Becoming a background actor or extra may not have the shiny appeal of being cast as lead, but it can be a great way to get your face onscreen and start building your acting résumé. For some, it can even be a full-time profession. If you want to get started in work as an extra, this guide to background actor casting is for you.
“The Crowded Room” Courtesy Apple TV+
A background actor, also known as an extra, is a nonspeaking role in a film, TV show, or commercial. True to their name, these actors usually appear in the background of a scene to make it feel more realistic; after all, an empty coffee shop or park would feel strangely apocalyptic for a sitcom.
Featured extras are background actors who are still nonspeaking but have a bit more screen time. While the term “featured extra” is used colloquially, it’s not an official SAG-AFTRA designation and doesn’t correlate to extra pay.
“Mission: Impossible Dead Reckoning - Part One” Courtesy Paramount Pictures and Skydance
There’s no real audition to be an extra. You won’t usually need to read sides or a script, perform special skills, or feel out your chemistry with other actors. Instead, actors interested in background work should seek out open casting calls for extras and attend look-sees.
Look-sees “are different from auditions for speaking roles in that the real key to getting booked is all about a specific look, age, or type for the project,” according to casting director Melanie Forchetti (“Voiceless,” “Soul Harvest”). “We’ll generally put a call out for specific types of talent or someone with special abilities as referenced in the breakdown. If you fit those criteria and are interested or available, then by all means submit your headshot to be considered.”
“Silo” Courtesy Apple TV+
Follow these steps to get cast as an extra:
- Assemble your materials. A recent headshot that represents your current look is all you truly need to apply for background acting gigs—but if you also have an acting résumé showcasing your background work, all the better.
- Sign up for an online casting platform. Casting databases such as Backstage post new background auditions and casting calls for movies, TV, commercials, and more daily.
- Respond to casting calls. Submit to as many roles as you can that fit your physical description and geographical location. Actor marketing consultant Martin Bentsen recommends submitting to at least 5–10 productions per week.
- Register with a background acting agency. While this step isn’t necessary to become a background actor, an agency that focuses on extras can help connect you with the right gigs. Central Casting, Tower Casting, and Creative Extras Casting are just a few agencies that focus specifically on helping aspiring extra actors get cast.
- Network. Other actors can be your best source of information when it comes to finding background work. “Talk to every actor you know; ask if they’re doing background work and where they found it,” says actor Bill Coelius, who played a parking attendant on “Modern Family” and a restaurant manager on “The Office.” “If you ever pass a production on the street, kindly ask anyone with a headset if they know who they hired their extras from. I did this once, called the agency, and was on the set as an extra the next week. If you know any production people, ask them for a referral.”
“They Cloned Tyrone” Credit: Parrish Lewis/Netflix
- Submit your headshot: While you don’t need to worry about background character auditions, producers will sometimes ask casting directors to hold look-sees to see if you match a certain look, demographic, or type. “We’ll generally put a call out for specific types of talent or someone with special abilities as referenced in the breakdown,” Forchetti says. “If you fit those criteria and are interested or available, then by all means submit your headshot to be considered.”
- Know how you come across: “To get cast, it’s imperative to be keenly aware of your look and how aligned that is to the way people actually perceive you,” Forchetti adds. “It’s also important to make sure your headshot reflects that look since that is who you’re submitting for consideration. Most importantly, and this is where a lot of talent falls short, you need to look like your headshot. If you don’t know what your type is, then ask your friends and peers for their ideas on what roles they’d theoretically cast you as, such as police officers, blue-collar workers, lawyers, etc. Knowing how you come across is a huge step that could book you work as an extra or otherwise!”
- Meet and greet: “The audition is usually a quick meet-and-greet session with the casting folks,” Forchetti says. “You’ll hand in your headshot and résumé, we might take a quick selfie, and we’ll confirm your union or nonunion status.”
- Be open-minded but able to blend in: “I’d recommend taking improv classes, which are a good idea for any role, so you’re able to take direction and think on your feet in the moment,” Forchetti advises. “Most often than not, being a background actor is also about being able to blend in and not bring individual attention to yourself.”
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