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What it’s like to be an extra in a film or TV show, according to Boston.com readers

"The whole process, from just checking in to wardrobe and hair and makeup, makes you feel like a star!"

Shannon O'Brien in "Daddy's Home 2." Screenshot

It’s no secret that the Massachusetts film industry has been busier than ever in 2021, with more than a dozen Hollywood projects filming in the state so far this year, and more coming soon.

As a result, hundreds of film professionals, from location scouts to art directors and everything in between, have been able to make a living in the state rather than fleeing to a filmmaking hub like Los Angeles. Beyond that, the production boom has meant that thousands of locals have been able to briefly enjoy a moment in the spotlight as an extra.

Last month, we asked Boston.com readers to let us know about their experiences as extras on film sets. In total, readers were in the background of more than 80 movies and TV shows, with some as recent as the still-filming HBO Max show “Julia” and others as old as the 1970 comedy “The Out-of-Towners” and the 1973 Boston crime classic “The Friends of Eddie Coyle.” (Scroll to the bottom of the article to see a full list.)

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Here’s everything we learned, including how people first got into show business, what it was like briefly brushing shoulders with A-listers, and even sharing some of the downsides of participating in a Hollywood production — including being left on the cutting room floor.

Paul Rudd signed his name inside the Green Monster while filming “The Catcher Was a Spy” (2018).

“I was an extra in the filming of the movie ‘The Catcher was a Spy’ at Fenway Park. The movie was about a former Red Sox catcher who becomes a spy for the U.S. government during World War II. I play on a vintage baseball team in Holliston and a number of our players were chosen to participate as “talent” in the day’s filming. I was quite delighted to have been chosen as a member of the Red Sox, while other Holliston friends became Washington Senators, umpires, and spectators.

“It was truly exciting to be on the field (we were given strong instructions to stay off the grass to the extent possible) in uniform. The film starred Paul Rudd, playing the part of Red Sox Catcher Moe Berg. We had been told not to say anything to the actors and they were generally left alone, but Paul Rudd was very nice (and signed his name inside the Green Monster). We were all excited when the movie opened and we travelled to the West Newton Cinema for its limited release. I was sure I was going to be in it, as the two scenes in which I had participated were crucial to the movie….or so I thought. Anyway, my scenes were left on the cutting room floor, but a few of my friends appeared quite prominently, particularly my friend Allen who we awarded a joke Oscar for his performance as a spasmatic Washington Senators third base coach. My son and I would eventually be found as two background blurs in the dugout when a few deleted scenes were included on the DVD. All in all, it was a fabulous experience and the most fun I had had in a long time.” — John Shannahan, Holliston

When it comes to celebs on set, the rule is don’t speak unless spoken to.

“I am currently working on ‘Julia’ (TBA) as a driver. They were looking for cars from 1955 to 1961 for this production. It is fun being on the set and watching how this production is made. The best part is working with other drivers and talking ‘car talk.’ We were instructed NOT to engage in conversation with any of the actors nor take pictures and if we did, we would be let go. However if an actor engages with you, that’s OK. And having really nice cars on the set, they tend to come over and ask about the car.” — John, Mass.

Henry Winkler was the “nicest actor on set.”

“I’ve had the opportunity to be a ‘Background Artist’ on a number of Mass. productions. I’ve worked on three movies that featured Melissa McCarthy, been a continuity error in one of those, filmed two different movies about the Marathon bombings, and been left on the cutting room floor in ‘Ghostbusters.’ I refer to myself as ‘Big Blue Blur’ in those movies that I can spot myself. However, in ‘Detroit’ (2017) directed by Oscar winner Kathryn Bigelow, when paused just right I can be seen clear as day. We spent hours filming a concert scene with hundreds of extras dancing and then ‘running’ as we had to evacuate the concert hall due to the riots. Also, Henry Winkler was the nicest actor on set.” — Timothy Lampa, East Boston

At least one extra says she never got paid for “Spenser: For Hire” in the ’80s.

