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Horses and Hot Dogs: The not-so-glamorous life of a "Hidalgo" extra

Horses and Hot Dogs: The not-so-glamorous life of a "Hidalgo" extra

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The second night was definitely easier than the first. I think I had a fellow extra girl lace me up, so my organs all stayed where they were supposed to. The second night had a scene where Frank (Viggo) rides out on Hidalgo into the center of the ring. But the horse has other ideas, and does not stop until he's just at the wall. This causes Frank to fly off his horse and directly into the stands. That was funny, because the audience members were stunt people, but one was just an extra. Rather than admitting their mistake of not informing the extra to move to another seat before the shot, production simply told her they refused to pay her stunt wages.

We also got to watch a major stunt involving a stage coach and some Indians. As the stage coach rode around the field, the tribe chased them on horses. Eventually a couple of them got on top of the coach, started fighting with one of the drivers, won and then took over driving the coach. It was the coolest thing ever to see live. Members of a tribe in Montana had been cast for these roles. They were very good. Later, we were told there would be filming in Montana and then Morrocco.

One wonderful thing about being an extra is you drive so many places that you can learn some pretty nifty alternative routes. For example, because of "Hidalgo", I discovered that Western Ave goes all the way from the Hollywood Hills to San Pedro, possibly further. It was much nicer to drive that back home at 5:00 a.m. than taking the freeway. Especially when you don't trust yourself behind the wheel, but you can't stay in the parking lot to sleep. And you sure can't afford a motel room on less than minimum wage. But in Torrance, would you really want to?

The last three shoots were day shoots. Everyone who stayed till the end were getting comfortable. Many left by the second night. All of a sudden, hundreds of new non-union extras were arriving. Hair had run out of wigs for them, and none of them were going to be paid for mileage. People were beginning to rebel. Women were hiding their corsets in their bags in the changing tent. There was a small war breaking out between the women extras and the wardrobe department. We were suddenly beginning to wonder out loud why we needed to have such authentic details as super-tiny waists if no one would see us beyond a spec or an out-of-focus blur.

Many people during the shots were sitting among cardboard cut-outs of people. My roommate, for one shot, was the only real person in a sea of cardboard cut-outs-off-camera. Why should she have to sit there for two hours in something that cut off her circulation if she wasn't even going to be seen? Unfortunately, the wardrobe department took it out on the newer girls. One girl was reduced to tears because of something with her boots not being the right color or something.

The days were long ones. But when you have lots of time on your hands, you can accomplish a lot. For a good portion of those days, I wrote three chapters to a novel that I have yet to start back up again. Props were placed everywhere in the stands, and I spent half of one day reading one of the programs for the Wild West Show. There was a very boring story about rafting in one of them, and another had the definitions for the states named after native American words (like Tennessee and Utah) but I don't remember what they are off-hand. I think Tennessee meant "green".

I also met some interesting people. There was one man who was scary. He introduced himself to me on five separate occasions, and was very energetic. He said he was from Orange County and lived in a van with his girlfriend. He had very little sense of personal space and how loud your voice should be when you're ten inches away from someone's face. He wouldn't leave me alone, and he wasn't very perceptive when I said things like "please leave me alone". But I eventually didn't have to sit next to him, and I learned to avoid him. I also sat next to a woman who talked to herself quite a lot. But she was nice and we'd talk to each other a few times. I was a little put-off and disturbed when her voices side-tracked her and she went back into conversation with them. It isn't very good for a person's ego when the voices in a person's head are more interesting to them than you.

The kids on set were cool, though. There were anywhere from ten to twenty children on the set on any given day. One was paired with me, and the PA said I could be his mother. The kid looked up at me and said I was too young to be his mother. What a wonderful child. They'd always sneak us food from the SAG table. The PAs were seriously freaking out as we'd walk towards craft services and hot dogs would be barbecuing. I still remember this one man screaming at the top of his lungs:

"These hot dogs are not for you! They are for SAG only!!! SAG only!!! WHICH ONE OF YOU IS SAG, HUH?!! WHICH ONE OF YOU!!! WHICH ONE???!!!"

