Extras on Valentine’s Day.
Tuesday. My phone screams bloody murder to announce the arrival of seven o clock on this early-spring-has-sprung Valentine’s day. The third V-day I’ve spent alone in a row. I grumpily tell my phone to cool its little electronic horses. As I wrap up my groggy negotiation with the sleep-interruptor, a new noise. A notification. A lucky break. A text from the friend who is at least 80% to blame for the hang-over I’m currently indulging.
“If you can dress as if for a date and be here in 30 minutes, we need some extras for this indie film we’re shooting.”
“Date,” I giggle to myself as I haul myself out of bed at 7:03. I spot myself in the mirror. I need a shave. I need three more hours of sleep. I need to hit the gym at some point this millennium, maybe. But also, I could be charming, I guess. I squint at the mirror. I’m teleported to my 6-year-old self, and I see my dad’s outline reflected back at me. Jesus, we look so much alike.
I grab my nice shoes. Trousers. I find a shirt. A silk scarf — sure, this is California, but a bit of je-ne-sais-quoi never harmed, I figured. Incorrectly, it turns out. I step out of my car at the location, and my friend just laughs.
“Take this,” he says, shoving a paper cup of profoundly disgusting coffee into my hands. “And lose this,” he guffaws, flicking my scarf. “This ain’t Paris, son,” he summarizes, as he storms off. Peter, on a film set, is 99% efficiency and 1% snark. I shrug and toss my scarf into the passenger seat.
The scene we are filming is about a couple on a date. I’m in the background, supposedly on a date, too. I’m facing an empty chair. I glance around at the decor. The filmmakers turned the barren warehouse into two-thirds of a really charming Italian restaurant. Dark brown walls, low light, live candles. It’s a good job the camera doesn’t pick up smells; the paint is clearly fresh. And they’re not planning on catching the floor in the shot; it’s concrete, slick with oil, paint spatters, and the scars of previous movies filmed here. I pick up the wine glass filled with grape juice.
“Will you put that down!” a voice behind me booms. “If you’re thirsty, grab a bottle of water,” the voice says half to me, half to the rest of the room. Then, an octave lower and many decibels louder. “Can we give a quarter of a thought to continuity today, pretty please?”
Right. Right. Film set, not a charming just-outside DTLA Italian place.
“Are we ready?” the director eagerly queries into a microphone. It sends his voice echoing around the set. The actors settle into the better-lit table beside mine. Microphones are dropped into place from above. I recognize one of the actors from an indie film with…
“Can we get this clown a date,” the voice through the speaker systems breaks me out of my revelry. He points straight at me, and my friend leads a woman by the shoulder to the table.
“You’re here on one of your first dates. That’s it — make it good, Jack,” he says, slaps my shoulder, and vanishes off set. I have to bite down a giggle — we’ve been friends for six years, and he got my name wrong. Today, everyone is Jack, I suppose.
“Anette,” she mouths, soundlessly, as the set is called to action. “Jeremy,” I enunciate without making a noise.
I’ve played this game many a time before. Being an extra is dull, repetitive, and kinda weird. We “speak” without making sound — they add that in later on. Sometimes we laugh. From time to time, her hand reaches across the table and touches mine. A waiter appears, and we pretend to order as he pretends to note my preference for spicy noodles.
There’s something about being on a film set. They are recording audio, so everything that the two actors (what is his name?!) say is the top priority. We are trying to be animated, on a date — but without making a noise. She is good at this. At one point, she “laughs” at something I “say,” and her laughter is hushed, but it makes her whole body convulse in a performance of expressive joy.
That is the exact moment it happens. She opens her eyes. They return to mine, and something happens. They lock. I can see every speckle of color in her irises as if I was sucked across the table by an enormous magnet, and I am now exploring the universe of her eyes with a microscope. The slim brown strands. Flecks of gold, green. The way the light catches her eye just so. The next time she smiles, her whole face lights up. I know she’s acting, but that’s the moment that I realized this “date” was going well.
“Please don’t bite your lip. Please, please, please.” I send a silent prayer to the universe. It’s so tacky. It’s so silly. And it’s my Achilles heel. As if on cue, her lips part. She mouths some words in silence, and I can’t look away. Her teeth. Her lips. Her tongue. The complex string of movements ends with a smile and a silent invitation. She’s just asked me a question. At the end of that question, she very briefly bites the side of her lower lip. Two teeth, catching only the tiniest sliver of flesh between them. It was there for but the fleeting-est of moments. I’m willing to admit that it may not have happened at all. But I can’t process anything. The wave of warmth that is coming towards me is engulfing me. Pulling me under, the invitation is all-encompassing. I can’t resist, I want to say yes, but I have no idea what the invitation actually is. In the real world, on the film set, she mouthed a question. The professional in me knows I am to silently answer. I can’t unjumble my brain for long enough to make my body react. I’ve forgotten her name. Come to think of it, I’ve forgotten my name. The depth of what’s happening in the eyes across the table from mine is universes worth of lived experiences. Love and heartbreak. Hope and grief. A lifetime of triumphs. And it’s all right there, three feet away from me, captured in the depth of her existence. Laid bare through her eyes. Pure beauty. The real sublime; presented, across from me at a fake restaurant, over a hastily-assembled table, in the middle of a take they will never use.
She senses it, too — her smile shifts from warmth to a flicker of surprise.
I nod, gently smile and lift an eyebrow. The mime is my answer to her invitation. She mouths, “C’mere, you,” and leans forward by just a tiny amount. I follow her lead. I have no idea where the table went. It feels like our lips shouldn’t be able to meet over a restaurant table. Still, we glide, effortlessly, across the expanse of the table cloth.
“CUT, will you fucking well cut that out?” the director bellows into his microphone. “I’m trying to shoot a date scene here. I don’t need you two…” The ranting continues, and I tune it out. Chastised like a couple of unruly puppies, Anette purses her lips, then bursts out laughing. I join her. A few minutes later, another take starts.
For the briefest of moments, in a slightly-too-warm warehouse, two souls met.