“I was an extra in the late 1980s in the TV series, ‘Spenser: For Hire.’ I was walking in Harvard Square when a man approached me and asked if I would like to be in a background scene for the show. All I had to do was walk diagonally several times across a roped off area, inside of which the lead actors, Robert Ulrich and Avery Brooks, were discussing something. There were a few of us ‘pedestrians’ and we all walked on cue in different directions several times. I was wearing a new dress from Filene’s and I know that I looked good! Afterwards they thanked me and I later saw myself on the show. When I told my family about it, their reaction was to ask, ‘How much did I get paid?’ My answer was nothing, but I had fun and my 15 minutes of fame.” — Barbara Savage, Boston

Matthew McConaughey is just as handsome in person.

“I was with an agency and was cast with another gal to be a ‘glorified-extra’ on the movie ‘Ghost of Girlfriends Past’ (2009). Michael Douglas played Uncle Wayne, a Hugh Hefner type, and we were his coquettish, 1970s playmates to be immortalized in an ornately framed photograph hanging in his manor. Matthew McConaughey’s character, his womanizing nephew, was to notice the picture and the audience was to notice the apple not falling far from the family tree. Our shots didn’t make the final cut, so my voluptuously teased hair and chicken cutlets never made the big screen. However, I’ll always fondly reflect on the catering; the staggering amount of studio lights rigged on set; just how handsome Mr. McConaughey is in person; the 30-minutes of hair and makeup to the seven hour wait in a lonely trailer to the 15 minutes of work; peeking behind the curtain of movie magic.” — Lex McDermott, Leominster

Filming a scene from “The Departed” (2006) took “all night long.”

“I worked as an extra in ‘The Departed.’ I arrived at 11 p.m. They shut down Red Line service from 11 p.m.-7 a.m. to film the Martin Sheen-Leonardo DiCaprio subway scene. We rode back and forth from South Station to Park Street all night long filming the scene. I can be spotted on the train as a Red Line commuter! It was a very unique experience.” — Mary Walker, West Roxbury

Running into stars like Leonardo DiCaprio, even on a film set, is “surreal.”

“My experience as an extra on the set of ‘Don’t Look Up’ (2021) was surreal to say the least. I was cast as a member of the military and I spent the day filming on an Air Force base in Western Mass. I didn’t think I would see any of the actors on set since there was a lot of filming of the background scenes and the military planes. The last shot we took for the day was of a chaotic scene that entailed some running on my part (thanks, Planet Fitness!) As the production scene was queuing up for a redo of the scene, I ran back to my spot and almost ran into Leonardo and Jennifer! I was mere inches away from them both! Overall, an amazing experience! Here’s hoping my scene makes it into the film!” — Izzy Lopes, Dorchester

Jack Lemmon fought with the director on “The Out-of-Towners” (1970).

“While attending Grahm Junior College in Kenmore Square in the late ’60s, two friends and I were extras in the original ‘The Out-of-Towners’ (1970). Although I was not on the big screen, they were in separate scenes. I have cutting floor experience — and experience it was. [I] saw/heard Jack Lemmon have a huge argument with the director and stormed to his tent for about three hours. Sandy Dennis was very nice. We all had a wonderful time working all night at Logan Airport.” — Neal Schiff, Springfield, Va.

Mark Wahlberg loved dancing with his bros on the set of “Patriots Day” (2016).

“We filmed a scene for ‘Patriots Day’ (2016) at Emmanuel College in Boston, which was used in place of MIT. The scene was ultimately cut out, as it started raining, but it involved Mark Wahlberg pulling in on a police car with a 180-degree turn. He was very relaxed on set, dancing with his friends 10 feet away from us between takes — it was a very ‘Entourage’ moment.” — Hisham Hamdy, Mass.

Sometimes all it takes to get casted is a killer Princess Leia costume.

