Clear eyes, full hearts, the truth: about my time as an FNL extra.
The #2 search query on my blog is "Friday Night Lights" (right behind "overalls" and just before "birth story"). So because it's been over a decade and in honor of Throwback Thursday, I think we are enough removed from my time on the show that I can write about my experience there. Clearly y'all are curious.
Q: How did you get on the show?
A: I had just moved to Austin from California. I had no job and started Googling for acting work in Austin. I saw that a tv show called "Friday Night Lights" was recruiting high school looking extras via Myspace (ha!), so on a Wednesday I ran to the mall and got some truly awful headshots at Glamour Shots (don't judge me! I needed a place who would do my hair and makeup and give me a headshot the same day!), I uploaded my profile in the extra's database and was called in to work that Friday night for a diner scene.
Q: What did you do for the show?
A: It's important to note here that I was only an extra. As the casting director Donise Hardy used to say of extras, "You're props that eat." Nonetheless, I had done some extra work on the movie Rent when I was in college in California (because I was die-hard Rent fan in high school and would have paid good money to be up close and personal to Idina Menzel), so I knew that extra work is 95% waiting around, 4.5% walking or sitting far away from the actors and never being recognized on camera, and .5% being a blur way in the back of the shot for a 10th of a second. I ended up becoming was what was called a "core extra", meaning I worked 3-5 days a week any time they needed high school looking people. For two years, this was my "real job". Ha! For season one I was a "rally girl". For season two, they were sick of me asking to be booked when my friend Andrea was being booked (who was a core cheerleader), so they just gave in and bumped me up to be a Panther cheerleader, too. If you think it sounds glamorous, know that it was not.
Q: Did you make money?
A: No. Not really. The pay was something like $78 for 8-hours, and I had to be available to work overtime, up to 18 hours. I was paid "bumps" (an extra $25 - $50) if I had a swimsuit scene (I think four times?) or if I had to kiss someone (the kissing happened, maybe 2-3 times?). And when I transitioned over as a Panther cheerleader, I made slightly more ($125 per 8 hours, I think) because we had to do a little bit of cheerleading (some standard sideline cheers and rah rahs and an occasional kick or jump. Not a problem. I cheered in college.). However, the work was somewhat flexible which was important to me because I was auditioning for NOT extra work and would often have to mark myself as not available if I had a commercial audition or wanted to take time off to do a play. We didn't have kids, Chris had a nice job, we lived modestly, we had a roommate, and I landed modeling work about once a month so that allowed me to work so much for such little pay. In the off season from filming, I worked as a buyer at Buffalo Exchange.
Q: What was your first day on set like?
I knew no one and knew nothing about the show. I only say this because a lot of the other extras worked with their friends or had been a part of the pilot months and months earlier or they had made friends with each other in the weeks filming the previous four episodes (I came on during episode five of season one). When I got to set (a restaurant downtown) Tony, one of the incredible PA's that I got to know over the next couple of years, asked me if I'd like to be bumped up to "Hot Girl 1". It was my first day on set, I had no idea what that even meant, but um... yeah. I'd take "Hot Girl 1" over "Diner Patron" any day! So I said, "Absolutely! Wherever you need me, boss." He then sent me to hair and makeup. I would later find out that this was not the norm.
I was soon joined by Hot Girl 2, and they placed us in a parking lot and told us to walk past the camera on "ACTION!". Being the dutiful extra that I was, I walked on "ACTION!" and then some guy started catcalling me. "Hey, baby! Why don't you come back over here", etc. I was an extra. I knew to keep my mouth shut and to keep walking. I smiled back at him, flipped my hair, and walked until they said cut. We did this a few more times, they had me mouth "hi" or "hey, Smash" (without a microphone) and then I was sent to the side of the building to wait and wait. About an hour later, they sent me home. Easiest $78 I had ever made. It would never be that glamorous or fast again.
Q: What was it really like?
A: Boring but fun? The work itself was super boring (especially because I wanted to act, not be a prop who ate!), but when I finally made good friends on set, it was a blast. Strangely, it did start to feel like actual high school, but we were all post-college (I was married and age 26!). Rally girls hung out with rally girls. Cheerleaders hung out with cheerleaders. Football players hung out with football players. I don't think this was on purpose. That's just who we were always grouped with, so over time, those are the people you get to know. As a result, there was for sure some kind of strange social hierarchy off set based on who we were on set. I was never a popular person in actual high school, so it was strange being a part of the "cool crowd" in pretend high school.
We formed fast and deep bonds working weird hours together and having so much time to chit chat before our scenes and between takes. We'd work long and late hours, get off work and then hit up the bars on Sixth Street to blow off energy. Extras, for the most part, are loud, attention seeking, creative extroverts, so we were always abuzz with energy at the end of a long day shooting. We'd go out, then we'd sleep until call time the next day and do it again.
Q: What were the actors like? Did you get to know any of them?
A: At the time, I think everyone except for Kyle Chandler (Coach Taylor) was an unknown talent. I'm happy to report that the main actors weren't snobby at all. In fact, the core extras ended up being very close-knit and the cast treated us with kindness. But again, I was just an extra, so I wasn't hobnobbing with any of these fine folks in any meaningful kind of ways. My roommate, however, dated someone from the main cast and she was previously roommates with a different cast member, so I did, perhaps interact with some of them more than a typical extra.
But I know, I know, you want the specifics, don't you? Let's see what I can remember from 2007- 2008:
Kyle Chandler: Nicest man on the planet. No joke: he's was a volunteer fireman while he was working as Coach Taylor. Can you imagine?! I once saw him ask the director to give a little girl a line to say because it was her birthday. Note: once you're mic'ed up and say a line on tv, you pay goes from $78 to $700.
