0800. I arrive at the day’s venue, a vaguely seedy nightclub in the centre of Ealing, in full costume, to find many of my fellow extras already on site, looking more than a little bleary. One person who isn’t remotely bleary, however, is Graham Linehan, who offers a cheery “Morning, guys!” as he dashes about to set up the first scene.
0830. Filming starts on a bar scene with Moss and Roy. A handful of extras are ushered upstairs to join them, while the rest of us are tasked with doing things in the distant background. Four of us are assigned to a rather small DJ booth, where we’re told that our faces won’t be seen, but our shadows will be. The four of us immediately spring into action, jostling for prime position at the decks and moving around far more vigorously and far more ineptly than any real DJ ever has. Fortunately for our collective dignity, we are quickly told our DJ-ing services aren’t required, and return to the subs bench. I remain optimistic at this development – I didn’t really see my character in a DJ-ing capacity, anyway.
0900. Word spreads that one of our number, Darren, has been given a line. Envious, murderous glances are shot towards the upstairs bar. We can’t hear much of what’s going on from where we’re sitting, but every five minutes or so we hear Roy proclaiming “Can I just say, I’m having a great time?”. After the fifth or sixth time I’m forced to wonder whether or not he actually means this, but if he doesn’t, it’s certainly not showing.
0930. The previous day’s efforts and the early start have taken their toll on many of the extras, who have opted to fall asleep on the club’s various soft furnishings. Every so often, Graham or one of his minions will come down and abduct one of our number, like something from a horror film. At one point, Graham comes down and tells us he needs someone with glasses on set. The response is instantaneous, as fifty visually challenged social outcasts leap from their seats in a mad scramble to impress our overlord. As a white belt in tae kwon do, I fancy my chances, but it’s not to be, and I return to the sofas, ever so slightly bruised. But hey, you should’ve seen the other guy…
1045. After a brief respite, we are called upstairs for another scene. The nerdy girls (once again looking devilishly attractive with their glasses and deliberately poor dress sense – a definite perk of the job) are rather put out when the floor manager refers to the agency extras as the “Lovely girls”, who are then called up to the set with the nerdy men. I am torn between grabbing my chance at fame and taking my chances in a room full of beauties with poor visual acuities. Sadly my relentless ambition gets the better of me, and I am forced to consign the orgy that never was to my dreams.
1130. We’re filming a scene in which Moss’s newfound nemesis walks into the bar and challenges him to a battle. It looks as though the back of my head is going to have a starring role, when the ever-intuitive Graham pipes up. “I don’t think he should be walking in on his own. Can we maybe give him a posse?” I’m standing next to the door! The floor manager counts off four of us, and I practically skip out of the room to await my cue.
We begin rehearsing, and I act my socks off… Right up to the point where Moss delivers the killer line (As seen in the trailers) “I came here to drink milk and kick ass. And I’ve just finished my milk”, at which point my fellow extras and I briefly break our polished veneer of professionalism and burst into laughter. It’s going to be on T-shirts… I quickly compose myself, and realise that I’m going to have to be glowering menacingly at Moss while all this is going on. It won’t be easy. But I clamp my jaw tightly shut, biting on my bottom lip as hard as I can without drawing blood, and my character finally makes his proper screen debut. You will fear me.
1300. We break for lunch, and Ealing is besieged by nerds. The geek shall inherit the Earth. Or at least, a small suburb in West London.
1400. It’s back to work, and the call goes out for tall people. I’m a tall person! Whatever this is, I can totally do it! Five of us line up, eagerly anticipating our big break (I’ve already had mine, but like John Virgo, I can’t have too many big breaks). Graham picks one of us, and asks him to remove his jumper. Graham then goes away. Realisation sinks in a few moments later, as we see one of the paid actors wearing said jumper. Television is a cruel, cruel business.
1500. A portable camera is set up to film a first-person view, which we’re told will be from Moss’s perspective. I’ve been pondering the morning’s events, and have come to the realisation that there may not be much room for character progression for someone whose first appearance was on the bad guy’s team – From Grand Moff Tarkin to the Tina Fey-alike in the last season of Lost, evil lackeys very rarely meet sympathetic fates. I spot my chance, and as ‘Moss’ walks on by I add some much-needed complexity to my character by smiling and raising my glass to toast him. A few minutes later, Graham walks by, and one of the agency girls I’d been chatting to earlier turns to me and asks, “So, who’s that, then?” I shake my head and walk away, in the knowledge that our babies would have been beautiful.
1530. It’s back to the comfy chairs, and I think about going over and talking to the nerdy girls, but I lack the social skills. Perhaps I’ve been in character for too long. While I’m talking to a couple of the guys, with whom I have less obvious social issues, Graham comes down, not to call anyone up this time, but to let us know that he’ll be hanging around at the end of the shoot to pose for photos, sign autographs and generally meet us to thank us for our hard work. Graham Linehan has a reputation as one of the nicest guys in the business, and it really is well-deserved.
1700. We’re left to film our final scene of the shoot, another crowd scene, with Moss and actor Benedict Wong exchanging lines at the bar entrance. We’re put into small groups and told to make small talk so they can get some establishing shots of the place. The girl I’m placed with looks a little tired and cranky, so I try to lighten her mood by pointing out various nerds in the room and asking if her character is dating them. I fear I didn’t do much to help.
Some extras are needed for the forefront of the day’s final scene. The floor manager calls me forward, but she is interrupted by Graham, who tells me “No, not you – we’ve seen you a lot today.” He’s clearly worried about revealing too much of my character in my debut episode. I completely understand. It was an odd moment though, because, joking aside, I had thought I’d been just out of shot for quite a few scenes – it was exhilarating and a little embarrassing to be told this wasn’t the case, but also utterly great.
1800. It’s a wrap! Two amazing days draw to a close as we queue up to be paid by the lovely Chris – every last one of us would have done it for free, but to be paid was a nice bonus. As promised, Graham hung around for us all. I wanted to speak to him about my character, but it was all I could do to babble a thank you and have my photo taken, before heading out. Chris O’Dowd and Richard Ayoade also posed for photos, which was sweet and unexpected. A lot of Facebook profile photos were updated that evening…
It was a fantastic couple of days, and I look back on them with a great fondness. There are few people in the UK at the moment who know how to do sitcoms better than Graham Linehan, and everyone working on the show over those last few days was just fantastic. Many thanks to Graham, the cast and crew, and in particular to Chris Jones, who brought us all together and did such a brilliant job of looking after us all.
I recently had the chance to watch “my” episode, The Final Countdown, at a BAFTA screening, and although I’m biased, it’s a corker. This is a show that’s going from strength to strength, and I’m so happy to be immortalised as a part of it. Roll on Series Five! (Graham: call me.)
Read part one of Diary of an extra in The IT Crowd here.