“I was an extra in the movie ‘Ted’ (2012). A fellow actor friend of mine knew I had made a Princess Leia costume for Halloween and they were looking for people with Star Wars costumes. I snapped a picture, sent it in, and weeks later they asked me to come to Somerville and be an extra. We were asked to park at Dilboy Stadium and all these other people who were also in Star Wars costumes were transported with me to the Somerville Theatre. It was fun — I got my hair and makeup done and we mostly hung out in the main theater, ate snacks and admired the costumes everyone had, many of them homemade. We were then asked to go outside the theatre and act like we were waiting in line for a movie. Davis Square was packed with spectators and Mark Wahlberg eventually pulled up in an SUV and hopped out in full-on Darth Maul makeup. The crew was so friendly and they kept taking photos with this guy who had an amazing Chewbacca costume. It was so much fun. There are photos and video on YouTube that someone took of us standing in line while filming, which is fun to see!” — Courtney Rodland, Arlington

An extra from “Daddy’s Home 2” says the food was great and loved being inches from Mark Wahlberg.

“‘Daddy’s Home 2’ was my second film with Mark Wahlberg, which was awesome because I love his films! I was picked to be an extra as a bowler. The whole process, from just checking in to wardrobe and hair and makeup, makes you feel like a star! In holding they had large breakfast buffets with everything you could imagine. There was like 12-15 different juices, and they even had a station where a cook can make you an omelet right in front of you. As I got into the bowling alley they had us put on the bowling shoes and head down to the lanes. I was beyond excited because I knew I would be next to the actors. When you first get on set you have no idea which actors are going to be there for the scene, they don’t tell you that info, it’s super secret. Next, the actors come out. It was the main cast, including Mark Wahlberg, Will Ferrell, John Lithgow, Mel Gibson, Owen Vaccaro, Didi Costine, and Alessandra Ambrosio. I had the biggest smile on my face, I couldn’t believe how close I got to be and was thinking, I’m totally going to be on camera for this scene front and center.

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“I think by the end of the night I was on set for a total of 16 to 18 hours. Being on set for that long is exhausting and it makes you feel like a star, but that it’s a lot of hard work too and long days. I first went to see it in theaters with my boyfriend and then took my whole family. We were all laughing because I was in the entire bowling scene front and center. I couldn’t believe it. It was so cool to see myself on the big screen.” — Shannon O’Brien, Lowell

One stay-at-home mom extra got spotted for a role in “The Will” (2020) while at the gym.

“I was at the Jim McNally Boxing gym one day in 2019 and a film crew came in to scope out the place for “The Will,” (2020) a movie by Passionflix. I was cast, along with my friend, Jen, as extras in a boxing scene with the main character, Jake who’s played by the wonderful Chris McKenna. What a surreal experience that was for a stay at home mom of four! I was giddy as a kid the whole two days watching the actors/the film crew in action. It is hard work, I can assure you, sitting around for take after take after take. I can now appreciate what goes into making a movie from beginning to end. The interesting thing for us extras was that we had to pantomime since we couldn’t make sounds. So they said to pantomime the word ‘watermelon’ and just use your hand gestures. I’d love to get into more roles but I still have two more kids to Uber around. Until the next opportunity comes around!” — Betty Ton, North Reading

An extra for “Paul Blart: Mall Cop” (2009) got cast while hanging out at the mall.

“It was cool and totally by accident. I was waiting for a friend who worked in the mall to close his store. While we were waiting they started shooting on the first level and we were watching from the second level. After one take, some people from the crew came up to everyone watching (we thought we were getting thrown out) and asked us if we wanted to ride the escalator while they shot the scene. They initially didn’t realize the escalator would be visible in the shot so there wasn’t anyone on it. Since it was supposed to be Black Friday they needed people to actually ride it to make the shot look right. They actually took our info and a few weeks later I got a $50 check from Sony Pictures for riding the escalator off and on for an hour. If you’ve seen the movie, it’s the scene when Kevin James is giving Jayma Mays a ride on the Segway. For a brief few seconds you can see the escalator in the shot behind them.” — Tony Alfano, Mass.

This extra ate lunch with Dianne Wiest during “I Care A Lot” (2020).

