Hard-Working Hollywood Extra Hopes For Bigger Roles
Each week, Weekend Edition Sunday host Rachel Martin brings listeners an unexpected side of the news by talking with someone personally affected by the stories making headlines.
By his own account, Jesse Heiman is one of the hardest working actors in Hollywood. It's easy to believe he might be right, as Heiman has appeared as an extra in more than 100 films and television shows, including The Social Network and Knocked Up. But his big break came during Super Bowl XLVII, when he starred in a racy commercial for domain name registry GoDaddy.
Heiman moved to Hollywood in the early 2000s with high hopes of becoming a star. "I had the dreams of being like Michael J. Fox in Back to the Future, or Indiana Jones. I really wanted to work with Steven Spielberg," Heiman tells NPR's Rachel Martin. "I thought he would be my key to everything."
Sure enough, within just a few months of living in Los Angeles, Heiman was an extra on the film Catch Me If You Can. "Spielberg himself actually came up and gave me some direction," telling Heiman to stick his face further into a book. Sure, it meant he wanted less of Heiman in the shot, but, says Heiman, "he must've found me, and that's great. From then on, I feel like my career just took off."
Being on-set on big movies with big stars "is just another job," says Heiman, though he acknowledges that may sound funny to people who don't work in Hollywood. "For every leading actor and actress there's 100 to thousands of extras behind them in every scene. We're more part of the film than the main actors sometimes."
The GoDaddy commercial, in which Heiman plays a nerd opposite supermodel Bar Rafaeli, was a turning point for him. "I went for a normal casting for this ... and there was someone that kissed all the guys that day," he remembers. "I was lucky enough to be the first one in. I think that was the key because she remembered me better than she remembered all the others' kissing, and said I was the best kisser."
There was some backlash to the ad, but Heiman has no regrets. "I just like to be the guy that's the geek that got the girl that year," he says. "I like to think everybody has a chance if you just have the confidence to go for it."
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JESSE HEIMAN: I'm not a heartthrob. You know, I'm kind of just your average-day nerd-geek type of person. But I can relate to a lot of people, so I think that's why they put me in a lot of things.
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
That is the voice of Jesse Heiman; by his own account, one of the hardest working actors in Hollywood. Although it's not his year for an Oscar nomination, yet anyway. Heiman has appeared as an extra in more than 100 films and television shows, including "The Social Network," the "Spiderman" series and "Knocked Up." But his big break came last year when he starred in a racy Super Bowl commercial for GoDaddy.com.
Heiman says he moved to Hollywood in the early 2000s with those proverbial big dreams of becoming a star. Hollywood extra, Jesse Heiman is our Sunday Conversation.
HEIMAN: I had the dreams of being like Michael J. Fox in "Back to the Future," or "Indiana Jones." I really wanted to work with Steven Spielberg. Like, I thought like he would be my key to everything. And within like a few months of being in Los Angeles, I was an extra on the film "Catch Me If You Can," being directed by Steven Spielberg.
MARTIN: Ah, no way.
HEIMAN: And Steven Spielberg himself actually came up and gave me some direction and that was very cool.
MARTIN: What did he say to you?
HEIMAN: He told me put my face further into a book, which...
HEIMAN: ...kind meant I think he wanted me even more...
MARTIN: Less of you.
HEIMAN: He wanted less of me in the shot but people still found me and that's great, you know. And from there on, I feel like my career just took off.
MARTIN: What is that actually like being an extra, Jesse? There you are on the set of a really big movie - starring Leonardo DiCaprio. Steven Spielberg is the director. I imagine that's intimidating.
HEIMAN: You know, it sounds funny to average-day people, it's just another job, you know. It just happens your every day job is working with amazing actors and directors, and different crews and different sets. And for every leading actor and actress, there's a hundred to thousands of extras behind them, you know, in every scene. We're more part of the film than the main actors sometimes.
MARTIN: But is it hard ever? I mean, do you have temper this urge to just, you know, scream out a line that comes to you to show director that, you know, I'm more than an extra?
