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This month's theme: Movies
 

Sheryl Whalen: An Extra with Something Extra

by Fran Joyce

Sheryl Whalen


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sheryl Whalen saw an ad for extras for a movie being filmed in Pittsburgh and thought it would be fun. She went to the casting call not expecting much. When she was selected, she didn’t really know what to expect. Since her initial foray into show business, Whalen has set up profiles with Nancy Mosser Casting and the 31st Street Studio. She has appeared as an extra and had larger non-speaking roles in commercials, television programs and films.

According to Whalen, “It’s all very organized, and you know upfront which kinds of parts are available. Sometimes, they will issue a casting call for unpaid extras. I’m not doing this for the money, but my time does have value, so I only attend casting calls for paid extras. Extras are typically paid minimum wage and time and a half after eight hours. Some production companies pay a daily rate. Production companies will compensate you if they use your car in a scene. If you have a speaking part, you are usually paid at a higher rate. Depending on how long you are there, you receive one or two meals (breakfast and lunch) which are always excellent.”

There is typically an air of secrecy surrounding filming. The sets are usually closed to the public. Extras are instructed to arrive at a location by a set time. They are then bused to the studio or an outside location where filming will take place. For some outdoor scenes, roads or city blocks may be shut down to accommodate filming. Many fans come to these shoots hoping to see a famous actor.

“For most roles, someone from casting tells you what to wear. If the movie is set in a particular time period or the scene takes place in a specific location that impacts how people will be dressed, you might have to go to wardrobe or makeup. Unless you are in several scenes, they get you in and out quickly. I use any down time to catch up with extras I’ve met on other productions, or I bring a book to read. We are typically isolated from the leading actors unless they appear in the scene. On the set of Jack Reacher, I saw Tom Cruise walking between takes with Katie Holmes and their daughter, Siri.”

Whalen appeared in the stadium scene of The Perks of Being a Wallflower. She was one of 100-150 extras during the helicopter scene in Jack Reacher. She also appeared in a train scene for the movie, The Last Three Days.

Being a Pittsburgh Penguins fan, Whalen was excited to be part of the audience in a commercial starring Sidney Crosby. She has made appearances in the Netflix series, Mindhunter, and the WGN America drama, Outsiders, where she played a nurse.

“You never know what a director is going to do,” she says. “On an episode of Mindhunter, we filmed at a small restaurant in Baldwin. It was supposed to be a two-three minute scene. I was an extra at one of the tables pretending to have a conversation with my dinner companion. The director shot and reshot the scene doing over 150 takes. The other extras and I had memorized the lead actors’ lines by the time that scene was completed. Three months later, I received a call back to redo that scene. Unfortunately, I had a schedule conflict and couldn’t attend the reshoot.

"The most takes I’ve ever had to do for a scene of Outsiders is fifteen.”

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