“In May of 2019 I was a featured extra in several scenes of the Netflix film, ‘I Care A Lot,’ filmed in Wellesley that day. The only brief scene that made it into the film was the ‘aqua aerobics’ class. That’s me in the straw hat (I was afraid of getting too much sun!). In fact, I offered it to the crew for Dianne Wiest, the lead actor, who was concerned about the sun, too. Alas, she declined. A few of us who had been asked to stay for some afternoon scenes ended up having lunch with Dianne, who was eating all alone in the church hall, the designated crafts area. A little awkward, but memorable!” — Judith Nathans, Cambridge

This extra was paid $1,000 for “Shutter Island” (2008), but would have done it for free.

“I was an extra back in 2008 on the Martin Scorsese-directed film ‘Shutter Island.’ What an experience! It was a surreal experience working with one of the most prolific directors of his generation as well as Leonardo DiCaprio and Ben Kingsley. I was cast as a Dachau Concentration Camp prisoner. They converted the old Whittenton Mill in Taunton into Dachau Concentration Camp. In the scene, DiCaprio is telling Mark Ruffalo the story of when he was a soldier in WWII and what it was like invading and liberating Dachau Concentration Camp and the horrors he experienced. They cast 300 extras for this flashback scene: 100 U.S. soldiers, 100 German Nazis, and myself along with 99 other prisoners ranging in age from 6 to 80. I worked on it for a full week, most days I was on set for 8-10 hours, and one day I was there for 16 hours. Overtime was paid, of course. The makeup had to be done the same every day and the artists kept photos of us from how our makeup looked that first day of shooting. The costume was wool and itchy, and the makeup took about 45 minutes. It was March 2007 and it was freezing! They provided us blankets in between takes when we were shooting outside. We shot 4 or 5 different scenes over the week. They were simple scenes. A few closeups of our faces and walking to meet the soldiers as if they just liberated us. The set was gloomy and eerie. They had barb wire fence and a train with silicone dead bodies piled up.

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“All said and done, I made a little over $1,000 for six days on the movie. I would have done it for free and would do it again in a heartbeat. I often tell people how special this was. I wasn’t an extra on a bench or at a ball game. I was in full makeup and costume in a period drama portraying a horrific and sensitive time in our history. To make it even more special, I was directed by none other than Martin Scorsese.” — Matt Fitz, Mass.

One extra won an auction for her role in “Knives Out” (2019).

“I played a hairdresser in the Oscar-nominated “Knives Out,” with Daniel Craig. A Boston-based locations specialist (with some apparent pull) regularly donates a walk-on movie role to DOVE’s Annual Fundraiser here in Quincy. For a couple of years, I watched it go to other bidders and I finally decided to bid for it. Great cause for an exciting opportunity. A win-win, right? It took a while, but I was finally called to the ‘Knives Out’ set in Maynard in late 2018. Ever since I was a child my family has threatened to ship me off to Hollywood (I would have gone in a heartbeat!) because of my dramatic personality, so this was very exciting for me. Being an extra involves a lot of waiting around and I used this time getting to know some very interesting ‘regular extras.’ I learned tips on how to have a successful experience (don’t approach the stars unless they speak to you, etc.). When I was finally called for my scene, I brushed by Daniel Craig on my way into the hair salon and the rest is history. My family and friends are so impressed and this experience launched what I hope to be the first of many – I am currently signed up on many casting sites. ‘Knives Out 2’ is filming in Greece…wouldn’t that be fun! Do you think they need a hair dresser?” — Mary Christo, Quincy

A “School Ties” (1992) extra’s paycheck was made out to the family dog.

“My dad and my dog were both in ‘School Ties,’ which was filmed at my boarding school shortly after I graduated. When the production company issued paychecks in my dog’s name, it became an interesting challenge to cash those checks!” — Julia Zagars, Mass.

One extra’s reaction to seeing Chris Evans in person: “WOW!!!!”