Scott Porter / "Jason Street": I think he knows and can sing every song that has ever been on the radio, ever. Super funny guy. Super friendly with the extras. Infer what you will. :)
Taylor Kitsch / "Riggins": Total goof but actually kind of reserved. He was dating Minka Kelly (Lyla) IRL for a little bit at the time. I don't remember much about him, but I do remember that he had a Polaroid I had taken of him and Minka hanging on his bathroom mirror.
Minka Kelly / "Lyla": Honest to goodness, one of the most beautiful people I've ever seen in person. Her skin glows from the inside. She was an animal lover, always had her dog on set and even adopted a cat with my friend at one point! I didn't talk to her often but did divert her from coming to my house with John Mayer to a party once (Chris and I just bought our house and we had no furniture! We were super embarrassed; we all went to a bar instead). She was low-key and sweet with a quick wit that I don't think came across on the show. She was also a really hard worker. She worked to make her cheerleading up to par during the episode where the cheerleaders go to a competition and she jammed/sprained her finger during the powder puff football game, but taped up and kept going.
Zach Gilford / "Saracen": Again, really down to earth guy. The first time I met him he introduced himself as "Matt" instead of Zach and laughed at himself. When I was new to the show, he threw a chill party at his apartment once and invited a bunch of the core extras and the younger cast and crew, which was really rad of him. There were a lot of jello shots and I think I spent most of the time talking to his roomate’s dog (because I'm that person at a party).
Gauis Charles / "Smash": This man is a huge talent with a heart of gold. He led a Bible study on set. He has a degree from Carnegie Mellon! He was probably the person who was least like his character. Gauis was humble, down to earth, and reserved. All the awwwww's! I used to joke to my friend that I couldn't even talk to him because he made me so nervous! He loved the Lord, he could act, he was super smart, and that smile? Killer combo, for sure. At the party mentioned above, I sat next to him on a stool at the kitchen island and just smiled and nodded and sweated through my shirt as he talked to someone else about how important it was to go to a diverse church.
Jesse Plemons / "Landry": I need someone from 2008 to validate that fact that I said this kid would be the breakout star of the show in a decade's time. While I hated his "I killed a guy and ditched his body" subplot in Season 2 (you guys, there was a writers' strike, okay? We weren't working with our A-team!), he showcased the best acting chops of any of the kids on the show during that season. And I told him so on Myspace! I say this and people scoff, but I'm calling it now: this guy is the Phillip Seymour Hoffman of our time (um, but hopefully without the too early death, obviously). Don't @ me. Plemons was dating a friend of mine, so clearly he likes good people. He was in an Austin band that I liked a lot, I think he's crazy talented, and he comes from good stock. SOMEWHERE out there is a photo of me and my friend Terra with him, but I can't find it anywhere.
Aimee Teegarden / "Julie": Fun fact-- my friend bought her a bottle of Everclear, and it's currently in my laundry room, pretty much untouched. She was the only cast member actually still in high school. Her sweet mom and their little dogs were always on set with her. She once came over during a football game to flip through some of my fashion magazines with me, and she told me how much she loved highwaisted jeans. Girl was like a decade ahead of that love, and I thought she was crazy. Who knew that 10 years later that high waisted jeans would be the only kind of jeans I’d wear
Connie Britton / "Tami" & Adrianne Palicki / "Tyra": I don't think I talked to either of them and I think they were roommates at the time. They seemed nice (and I aspire to be Asian Tami Taylor), but I didn't ever interact with them and never saw them off set like I did some of the other cast members. No dirt. No funny stories.
Derek Phillips, the guy who played Riggin's brother Billy, was super kind. The party I mentioned earlier (at Zach's)? My ride ditched me, Zach had gone to bed, the party was winding down, and I was stuck at this apartment that I wasn't 100% sure where it was (remember: I was new to the area). Derek had called a cab to take him back to his hotel but heard me on the phone (at 2 am) trying to explain to Chris that I needed a ride but I wasn't sure where I was, so he offered to let me grab the cab first to get back home.
Dana Wheeler-Nicholson, who played Tyra's mom (and Juliette's mom on Nashville... pretty much the exact same character), is a powerhouse. I watched her work on set one day and was so taken by her that I signed up for an acting workshop she led.
Katherine Willis, who played Street's mom, is like only eight years older than him.
That's all I got, I think.
Q: Any memorable stories from set?
A: Tons. Here are my top three:
1) My first episode aired on my birthday. We were all on set in holding (waiting) when we watched it and everyone woo-hoo'ed when I came on. It was such a fun moment: my first time seeing myself on network tv, being with my friends, and it was my birthday!
2) There's an episode where everyone is mean to Lyla when it comes out that she was cheating on Street. Tony, the PA, told me and another girl to throw water on Lyla during a scene when we're yelling at her, so we did as we were told. She was NOT told this was going to happen, so her reaction and anger was real. I think she had wardrobe come ream us out and we got a big lecture about how that ruins continuity and how unprofessional that was... until Tony swooped in and told them he told us to do this so that they could get a good reaction and shot. I thought for sure I was going to be fired.
3) During a hot tub scene, someone (I'll let you guess who) isn't playing drunk.
Q: What episodes can I see you?
A: Again, remember: I was just an extra. You can play a Where's Waldo like game of "Where's Indiana" during season one and two. You can get a clear look at me during Season 1, Episodes 5 (being hit on by Smash), 9 (being mean to Lyla), 14 (in the hot tub with Saracen), and 15 (on the white team #14 during powder puff football). I'm not as sure about Season 2 because I can't bear to watch that season again, but I know I'm in episode 2 (line dancing) and I assume you might be able to get a glimpse of me any time there's a Panther football game (just look for my loooooong black ponytail and white ribbon).