After I retired in 2004 from my IT position at Blue Cross Blue Shield in Albuquerque, N.M., I felt like I had maxed out my 1967 degree in mathematics. I wanted to try something exciting and not for the money.
New Mexico has become a film mecca and has been dubbed "Tamalewood," where hundreds of major feature film and TV projects have been made. Since I'm retired, I thought it would be fun to learn how a movie comes together and possibly see myself on the big screen.
I started applying to casting calls for extras. I have appeared in about 50 movies and TV shows as an extra, and I had the opportunity to work with several A-list actors, including Ewan McGregor and Renee Zellweger. The next time you see a movie, if you look past the main actors, you might see me walking in a scene.
The first movie in which anyone could actually recognize me (without running the movie in slow motion) was "North Country," starring Woody Harrelson and Charlize Theron. I played a spectator sitting in the first row in a small courtroom, a major scene within the film.
During the filming of "Haywire," I was chosen to sit across from actor Ewan McGregor at a table for four. I worked only one day on that set, but the film is set to be released Jan. 20, and the trailer includes a scene with me and McGregor.
As an extra in the movie "Love Ranch," I played a sports reporter at a press conference in which Helen Mirren and Joe Pesci were fight promoters. Out of about 60 extras on set, director Taylor Hackford chose me for my first speaking role. By speaking those two lines, I was transformed from extra to performer and eligible to join the Screen Actors Guild. My name was even listed in the movie credits.
In 2006, I had the opportunity to be the stand-in for Peter Fonda in the movie "3:10 to Yuma." I met the directors, the film crew and lead actors Russell Crowe, Christian Bale and Peter Fonda. I also was the stand-in for Keith Carradine in "Cowboys and Aliens," where I had the opportunity to work with Carradine, Daniel Craig and Olivia Wilde in a barroom fight scene.
In 2009, I won the lottery. I was selected to be the stand-in for actor and director Tommy Lee Jones in "The Sunset Limited," an HBO feature adaptation of a play written by Cormac McCarthy, starring Jones and Samuel L. Jackson (with me in the photo at left).
Since Jones was also the director, my involvement was more than a typical stand-in. Whenever he needed to move into his director's role, I was ready to take his place on set.
On the day Jackson (the crew called him Sam) arrived, Jones asked him to perform a scene as we all watched, and then Jones instructed me to sit across a small table from Jackson as Jones' stand-in.
Watching Jackson perform a scene and direct his actions toward me was unbelievable. After getting to know him, I explained how intimidating it was sitting across from him on set, and he replied, "I wanted to get you in the mood."
I worked every day on set until the movie was completed, and every day I'd pinch myself to make sure I wasn't dreaming. During the last week of filming, I asked the crew to sign my script. The final day was long and wrapped up at 9 p.m. Sam's stand-in and I were recognized and applauded by the entire crew for the work we had done.
Two years after filming of "The Sunset Limited," I heard that Jackson would debut on Broadway in the play "The Mountaintop." I planned a trip to NYC and purchased seats for opening night of the play.
As we walked out of the theater after the play, we received a cell phone call from Jackson's assistant, who invited us backstage. I introduced my wife, Carol, to Sam, and talked with Angela Bassett.
I'm such a lucky guy. I've been to "The Mountaintop."