“I was an extra for several scenes in ‘Defending Jacob’ (2020). It was an amazing experience getting to see Chris Evans in person (I mean….WOW!!!), along with Michelle Dockery and Cherry Jones. I then worked on ‘City on a Hill’ and got to see Kevin Bacon in action, but then COVID-19 hit. Since I am from Western Mass., it makes it difficult to sign up for jobs as you have to be available for several COVID testing dates, fittings, and then the actual shoot date. But being from Western Mass. also has its advantages too, as I have my name in agencies in Connecticut and New York as well.” — Susan Hagelstein, Southampton

One college-aged extra hopes Boston is the “next Hollywood.”

“The summer before my freshman year of college, one of my friends told me that there was a movie looking for drum line members. At the time, I was an experienced drummer in the marching band, so I applied. Later that day I heard back saying I would be in the Adam Sandler movie ‘Hubie Halloween’ (2020). Working on that was an incredible experience. After that I got more into casting websites, as being in the drama club and other theatre productions was a huge hobby I enjoyed. I ended up filming another scene for ‘Hubie Halloween’ — in the party scene where Adam Sandler is walking through the crowd, you can see me wearing a cheeseburger outfit, which was just as fun as it sounds! Since then, I also appeared in an episode of ‘Kevin Can F*** Himself’ (2021) on AMC, and most recently I recorded for an upcoming HBO series called ‘Julia’ (2022), centering around ‘The French Chef,’ Julia Child.

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“When my family asks me if this is something I would like to do professionally, I am honest with them, I believe the only key to being successful in that area is to have luck. I’m still going to school to be a teacher, because I know how competitive it is in the acting field, but yeah I want to be an actor! Now that the tax credit has been made permanent, I foresee Boston becoming the next Hollywood, and I really really hope I’m lucky enough to be a part of it. I’ve made a separate Instagram and Facebook page just in case something comes my way. The experiences that I have had are some I will hold with me forever, just thinking about them makes me excited, the idea that more could come my way is something I think about and hope for every day!” — Andrew Mortarelli, Bridgewater

A drag queen extra’s advice on how to break through: “If you don’t ask, you don’t get it.”

“My favorite experience doing extra work was when I was in full drag in a scene in STARZ’s ‘Hightown’ (2020). I was amongst a bunch of people in a parade for episode one (which is also in the opening credits for each episode), and the costume person loved my look so much that they asked if I could quickly change into a different look to potentially shoot a more intimate scene featuring me trying to get people on the street to come see my show. I quickly grabbed a new outfit at my drag studio down the street and came back to set. They asked me to pretend to get people’s attention on the busy street of Provincetown, and that’s when I asked if I could yell out to the crowds to try to persuade them to come to my show. They told me that as an extra I could not speak, but I informed them that for accuracy of the scene that I would need to. Well, they talked to the director, and in minutes I was bumped up to a premium character with a few lines. I was ecstatic. I had been trying to become a part of SAG for a very long time and this was my straight shot. They let me ad-lib some lines at first until we agreed on some ad-libs and scripted lines. One line was directly to the star of the show — ‘Ticket is for you at the door Jackie’ — which ended up in the initial trailer for the show and was all over TV. The pay increase was nice and the experience was definitely one for the books. To be SAG eligible immediately was incredible. Goes to show, if you don’t ask you don’t get it.” — Christopher Kosiavelon, Provincetown

This extra is now one degree from Kevin Bacon.

“I was an extra in ‘City on a Hill’ starring Kevin Bacon. I was dressed up as a State Trooper, along with 30-plus others for a funeral scene at Mount Auburn Cemetery. We lined up and stood at attention for a couple hours as the action took place behind us. I never caught a glimpse of the star himself, but I can proudly say I have a Bacon number of one.” — Stephen Camera-Murray, Winchester

Wearing high heels was tough on the set of “Black Mass” (2015).

