Sunday, November 06, 2005


Somewhat belated review of Ricky Gervais’ summer sitcom, brought about by my spending a few days as an extra on the set of a Hollywood blockbuster whose name by confidentiality contract I am not allowed to disclose but which is the film of the book The Da Vinci Code.

What is a nice if inconsequential series gets far more credit once you actually do extra-work yourself. Within about three hours I had adopted Ricky Gervais’ resigned slumping manner and was plotting, much as he does, dubious ways to get myself on the screen. In contrast to Gervais, however, I did not mingle with any celebrities at all, let alone ones flagellating themselves to prove their credentials as good sports. Even the director was nowhere near the film set, the job being left to a second or even third unit to get the completely unimportant shots.

We started at 5am from Paddington on the bus and got to our base camp at about 7. They’d set up huge tents held up by hydraulic poles and we straight away got in a queue for a English breakfast from the caterers, dishing it out like school dinners as rained lashed down all the tents. After we ate we got kitted out in our costume. Then they drove us to the set at the cathedral. Then we waited around. At one point one of the assistant directors came over to us and said “sorry but some of you guys have been eating the toasties. The toasties are for crew only I’m afraid. You have your station, yeah there it is,” he said pointed at a table with some hot water and tea bags on it. “Yeah that’s your station, and please we haven’t catered for background for the toasties.”

I wanted to know how, with braces holding my trousers up and my whole body sandwiched between two tightly linked plates, how I was going to be able to have a shit. He thought about it. “You’ll have to buddy up,” he told me.

After a while it was time for lunch. After we ate lunch they hurried us into the cathedral and 50 of us stood in a line getting swords tied to us. As we waited in line, costume people would come along and smarten us up, although often one would finish with you before another rearranged you differently. Once I got the sword attached I suddenly felt more balanced and I sat down to wait on a chair in the cathedral, propped up by the sword touching the ground. There we waited for three hours. I drifted in and out of dozing, resigned to being uncomfortable in the costume.

Finally they called us to be filmed. They lined us up in a small hall and gave the cardinals some scrolls to hand to us off of silver platters. We were to take them and then bow as they blessed us. I was the first person in the line, but furthest from the camera. After a few minutes they decided that the priests would start dishing out the scrolls from half-way down the line. They took a few shots of that, went in for a few close ups and I was nowhere near being in any shot at all. Despite this the make-up people continued to dab my face from time to time and costume came along and tightened me up. It occurred to me that London Underground is not the only place in the world where people are paid a lot of money to stand around doing very little.