Alex Casey transforms into a high society Aucklander for a day as an extra on the Filthy Rich set, and discovers the truth about glamour and stardom the hard way.
“And there’s these…” the wardrobe woman said, presenting me with some enormous diamanté earrings. I hadn’t worn earrings since I was 13 because my friends used to tell me they made me look like a pirate who had lost his way. Do not be fooled by the scars m’lady, these piercing holes have shut up shop and moved to the countryside to see out their days doing Wasjig puzzles.
“They’re beautiful” I murmured, as I lifted them up to my ears. Granted, they definitely made me look akin to, if not better than, Princess Diana. I stretched out my earlobe, promised myself an apology biscuit later, and jammed the earring straight into the scar tissue. Beauty is pain, a touch of blood running down the neck might really pop on camera.
This horrible indignity happened on the set of Filthy Rich, which, at the time , was still shrouded in secrecy beneath its millions of taxpayer dollars. I was to be an extra in a party scene on the show, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous. The last time I made it into TVNZ primetime was when I showed up to the What Now set at Avalon studios wearing exactly the same USA hoodie as one of my buddies. The shame. Today, it was time for redemption.
I drove out to East Auckland, scoffing a Cookie Time in the car just in case catering was a disgusting pile of oysters and some caviar. Wardrobe was the first port of call, cue a sombre music-less montage of me awkwardly fumbling with complicated and far-too-small garments.
There were a few dresses in my size on the rack to try on, ranging from “girls night at SPQR” to “that 6th form ball dress you never wore again”. I settled on an outrageous black strapless number that was unceremoniously taped to my skin, and forced my already-screaming feet into some shiny silver high heels.
With my ears re-pierced, heels definitely too high and a giant robe chucked over the whole thing like a cartoon character made up of three small boys on each other’s shoulders, I headed to hair and makeup. I was to join Venus, goddess of beauty, in her rental truck of dreams. My soul was ascending.
The hair and makeup process was what I was looking forward to the most. So many brushes – possibly too many brushes. The makeup artist was leaning outside, talking to an assistant about squeezing in somebody’s last minute bum tan as I took in my surroundings. She explained later that because of all the sex scenes and nudity, the actors feel much more comfortable with a slap of the ol’ St Tropez on their rump. Please don’t make me get the bum tan!
All the while, Wendy Petrie eyeballed me, a welcome distraction from the terrifying stick-on fringe monster below.
The luxury foundation being plastered on my face was Giorgio Armani, coming in very hot at around $88 a pop. A lot nicer than my bargain bin Sergio Giorgini stuff at home. What could I do to maximise this look, easily the most expensive face of makeup I have ever acquired in my life? Could I perhaps lie face-down on a piece of paper, and preserve the look for my wedding day and/or funeral?
My hair was curled to high heavens, and pinned down with 500 bobby pins (pro tip: slide the crimped side in face down to secure the hair for longer than 20 seconds). I asked the makeup artist if she would want the bobby pins back at the end of the day and she laughed in my face. In my head, I tried to add up the total value of 8 months of bobby pins, if the very large female cast had at least ten a day… carry the one… sin cos tan… Pythagoras. Could it be more than $8m? Hard to say
Free from the Venus chains, I shed my giant robe and was ready for my on-screen debut. I had been curled, painted, hiked up and taped up, and I was bloody nervous. If that puddle on the ground makes it look like I pissed myself, it’s because I had.
Outside the party scene set I was handed a champagne flute half-filled with sparkling grape juice. “Don’t drink any,” someone said hurriedly. Assessing the glass, I realised that if I were to pull off this character convincingly, I would have to act as if I had skulled at least half a glass of champagne before hitting the dance floor. Forecast: a weird bop, a sideways grin, followed by an ill-conceived attempt to “drop it low”.
I was moved into the raucous party to stand next to two women who would be my silent dance partners for the next hour or so. We nodded at one another, and suddenly the band began to play – signalling the beginning of another take. It was on the fly, it was improv, it was time to dance. I swayed from side to side like a weird wind sculpture, suddenly acutely aware of every single part of my body. Don’t look at the camera I thought, as I stared down the barrel.
It was hot. I wanted to sip my little grape juice very badly, but the flourishing actor within knew that would muddle with the continuity and I would probably single-handedly bring this whole shoot to its knees with one fateful sip. The scene in question was simple: the band would start their little ditty, we would dance, John Truebridge would get punched in the face, we would look shocked.
After a few takes I felt like I was getting the hang of it, not only dancing with arms in the air (!) but throwing in a little cheers to the waiter here, a little nod to my friend there. It was only when going through my photos that I realised I was clearly the laughing stock of the entire crew – as demonstrated below.
The scene itself took over an hour to get “in the can”, with my extra buddies now slipping their heels off between takes after many hours on their feet. One of them, Jane, had been working as an extra for over 10 years, and can be found in the background of New Zealand’s most prestigious dramas from Outrageous Fortune to Go Girls… and now Filthy Rich. She was fed up. “That’s got to be the go,” director Oliver Driver said, as the crowd of extras collectively collapsed.
Walking back to the car in my boring old writer’s clothes of nearly pyjamas, my feet were aching and I was sure the bobby pins were still lodged deep into my brain, never to be retrieved until they travelled down through my spine and pierced my heart, killing me suddenly whilst gardening in my mid sixties. The pain would all be worth it to see the finished product. Just think! Me on the telly in a luxury gown, with a luxury face, doing a dance at a luxury party! All my friends and family would watch. I would be the talk of the town.
Nobody saw me.
The finale of Filthy Rich airs tonight at 8.30pm
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