hair and makeup, then you go to holding and stay there four hours doing nothing. Then you work for five seconds and you go back to holding. It's a lot of fun.”

        That sounded just fine to Raymond Monzones of Finneytown, a 23-year-old business major at the University of Cincinnati. “I have always wanted to do it.” Angela Wellmeier and Heather Reynolds, both 16 and sophomores at Middletown High School, drove down with their friend Anne Lawson, a 17-year-old junior at Fenwick High School, on impulse. “I was at a party last night and I spread the news (of the audition) around,” said Ms. Lawson. “But I haven't seen anyone else here.”

        All three have acted in school plays and all confessed at least mild interest in acting as a profes sion.

        Maryann Kelly, a Covington retiree, is a veteran extra from several films, including Lost in Yonkers, which used some of her family's historical property for locations. She said she hopes for a line or two in this film, “partly because the difference in money is so great,” more than $600.

        Deborah Gates of Hyde Park was hired on the spot when the casting team found out she works as a court clerk for Hamilton County Judge Norbert Nadel. She will play that role as early as Tuesday in Columbus, where courtroom scenes will be filmed.

        The movie will also star Catherine Zeta-Jones, Don Cheadle and Dennis Quaid, none of whom is expected in Cincinnati. The movie has already completed location filming in San Diego and El Paso.

        Between groups, Mr. Liska and Mr. Dehring — both twenty-something actors, both clad in T-shirts — answered questions, signed up several people on the spot and occasionally wandered away to jump up and swat at a basketball hoop at the side of the gym.

        In addition to Ms. Gates, they said, they also found a real bailiff, and a couple of real police officers to lend realism to court scenes.

        And, said Mr. Dehring, “there haven't been any stupid questions. Well, one guy, because we have the nudity question, he wanted to know, "Is that with Catherine Zeta-Jones?'”

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