Clash of civilizations

March 3, 2010 at 1:17 pm (1)

Next month a film called Clash Of The Titans will hit your screens. It’s a remake of the 1981 film where Greek gods and monsters, well, clash. If you look closely, in one or two scenes you may see the top of my head or an elbow because last August, I was a film extra.

I’d wanted to be an extra – or background artiste – since 1984’s Indiana Jones And The Temple of Doom. Many of the slave children from the mine sequences in that Spielberg movie were from my school in west London (some went on to work in jade mines in Africa). But the people in my year didn’t know about the casting, it was for the years below.

I must admit to being ever-so-slightly jealous of one boy, Raj Singh, who was two years above me. He went to stage-school at the weekend and landed the plum speaking role of the Little Maharaja of Pankot, sat opposite Harrison Ford at that infamous feast where the heads of monkeys were used as bowls and creepy crawlies were chewed alive.

(According to a dedicated Indiana Jones wiki site, Raj now lives in Illinois and is a ‘flight dispatcher for United Airlines’, but I wouldn’t trust this information.)

Not that I coveted a speaking part. I would have been happy being whipped in the mines like Rajan Das from class 1B, whose smiling face when the slaves were set free got to fill one frame and a good split second of the Spielberg movie.

In Clash, I was cast as a religious zealot barbarian which, being Iranian, I wasn’t happy with; in my own country that’s enough to make me president. Worryingly, the make-up department didn’t add too much to me when I turned up every day at 6am. “Take your glasses off,” they said. No one wore them in ancient Greece. But they did get me to grow a beard.

Often, as an extra, you face the challenge of doing absolutely nothing for hours. You can’t even read a book or listen to your iPod – the costume people will take it off you. One day, dozens of us were sat for what seemed like a thousand years, in a studio where a big fire pit had been constructed. This along with the lighting rigs created an oven-like intensity. I walked around talking to different people, as you do, in the hope that they would let me count their fingers, having run out of my own.

When we were shepherded into action we invariably had to express surprise or fear. I got pulled up for overacting with jazz-hands when the invisible Kraken rose out of the sea.

Next month I have the option of being a film extra again – my head will be shaved and I’ll be waxed all over. This suggests I won’t be wearing much which, with the weather as cold as it is right now, will be just short of physical abuse. Naturally I’ll say yes.

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