Oh, yeah. Feel the love.

One day we spent all day shooting a scene with a horse that just did not want to work that day. His name was RJ. There were about five different Hidalgos for the various scenes we shot, and for the scene we did that day, RJ was the horse.

The scene involved the entrance of Frank on his Horse, Hidalgo. But at this point in the film, Frank is at the lowest point of his life. He's stuck in this dumb show, he's depressed and he's drunk. So when his name is called by Buffalo Bill Cody, he's too drunk to leave his tent. But Hidalgo knows the show must go on, so he gallops out to greet the crowd. Frank gets angry that Hidalgo left without him and runs out after him. The audience is stunned as Frank staggers after Hidalgo and tries to mount him, and Buffalo Bill is extremely embarrassed. But Annie Oakley whispers out from behind a curtain that it's some kind of Indian trick. Bill promptly tells that to the audience and we all clap because we're just so impressed to see this strange new trick.

Ideally, that's what was supposed to happen, but RJ just didn't feel like it that day. You know, it can be really annoying when an actor has a hissy fit and stays in their trailor for hours on end, like on a certain snack-food commercial I worked on. But when an animal does it, it's just the cutest thing. Especially when the people watching are all disgruntled extras.

"RJ! RJ no! Get back here!" The trainer would shout. But RJ didn't really feel like running into the center of the ring and posing on his hind legs, as he was supposed to do. RJ wanted to run! Run and run and run. Sometimes he wanted to trot up to the wranglers and sniff their hands to get to know them better, to which all the girls in the stands "awwwwed" about. RJ wanted to play chase with Viggo, and sometimes Viggo would play along. His character was supposed to mount that horse, by god, and he was going to do it!

It got to the point that we were cheering RJ on to ruin each take. So much of that was caught on film to my knowledge. When the DVD comes out, I hope that there is a segment in the special features section called "Working with RJ", because it was the best thing ever.

Finally, the end was nearing. Since we got there, crews had been building outdoor sets. One set was a building with a church-like interior, and another set was the front of a boat. After we were done shooting our scenes, they would shooting a scene of the ship leaving for Arabia, where Frank and Hidalgo would race.

On the last day at lunch, the wardrobe lady who had laced me up so tight the first night came up to me. I think she felt bad and was trying to make it up to me, and I very much appreciated the gesture. She said that for the next scene with the ship they were going to need a bride who was going on her honeymoon with her new husband, and she said I looked like I'd fit in the dress. So she took me to the head of wardrobe to have me meet them and try on the dress. It fit very well and then I had to meet one of the hairdressers. I was so excited, because this meant that after two and a half years, I would finally get my third SAG voucher, and I might actually get to do a bit of acting instead of just being filler.

Then I went to the hair department. The hairdresser hated me. First she didn't want me wearing a wig, because water would be spraying and she knew people watching the film would see the droplets hitting my hair and they would know I was wearing a wig. They started to take the wig off me and she saw that I had highlights. That wouldn't do, she said. I told her they were subtle and my hair was actually red (at the time). Well, she said, the lead actress's hair was red and straight, so I couldn't be in the scene. For some reason we tried one more time, and I said my hair was wavy. But sitting under that wig for ten hours had made my hair straight. The fact was she just didn't want me to be the bride in the scene, so I was passed off to another hairdresser to get me back into my wig.

And for me, "Hidalgo" was over shortly after that. I went home and did other extra work. Mostly "Boston Public", but I also then started working on "Strong Medicine". I loved that show. You got to wear scrubs and they had the best food ever. I could get a massive breakfast burrito any way I wanted! It was heaven.

A couple weeks later, I started getting the paychecks for "Hidalgo". I made a grand total of $471.34 for five days and a fitting. I worked a total of sixty-nine hours and drove about 350 miles in all. Was it worth all the throwing up and the yelling and the exhaustion? Probably not. But, for me, it's one hell of a war story.

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