“I played a politician’s wife in two scenes in ‘Black Mass’ staring Johnny Depp: the St. Patrick’s parade scene and the St. Patrick’s Day breakfast scene that was hosted by Billy Bulger back in the day. I went for two days of filming; the first was the parade scene filmed outdoors in Lynn on a warm, sunny day the end of June. We were all wearing heavy clothing since it was supposed to be March. That was a very long, but great day! I met two young brothers who played my kids. They were great boys, and we had lots of fun pretending! Benedict Cumberbatch was involved with us since he played Bulger and marched toward us many times, as the scene required several takes. We had to pretend clap and be quiet, so the actors saying their lines could be heard. I did make it into the movie — so exciting for my family and friends to see my entire face alone in a close up! Wearing high heels on both days for many hours required foot soaks at home, but I would do it all again in a heartbeat!” — Jodi Skypeck, Marshfield

Here’s a full list of movies/TV shows mentioned by Boston.com readers, from newest to oldest

  • “About Fate” (TBA)
  • “Confess, Fletch” (TBA)
  • “Julia” (TBA)
  • “Mothership” (TBA)
  • “Spirited” (TBA)
  • “Don’t Look Up” (2021)
  • “Free Guy” (2021)
  • “Kevin Can F*** Himself” (2021)
  • “The Unholy” (2021)
  • “Christmas On Ice” (2020)
  • “Defending Jacob” (2020)
  • “Godmothered” (2020)
  • “Hightown” (2020)
  • “Hubie Halloween” (2020)
  • “I Care A Lot” (2020)
  • “The Will” (2020)
  • “Christmas A La Mode” (2019)
  • “City on a Hill” (2019)
  • “Little Women” (2019)
  • “The Society” (2019)
  • “Castle Rock” (2018)
  • “The Catcher Was A Spy” (2018)
  • “The Equalizer 2” (2018)
  • “I Feel Pretty” (2018)
  • “Daddy’s Home 2” (2017)
  • “Detroit” (2017)
  • “Stronger” (2017)
  • “Central Intelligence” (2016)
  • “Ghostbusters” (2016)
  • “Live By Night” (2016)
  • “Patriots Day” (2016)
  • “Vehicle for Revenge” (2016)
  • “American Odyssey” (2015)
  • “Black Mass” (2015)
  • “Broad Squad” (2015)
  • “Spotlight” (2015)
  • “Ted 2” (2015)
  • “Tumbledown” (2015)
  • “The Equalizer” (2014)
  • “The Judge” (2014)
  • “Olive Kitteridge” (2014)
  • “American Hustle” (2013)
  • “Clear History” (2013)
  • “Grown Ups 2” (2013)
  • “The Heat” (2013)
  • “The Makeover” (2013)
  • “Fairhaven” (2012)
  • “R.I.P.D.” (2013)
  • “Here Comes the Boom” (2012)
  • “Ted” (2012)
  • “That’s My Boy” (2011)
  • “What’s Your Number?” (2011)
  • “Zookeeper” (2011)
  • “Edge of Darkness” (2010)
  • “Shutter Island” (2010)
  • “The Social Network” (2010)
  • “The Town” (2010)
  • “Bride Wars” (2009)
  • “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past” (2009)
  • “The Invention of Lying” (2009)
  • “Paul Blart: Mall Cop” (2009)
  • “21” (2008)
  • “The Game Plan” (2007)
  • “The Great Debaters” (2007)
  • “The Departed” (2006)
  • “Fever Pitch” (2005)
  • “The Perfect Storm” (2000)
  • “The Cider House Rules” (1999)
  • “A Civil Action” (1998)
  • “Next Stop Wonderland” (1998)
  • “The Proposition” (1998)
  • “Good Will Hunting” (1997)
  • “Celtic Pride” (1996)
  • “The Crucible” (1996)
  • “Blown Away” (1994)
  • “The Good Son” (1993)
  • “School Ties” (1992)
  • “Mermaids” (1990)
  • “Amazing Grace and Chuck” (1987)
  • “The Witches of Eastwick” (1987)
  • “Spenser: For Hire” (1985)
  • “A Small Circle of Friends” (1980)
  • “The Friends of Eddie Coyle” (1973)
  • “The Out-of-Towners” (1970)

Responses have been lightly edited for clarity or grammar.

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Editor’s note: Boston.com has retracted one quote from this story due to impersonation on the submission form.

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