I spent two days this week working as an extra on the set of the new movie version of The Lone Ranger. The movie is largely being filmed in New Mexico on a special western town built just west of Albuquerque. Some scenes were filmed near Durango, Colorado, and some in the Angel Fire area…actually, some scenes will be filmed this coming week within walking distance of our house here in Angel Fire! Tonight is the cast and crew party—the company rented the entire country club…apparently, Johnny Depp’s band will play as well…somehow, my invitation seems to have been lost. I am deeply troubled by that…however, my son, Cameron, is working as a waiter at the Sunset Grille, the closest restaurant to the Resort Hotel which is crammed full of crew—all good tippers, I am informed…
The ad soliciting extras was sent out through our local chamber of commerce…picture, height, weight, shirt and pants size…plus picture. I sent the best picture I ever took—my campaign poster photo. Two days later I got a call from casting asking me to show the next day in Albuquerque for fitting…when I walked in the costume warehouse, the two casting reps welcomed me by name (told you that was a good photo). After filling out the inevitable paperwork, I was escorted into a fitting room where my period clothing was hanging. Everything fit—nearly perfectly…even the shoes! Everyone was so nice. The clothing lady told me how distinguished I Iooked in my outfit as she led me to makeup. There I was fitted for side whiskers and sent back to the fitting room for a snapshot for their files.
Another amazing thing about this burgeoning adventure is how quickly everybody in Angel Fire seemed to know about it. When I drove back from my fitting in Albuquerque, son Jake and a friend rolled into my office and positively interrogated me about the process. I stopped at the grocery store and the check out lady knew where I had been. Even my wife, Linda, and Cameron seemed entranced. On Friday, I visited Village Hall and was promptly surrounded by most of the ladies who worked there. Small town, big news.
On Monday, I drove to the (very) small town of Ute Park, halfway between Eagle Nest and Cimarron on NM State Highway 64 arriving fifteen minutes before my scheduled 7 am show, checked in with costumes, and was told to go eat breakfast. Oh my goodness…the food! The sheer amount of the food was impressive but the quality was incredible. My two favorite breakfasts are huevos rancheros and eggs benedict…well, I had them both. Plus fresh salmon. Plus some of the most gorgeous fruits on the planet–organic, of course! Stunning. This was just the beginning. Food was everywhere all the time. Amazing. I was so impressed that I got up at 4:20 the next morning to get to the set earlier so I could take my time and eat a good—and extensive breakfast. Remember that breakfast is the most important meal of the day…! Linda thought I was crazy but then she didn’t get to see, much less, taste the on-set food…lots better than my normal granola bar and a Yoplait…
The people were so nice! Professional, energetic and polite. Extras are at the bottom of the talent totem pole and yet everyone was so friendly to us. The director is Gore Verbinski (Pirates of the Caribbean 1-3; Rango). He took pains to welcome us and explain in short sentences with little words exactly what emotions he wanted from us. He was quite encouraging during each of the multiple takes. I was impressed by his decisiveness, ability to express his vision, and the way he handled people. He is also handsome and rich so you want to hate the guy…but he was so nice…
I got into period costume (long sleeve shirt, stiff collar, cravat, suspenders, and itchy herringbone wool pants and long tailed coat). Had to run by make up who put grease in my hair, then sent me over to the facial hair experts for my side whiskers. When I walked in the trailer, I recognized the guy in the other chair as Armie Hammer, who plays the Lone Ranger. Very pleasant chap. Big, tall, handsome. Quite bright…we chatted a bit. He thanked me for my service in the military! Same thing on Tuesday morning…he walked in while I was in the chair and he was gracious enough to pretend he recognized me. Good actor! We talked about Bolivia and the effects of high altitude on humans (Ute Park is a little lower than we are here in Angel Fire, about 7800 feet, I think). With my Abraham Lincoln top hat, I looked like Ebenezer Scrooge. The facial hair lady decided to curl my moustache, changing me from a distinguished gentleman into a distinguished looking roué.
The part of the movie that I am supposed to be in is dated May 1869. All the extras are clothed for the period. The kids dressed out wonderfully—their attire reminded me more of a Charles Dickens movie than a western. The adults looked right out of the era. One of the jarring moments of the two days was to see another of the extras sitting out in the sun, dressed to kill in a hoop skirt and flowered hat, reading her Kindle Fire.
The most overwhelming memory is of the size of the logistics. Hundreds of people milled about, dozens of parked trailers, semi trucks and vans; golf carts zipped through a tent village crammed into a small area. The tiny village of Ute Park, a former stagecoach stop, had never seen such activity. Reminded me of some of my Air Force deployments.
Another similarity to deployments is the classic “hurry up and wait” orientation. We sat around all dressed up for hours…then we were placed in our (classified) location on set where we stood around waiting for the crew/director/stars to get ready. Our job was to scream in terror on cue, beseeching the Lone Ranger to save us…pretty hard for me since I was having the time of my life. But I screamed along with everybody else during repeated rehearsals and, ultimately, repeated takes. So many that my throat was sore and almost raw by the end of the day. Most of our work was done on a cool and rainy Monday; Tuesday was hot with less work. And more sitting around. After almost every scene, all of us hairy guys were directed to the facial hair people for adjustments. They were very concerned about authenticity, obsessed really.
We worked on Monday with Armie and Johnny Depp’s stand-in. On Tuesday morning we worked with both stand-ins. In the afternoon, Johnny showed up. There was a ripple through the crew as Johnny got out of his black Chevy Tahoe in costume and make-up. The energy level went up. It was quite interesting to see everybody’s reaction, all of them positive–Mr. Depp seems to be iconic even within the Hollywood community of icons. Johnny is pretty buff. I suppose he decided to work out knowing that he was going to star in this movie without a shirt. He also went out of his way to be nice to us pond scum…as I said, this was a wonderful experience for me. I am now a solid movie fan, especially of the three principals in this movie—Johnny, Armie and Gore.
See you at the Academy Awards!
Author’s note: Since this this was written, the movie has been released to not-so-good reviews…balderdash! I saw the movie (and my part in it) and it was an excellent show. The scenery is magnificent, almost a reason to go itself. Please disregard the %$#!@ critics and go see it.