HEIMAN: There are times when you feel like you could do a better job than the actor who has the lines, 'cause sometimes it'll take them like 13 to 15 takes to get one scene down, you know. And you're like, this is the first scene. We have like, eight more scenes to film today, let's get going. You know? But you have to keep professional on set. If you speak up, you know, you could get yourself fired and not brought back.
MARTIN: But that's hard. Aren't you actually supposed to be doing the opposite in order to get discovered, to get your big break? You have to stand out.
HEIMAN: Yes, you're supposed to. And for me, it was just luck they kept putting me in different shots and different films and shows, and in the center of the shot. Directors seem to tell me, you know, you have a great look, you should keep doing this. And so, their confidence in me and their wanting to use me that was all the confidence I needed to keep at what I was doing, and to keep going onto wherever it took me.
MARTIN: So let's talk about that big commercial, famous commercial - almost infamous, may I say. This was a really big role for you. This was a commercial you did for GoDaddy that aired during the 2012 Super Bowl. Let's listen to a clip of that.
(SOUNDBITE OF A COMMERCIAL)
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: There are two sides to GoDaddy. There's the sexy side, represented by Bar Refaeli. And a smart side that creates a killer website for your small business, Represented by Walter. Together, they're perfect.
MARTIN: So you play Walter...
MARTIN: ...in this commercial. And you and supermodel Bar Refaeli proceed to kiss in a very up close and personal manner...
HEIMAN: In your fantasy.
MARTIN: ...of the commercial.
MARTIN: So this was a big break for you, right?
HEIMAN: It was a tremendous break for me. It was amazing. It was, you know, I was at a point where I didn't know what was next in my career. Then this happened and then now my whole career exploded into stardom. I went for a normal casting for this, like an audition and there was someone that kissed all the guys that came in that day. I was lucky enough to be the first one in. I think that was the key...
HEIMAN: ...'cause she remembered me better than she remembered all the others' kissing, and said I was the best kisser. So...
MARTIN: Pretty good accolade.
HEIMAN: And then Bar Refaeli said that herself when I went on the "Today" show, they had her on too, and she said in front of like millions of people, that I was a really, really good kisser.
MARTIN: Keep that in your back pocket and just play that card whenever you need to.
HEIMAN: I do. I do.
MARTIN: So we have to mention though there was backlash to this ad.
HEIMAN: Of course.
MARTIN: A lot of people thought it was hard to watch. Did you ever think, you know, when you were auditioning for this, when you got a sense of what it was going to be, that maybe it wasn't the best idea?
HEIMAN: No, you know, I don't really have any regrets going into any auditions or commercials or work. You know, it's - people are saying: Why is she kissing him or why is he kissing her? You know, I just like to be the guy that's like the geek that got the girl that year. You know, or I like to think everybody has a chance if you just have the confidence and the go-for-it.
MARTIN: So you've been on the set with a lot of famous actors.
MARTIN: We mentioned Leonardo DiCaprio, but Will Farrell, Vince Vaughn, Mindy Kaling, a lot of great comic actors.
MARTIN: Are you ever able to interact with them at all? Or do you just hope to soak up what they're doing and learn just by watching them?
HEIMAN: Oh, yes. When I worked on "Old School" with Will Farrell and Luke Wilson and Vince Vaughn, I got to know them very well. And they were very nice to me on set. They'd give me advice and they told exactly what I needed to know, in order to have a long career. And that's obviously worked out for me, you know. And sometimes I'll see them on rounds in town and they'll say, hey, how are you doing. They'll remember me. That's great.
MARTIN: So I imagine that was a high point. You've had others. Has there been a low point, where you thought I'm packing it in, I'm going back home?
HEIMAN: Well, you know, there's a lot of struggling in this town. There's a lot of times when there's - the shows are on hiatus or summertime, or there's been years where work has not as been as great as it has been the last couple of years for me. And it can get tedious or it can get boring at some times. But this town works in crazy ways sometimes and your next big day could be tomorrow. So you just got to keep your head up and keep going.
MARTIN: Jesse Heiman, he talked to us me from our studios in Culver City, California. Jesse, thank you so much.
HEIMAN: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.