In the summer of 2010 my casting agency, On Location Casting, booked me on an unnamed project that was filming in Bastrop, Texas. I was cast as a criminal and later a prisoner. Upon arriving to the location, which was a high school that was redesigned to be a prison, I was told Jack Black was on the set and that I would be working with him. I was excited because I, like many people, know Jack Black’s work as an actor from movies like Tropic Thunder, Nacho Libre, and Peter Jackson’s King Kong. I enjoyed him as a musician as half of the rock duo Tenacious D. Jack was cast as the lead role in a story about a benevolent community man driven to madness to by an elderly woman in his community and ultimately murdering her. The film was called Bernie.
Initially, when I arrived on set I was sent to wardrobe. I was given a white jumpsuit with random numbers on the back, designating my pretend status as a prisoner. There was no need for make up as I was cast as an extra, which is essentially a background actor. Examples of an extra are people on the street, dining in a restaurant, or walking through a park. Extras fill up the background and add a layer of dimension to the suspension of disbelief that is present in any good film. If you have certain qualities and the director likes you, one can be elevated to the status of featured extra. A featured extra is paid more and usually gets more screen time. Examples of featured extras are waiters, cab drivers, and clerks. Being a featured extra is exciting because there is more of a chance of seeing yourself in the finished film. I anxiously walked into our makeshift prison surroundings and looked for the star.
I was told no phones or pictures were allowed on set. As a professional, I strictly adhered to the rules of the director, Richard Linklater. Linklater had made films like Dazed and Confused, Waking life, and A Scanner Darkly. I knew his work and watched him as he gave orders to the film crew with authority and professionalism. Then Jack Black walked into the room. He was wearing the same white jumpsuit as all of us extras and proceeded to shake all of our hands. I watched him joke and goof around in real life as he does in his movies. There was no difference! When the camera wasn’t rolling he was socializing with the crew. When we heard “Action!” I saw him switch into character.
During one of our breaks I walked up to Jack Black and introduced myself. I addressed him as “Mr. Black”, to which he quickly corrected me and told me to call him Jack. I felt so cool. I told him how much I like his band Tenacious D. He asked me enthusiastically if I thought they rocked! I laughed and agreed they did in fact rock hard which pleased him. I sat next to him as he played on his phone and in that moment I could not help but wonder what phone numbers he had in that phone. Which A-listers were a button push away for this top-tier talent? The crew had finished resetting the scene and we were under the lights once again. The camera slowly panned over each of our faces, eventually landing on Jack so he could deliver his lines for the scene. To take part in the making of movie magic is truly an exhilarating experience. We shot, reset, and shot some more. For eight hours we joked, conversed, and relaxed as a cast with Jack right there with us. At one point one of the extras snuck a phone onto the set and asked Jack for a picture with him. I watched this transaction and thought it amateur, and that Jack might be offended at the request. To the contrary Jack told the man to wait until the director was not looking and he would gladly do it. When the director shouted “Cut!” Jack and the man snuck behind a wall and began to take “selfies”. I was jealous and resented that I had been so professional, but that’s show business baby.
At the end of the shoot I said goodbye to Jack and gave him a hug. He was truly a joy to work with. He was as real, friendly, and accompanying as you could want. I left the set and boarded the transportation shuttle. As we drove away, I thought to myself that my favorite place in the whole world was a film set. I shed a tear. I would never forget my time with Jack and that for a day, a celebrity like him and an unknown like me were co-workers, peers, and friends. The following week I came back to “Bernie” as a criminal and spent an eventful day filming a scene with the mythic and mystical Matthew McConaughey, but that is a story for another article.