Thursday, May 11, 2017

STRICTLY ON BACKGROUND, PT. 8: THE AMERICANS

Bet you didn't know Brooklyn was a suburb of Washington, DC. Neither did I, until 
several months ago, when I worked on my second episode of The Americans. (My first appearance wound up on the cutting room floor -- or, in this digital age, somewhere other than the hard drive.)

It was a cold winter's morning in the Greenpoint section. Street signs had been changed to reflect The Americans' locale, while 30 year-old cars sported Reagan-era Virginia license plates. Not as dramatic a transformation as The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, but it was disconcerting enough.

My job was simple: dress as a businessman, and walk around a corner and down a street.  I had been partnered with a woman roughly my age, the idea being, I suppose, that we were husband and wife. But after the first take, she was pulled from the shot -- the clip-clop of her heels on the pavement drowned out the dialogue spoken by the actors we were walking by -- and placed where her shoes wouldn't do any harm.

A moment later, I was paired with a much younger woman -- 23, as I was to learn, and fresh out of the Midwest to make her mark in New York.

Suddenly, I had gone from having a wife to -- a daughter? Secretary? Mistress? Whatever she was, her shoes were quiet, and that's what mattered. My new co-star -- this was, I believe, only her second extra gig -- was happy for part, but unsure of our cue.

Here was my chance to play the worldly show biz veteran. I explained the set-up: One of the two principle actors was standing in front of us, waiting to hear "Action" before entering the scene.

""Wait ten beats after she turns the corner," I told her, mustering all my sagacity, "then we follow." God, what a professional!

Although a gentleman is supposed to walk on the side closest to the curb when with a woman, I stood on the opposite side so she'd get camera time. (At roughly 5'3", there was no danger of her blocking me.) We did this for a couple of hours, as it was shot from different angles, until the director was satisfied.

Jack Barsky: The Spy Who Came in From
Central Casting.
Between takes, I struck up a conversation with another extra newbie, Albrecht Dittrich, aka Jack Barsky (pictured at left), a former KGB agent who, like many of the characters on The Americans, spent the 1980s infiltrating American society. (The producers had hired him as an in-joke.) I had seen him interviewed on 60 Minutes a year earlier, and was eager to shake the hand of a former spy -- even if, in a previous time, he'd been paid to serve his masters in the Kremlin. (I'm a very open-minded guy.)

Because I was pretty close to the
In between two subtitled Russkies.
actors, I hoped to be in focus for a change. As you can tell by the screenshot on the right, it didn't quite work out that way. Why can't I get it through my fedora-topped skull that I'm not the star of these shows?

At least I got longer and closer camera-time than usual. And I shook the hand of someone whose former job was to help destroy the American way of life. Quite a morning's work, I'd say.

                                                  

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