By Natasha Wasinski
After a month-long hiatus, NBC's "Chicago Fire" was back on TV airwaves last Wednesday night.
The return of the Windy City drama put me one step closer to making my big television debut. That's right. Look for my signature blond waves tonight at 9 p.m.
I play "city chick on her cell phone during a lunch break." I have no speaking parts and, more or less, blend in with the background. But, if you look closely and don't blink, you might spot me. An extra.
A friend had alerted me to a casting call in early April when a Facebook page said the show sought "sharp-looking female reporters and male reporters."
The opportunity to be within shouting distance to the male members of the cast?
Sign me up.
"Chicago Fire" gets extra props for casting locals, including real cops, paramedics and, of course, firemen. (Though my own firefighter father refuses an appearance. He says he doesn't want to suit up; I suspect he worries they'll make him trim his 'stache).
The process to getting on set is not all that difficult. The show issued casting alerts nearly daily this spring for all sorts of characters, including "female senior citizens, ages 73 to 87," "construction type guys with trucks," and - a personal favorite - "awesome looking prisoners,"
My "application" consisted of an email with my age, height and weight, as well as a few non-professional photos. Note: if your best picture is of you dressed as Cleopatra from six months ago, it's time to bust out the camera more often.
Four hours after sending in my information, I got a phone call and offer to work the very next day (if only all job hunts ended this way).
Other obligations prevented me from working that Tuesday as a "reporter," but I was free Wednesday, I said. The casting agent assigned me a temporarily call number and the role of "tourist."
"Call back after 10 p.m. for details on where to go and when," he said.
I reached a pre-recorded message at 10:30 p.m. but my number wasn't mentioned. Bummer.
Yet, by 11 p.m., my cell phone started ringing. Change in plans. Could I be ready to go at noon?
With hair and makeup ready, I reported to the UIC campus lugging two extra outfits, per request.
A white van waited in a parking lot to transfer the afternoon cast to the next set. The earlier group had started at 6 a.m.
Extra work attracts all types of people. Alison, a twenty-something wannabe actress, took the day off and traveled from Joliet to play the part.
A former extra on "ER," Tom worked from his home in Wrigleyville and was looking for another fun, "why not?" experience.
But, he had warned, "this involves a lot of waiting."
And he was right. After sitting in the van for the hour, our driver got the cue to move to the Hyatt Regency on Stetson Ave.
We were put up in an empty conference room while the film crews finished lunch. Another hour later, the plaza behind the hotel began buzzing. Camera and light equipment scattered about, and black tents popped up.
A costumer came to check our attire.
"Does anyone have a suit?" he asked. "We want a neutral background. Think 'Matrix.'"
The scene had now called for business professionals moseying about on a spring day, never mind in reality it was a brisk 40 degrees.
I swapped my gray belted wool coat for a less-warm black pea coat, and was handed a large brown saddlebag.
Alison was given a briefcase, along with an empty coffee cup.
Together we were strategically positioned 50 or so feet from where Lieutenant Kelly Severide, aka Taylor Kinney, received an envelope from Detective Antonio Dawson, played by Jon Seda.
Then, on cue, we walked back and forth a few times pretending to chat for B roll.
In another take, I sat on a concrete bench (shivering) with a (dead) cell phone at my ear.
I didn't notice how may takes it took, but after 45 minutes, it was wrap. We got a ride back to UIC, and was told a check for $75 minus taxes would be dropped in the mail.
Extra work isn't glamorous. There was no hanging out with the actors. Lady Gaga didn't drop by to see her beau. I wasn't a bystander to a fake rescue at the scene of a truck rollover.
But I found the gig to be neat. Especially since I got a head nod and "hello" from Seda as he walked by.
That's enough to keep me watching.
Natasha Wasinski is a local free-lance writer.