Being a Hollywood Extra

Being a Hollywood Extra
Photograph by Van Ditthavong

NAME: Jesse Heiman |  AGE: 33 |  HOMETOWN: Austin |  QUALIFICATIONS: Has appeared in more than fifty television shows, including Suburgatory, Glee, and Entourage / Has appeared in more than forty movies, including Transformers: Dark of the Moon , The Social Network , and 17 Again

● I’m a little bit different from a typical actor, who takes classes and goes through years of training. I like to learn on the set. I had no idea that doing background work would blossom into the kind of career that it has. It’s amazing how many people have become my fans even though I pass by the screen for just a second or two.

● I had a different vision of my career when I was a student at Texas State University, in San Marcos. I took a lot of creative writing and English classes, and I wanted to be a screenwriter and a producer. I worked on a project that was inspired by the film Christine, but instead of the car coming to life, a house came to life.

● I moved to Hollywood eleven years ago, and after I had gotten fired from my job at a video-duplication company, I went to sign up at Central Casting. I was standing in line to have my picture taken for the database, and a lady came out and asked me if I could work that evening on a film called Rat Race [starring John Cleese and Whoopi Goldberg]. I ended up working all night and into the morning, and I thought, “If I can survive this, I can survive anything.”

Old School was one of the best experiences for me. I got to work for six weeks with Will Ferrell and Vince Vaughn, and even Jeremy Piven was there for a while. I learned a lot from them about timing and how to act professionally on the set. I was just an everyday background actor, but they gave me a credit for the film: “Budnick.”

● I worked on Catch Me If You Can , and Leonardo DiCaprio shook my hand and introduced himself to me, as if I didn’t know who he was. And to top it off, Steven Spielberg came over and told me to put my face farther into a book for one scene.

● I’ve been a regular on Chuck, and I’ve started to become a regular on The Big Bang Theory . I’m hoping they’ll give me a line, because I blend in with those characters. I’m not going to get a line on something like CSI unless they need a techie.

● I don’t completely understand my success. Directors keep telling me that I have a really good look, so they put me in the center of the shot or right next to the main actors.

● I wish I got more money after all these years, but there’s no price for fame. I still receive the standard background rate for movies and television—about $140 a day—unless I do some physical comedy. I was on a new show called Suburgatory, and they had me fall down twice, so I got paid extra.

● Now that I’m getting so many offers, I’m hearing that I’m becoming too recognizable for background work.

● I still have a 512 area code on my cell phone. I’m on a family plan with my parents in Austin, so after all these years of being the world’s greatest extra, I still don’t pay my own phone bill.

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