Calling all extras
Hundreds line up to try out for roles in Kevin James film
HANOVER — The dream of working in Hollywood kept Katelyn Walsh powering through her fatigue. After pulling a 24-hour shift as a residential counselor in New Hampshire, she rode down to the Hanover Mall with her aunt to stand in line for their chance to be extras in a movie.
Each had her own reasons.
“Life is a journey,’’ said the aunt, Debbie Walsh, who is a lawyer. “When you look back on the journey, you should be able to say, ‘I tried it.’ ’’
And try it they did.
More than 1,000 people, young and old, some wearing suits or dresses, others in Saturday uniforms of jeans and sneakers, waited in a briskly moving queue that snaked from one end of the mall to the center and replenished itself hour after hour.
Casting agents were looking for thousands of extras for an action comedy called “Here Comes the Boom,’’ starring Kevin James, best known for his television role in “The King of Queens.’’ In the film, scheduled for release in summer 2012, James plays a science teacher who moonlights doing mixed martial arts to raise money to save his school’s music program.
Debbie Walsh, at 50, attended the casting call looking not for a new career but a diversion from a well-loved job in which she sits behind a desk 10 hours a day.
Yet for her 24-year-old niece and many others in line, the call represented their hope for a future in movies — a hope that hasn’t yet drawn them to the West Coast, but might someday.
“I see myself moving out to Los Angeles, I think next summer probably,’’ Katelyn Walsh said.
“We should be roommates,’’ piped up 22-year-old Kathryn Guest of Plymouth, waiting in line behind her.
Guest works for a nightlife marketing company in Boston, but she hopes to break into film production and find her way in front of the camera. She got her first taste of Hollywood when, at 12, she visited the Plymouth set of “Osmosis Jones’’ and was pulled from the crowd to be an extra.
Since then, she’s done other background work and an in-game commercial aired at Fenway Park. Opportunities in Greater Boston may be limited, she said, but “you just have to be really motivated and optimistic.’’
The line moved forward. Casting-agency employees patrolled the scene with a knowing self-confidence, making sure each person had a form filled out and a photograph stapled to the back. They ushered groups of about 50 into a storefront occupied by South Shore Casting Studios, where freelance casting director Jodi Purdy-Quinlan, working for Boston Casting, gave instructions on the logistics of the project, expected to film through June. She helped recruit 9,000 extras in total from a handful of Massachusetts locations.
Though first-time extras are a long way from professional careers or joining the Screen Actors Guild, they follow in plenty of big footsteps. Boston favorites Matt Damon and Ben Affleck once worked as extras on “Field of Dreams,’’ according to IMDb.com.
On set, extras for “Boom’’ will make $100 for a 12-hour day, get a hot lunch, and watch the actors work, though from a distance. And they’ll spend lots of time waiting.
“You have to bring a book,’’ said Angela Peri, owner and founder of Boston Casting.
Most extras don’t make a living as actors, she said, but principal actors can make a living in the Boston area, especially if they teach acting or get a day of camera work here and there.
Peri has 50,000 people in her talent database, but she always needs more, especially with stadium scenes that require as many as 1,000 people. She cast extras for “Fever Pitch,’’ “Celtic Pride,’’ and “The Fighter.’’ Many can only spend a few days because they have to go back to their regular jobs, but jobs make them authentic characters.
“What’s great about the Boston actor is they have jobs,’’ Peri said. “My database is full of plumbers and lawyers and homemakers.’’
Filming for “Boom’’ will take place at undisclosed locations around the metro area. She expects to cast three to five fight scenes, calling 1,000 people for the biggest day, about 500 for the others.
“It’s just a fun day. I can’t stress that enough,’’ Peri said. “You see the set and the lights and the stars. It’s just so magical.’’
While some would-be extras showed up at the mall on a lark, others were serious about acting.
Conor Walsh — no relation to the Walshes from New Hampshire — is majoring in theater at Suffolk University. He acted at Milton High School and has done community theater. Looking earnest in a dark cotton sport coat, dark pants, and sneakers, he came accompanied by his mother and held two black-and-white head shots, one with glasses, one without.
“I’ve always loved the experience of being on stage and pretending I was someone else,’’ he said. “That was always fun.’’
He woke Saturday morning thinking of the day to come, wondering what the casting people would ask him. Would he have to read something? Would they just talk to him and then decide?
“This is my first time doing this, so I don’t really expect too much,’’ he said.
Whatever the outcome, his mom was proud. “I think it’s amazing,’’ said Kathleen Walsh of Milton.
Not everyone hailed from the college set.
Kathy Griffin, 62, and Angela Osei-Mensah, 34, friends from Waters Church in Norwood, decided that after acting in church, where Griffin said they are “the stars,’’ they would try the casting call just for fun.
Griffin tried to be an extra for “Meet Joe Black’’ and never got called, but Saturday’s event was a first for Osei-Mensah.
“I’m kind of excited,’’ she said.
Some people in line had taken classes at local acting schools. Massage therapist Kastery Valdez, 26, of Ipswich, was taking classes in Boston; Rob Lima of Plymouth, a long-haired and youthful 71, had taken two years of classes in Sandwich.
Lima insisted he wasn’t nervous and would be great for “Boom’’ because, he said, “I’m kind of a ‘Boom’ guy.’’ What does that mean? He smiled. “Because I’m a bad boy.’’
Biko Zimbabwe, 22, who works at a supermarket and lives in Roxbury, attended the casting call to meet new people. He had done stage lighting and helped with sets at Roxbury Community College. “I just saw it on Craigslist and thought, ‘Why not?’ ’’ he said. “It’s very good to network.’’
Networking is something Katelyn Walsh, the young woman who drove down from New Hampshire, knows well. She and 15 friends who went to Central Catholic High School in Lawrence get together monthly to keep their interest in dramatic arts fresh. Walsh has a degree in public relations and interned doing movie PR, but since she and her friends left school, jobs outside the industry have threatened to pull them away from the field they love. So they read a play each month, just like a book club.
“One girl I’m very close with decided she didn’t have enough things she liked in her life,’’ Walsh said. “She decided it would be a monthly reminder to keep at it and be positive.’’
Walsh and her friends meet at one another’s apartments, sometimes in Charlestown, sometimes in Atkinson, N.H., to stay connected and keep the dream alive.
She’s saving money to move to Los Angeles and, in the meantime, doing things like the casting call in Hanover, looking for ways to stay in the game.
“The longer you’re away from it,’’ she said, “the harder it is to jump back in.’’
Jennette Barnes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.