This happened in 2008. One of my dreams is to write a memoir, so from time to time, I’ll be sharing stories with you. For other stories about my acting journey, check out Pink’s Hot Dogs, That Time I Was an Extra on E.R., and Living that L.A. Life: An Actor’s Tale.
In the cramped quarter’s of extra’s holding, there are whispers of celebrity encounters. Stories are like currency in this overlooked world of background acting. Everyone is trying to stand out while being paid to blend in. But, the stories, whispered between takes or gleefully told during lunch, bestow a sort of prestige on the teller.
Diva temper tantrums. Cue card dependence. Too much Botox. Friendly chit chat.
Stories of movie stars swirl through the background, inspiring and entertaining those who haven’t made it yet. The best stories are about stars who spent time in the background before they became famous. The stories are told with a sort of reverence usually reserved for Sunday mornings. My favorite is one I like to think of as The Legend of Brad Pitt. It was told by an extra who claimed to know Brad way back when and goes something like this…
Before he became a movie star, a Young Brad Pitt moved out to L.A. and got a job working as a giant chicken for El Pollo Loco. Young Brad would put on his chicken suit and flag cars into the restaurant. The gig was good because it allowed him to take time off to audition and work as an extra. Even though he was working as a giant chicken, Young Brad did not forget his movie star dreams.
There are many rules that guide extras. Most important is do not talk to an actor unless they speak to you first. A close second is don’t lose your voucher. No voucher. No paycheck. Of course, your voucher is worthless unless you get it signed after you are wrapped. Young Brad didn’t always follow rule #2.
Young Brad may have been a lowly extra, but he had a dream, and he wasn’t going to let the system keep him down. According to legend, Young Brad would check in on one set, grab his voucher, then run to another set to do the same before returning to the first set to check out at end of day.
At this point, the audience gasps because every extra knows that if you got caught doing this you would be black listed and never work again. AD’s love to threaten extras with black listing them, claiming that they have a whole database full of extras who will never work in Hollywood again. But, Young Brad is the hero of the story with a future of stardom before him, and suddenly, the AD’s threats are no longer so scary.
Finally, Young Brad gets his big break and no longer has to juggle being a giant chicken while stacking background jobs. And, what does Movie Star Brad do? He has El Pollo Loco cater the first meal of his movies because it’s important to remember who supported you before you were famous, and he makes sure extras are treated well on his sets because once upon a time he was one, too.
I’ve never met Brad Pitt, and I have no idea if this story is true, but I like to think it is. Like a modern day parable, the Legend of Brad Pitt is full of hope and important life lessons:
Don’t let the system beat you down.
Always remember the people who supported you along the way.
Don’t give up on your dreams, even if you are dressed as a giant chicken.
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