Have you ever watched a football movie like “Friday Night Lights”, “Sign of the Times” or “Semi Tough” (Google them) and seen a faceless, nameless player get leveled with a vicious hit/block and reacted as if you’d just seen it on SportsCenter? I know I have. I know I’ve said to myself many times, “Who would want to get paid to take that sort of abuse?”
Well, I got a phone call Monday afternoon around 4:45 just as Melinda and I are arriving with the twins for a doctor’s appointment. The voice on the other end of the line says “Are you available at 6:00 tonight to be a football player for the HBO show “12 Miles of Bad Road”? They need a replacement ASAP. You will be suiting up as a featured extra.”
I will now give you a minute to re-read the title of this entry, the first two paragraphs, and laugh knowing where this is going. I’ll wait, go ahead. Be my guest.
So when I arrived at the Dallas Cowboys complex in Valley Ranch I’m given a faux Washington Redskins uniform (#25) for the guy I’m replacing. Apparently, he was much shorter and skinnier than I am because I was given size 30 waist pants and a helmet that might have fit my newborn son, Mason, maybe. After much ridicule from my fellow extras, the wardrobe lady announced that the uniform pants are incorrect and we are to switch to a different set. Before she could finish her directive, I was pulling on a pair of size 33 waist pants with no regard for the other guys.
After getting dressed and removing pads from my helmet to make it fit, the director/executive producer of the show, Harry Thomason, came over and introduced himself to all of us and thanked us for coming out, some he knew at very short notice. Mr. Thomason is from Arkansas and is best friends with Jerry Jones, hence shooting full access at Valley Ranch. He is also friends with the Clintons and created the shows “Designing Women”, “Hearts Afire” and “Evening Shade”. If you clicked on the link I provided you would know this by now and would be ready to move ahead.
So after explaining that we will be shooting football sequences on a green screen to be matched with actual Cowboy game footage shot Sunday versus the Redskins, we were underway. The first shot was the principle talent, referred to through the night as “Keyshawn” and “Texas”, catching a pass, eluding a defender and then having his teammate then knock the living piss out of a Redskin defender coming across the field. The director selected a defender to chase and another to get hit with the block.
I will now give you a moment to guess who the aforementioned, knocked pissless Redskin defender was.
Over 30 times.
From multiple camera angles.
For close to 6 hours.
Did I mention I had to take pads OUT of my helmet just to make it fit?
I have to give credit to the other actor that had to do the hitting. He only hit me wrong one time, and protected me every other time. I only had two incidents that made me question what I was doing there.
1. Early into the shoot, I am to dive for “Keysahwn” and miss a tackle. I dove and missed, as directed. Keyshawn eluded my faux tackle, but his foot connected directly with my moth and much bleeding occurred. Oh yeah, I wasn’t given a mouthpiece. The only padding I had were standard shoulderpads, thigh pads in my pants and the remaining pads in my too small helmet.
2. I’m not exactly sure of the specifics on the second incident, but it involved me landing flat on my back and my head snapping onto the turf. After every take, Mr. Thomason would yell out “25, you ok?” and I would give him two thumbs up. To be honest, I was fine with everything early in the shoot because we had planned out the hit every time. This time, however, I gave the X sign with my arms, asked for a minute to get my head clear, and wondered who the hell had taken the pads out of my helmet. Now I know it sounds like I’m running around with a metal shell on my head, but I did have padding in the helmet and I was protected. I was not put in any danger at all. It just felt like I had my bell rung.
About 3 hours into the shoot, we break for lunch and I decided to skip the free pizza with the mindset of not wanting to see it again on the field and be thrown off my very first appearance on HBO. I grabbed some water and laid down on the field and felt a nagging pain in my left shin, the very same shin I had been landing on for the last 3 hours. I pull down my sock to reveal a golf ball size welt from my knee to halfway down my shin. I didn’t need to pull the sock down to tell that, really. At this point, Keyshawn and the other extras see it and much commiserating commences as I am the only person taking any physical contact throughout the shoot.
When lunch finishes and we go back to shooting, we now have to shoot the hit from another angle. I go over the hit with my partner again and we prepare to get it over and done with. Then Keyshawn starts voicing his displeasure with various facets of the shoot from his equipment, his full stomach and subsequent gas, to his questioning the director why he would celebrate a touchdown a certain way. The very same touchdown he had just scored a half a dozen times before at the expense of my body. Right before one take the director, who was being extremely patient, tells Keyshawn exactly what to do for what seemed the tenth time, and Keyshawn made a remark about not being comfortable in his equipment. I was standing next to him and with out any thought blurted out “Hey, how about to get knocked ass over head for 5 hours. You’ve got the series regular spot, I’m an extra they called an hour before the shoot to get the sh*! kicked out of me to make you look good for next to nothing. Want to switch places?”
From that point on, Keyshawn and I were new best friends. He still struggled to deliver what the director wanted and I think my frustration was being sensed by the crew. I was contining to get drilled and he was having trouble taking his helmet off or spiking the ball. Some takes I would veer off before the hit or just allow myself to be pushed out of frame. This did not go unnoticed and it was asked why the block was missing. I remained professional and just said that I needed some time to let the skin on my left forearm grow back or that the knot on my leg was slowing me down and much laughter ensued.
Long story longer, the touchdown celebration was done close-up, sans extras and SportsCenter block. When we wrapped, all of the extras and crew exchanged pleasantries and we started to go our separate ways. When I spoke to Mr. Thomason I thanked him for the opportunity and he looked at my leg and told me he hoped I was ok and not banged up too much. I took a huge risk and told him I had been submitted to the casting people for the show, but he was very cool and said that the series is going to be splitting shoots between LA and Dallas. I told him about my travels to LA with The Second City and that was available in either city. He asked who my agent was and said that he would make sure to pass my name on to the casting people in return for helping him out and getting pummeled. I can only give him the benefit of the doubt, but you never know.
When I got home, Melinda was asleep and I woke her up to let her know I was home and would be able to help with the next feeding. She was jarred awake by the sight of me – I looked like I had been in a car wreck. Swollen right hand, scraped knees, bruised right shoulder, left arm scraped from wrist to elbow and bleeding, and the extra kneecap I told you about earlier. She asked what happened and if I was alright. All I could say was that I was a Washington Redskin for a night, we played some football, and I am one SAG voucher shy of gaining my eligibility.
Fast forward to this morning. My neck is sore from the ground breaking my fall, my right hand swollen and is covered in a huge purple bruise, my left forearm is raw from my wrist to my elbow, and the knot in my left leg has subsided but I now have a huge dark bruise running from my knee to just above my ankle.
How much is it going to suck when I see the finished show and I’m sitting on my couch frame advancng Keyshawn’s touchdown run just for the two frames you see my feet suddenly replacing my head. I did, however, get asked at dinner if I was in a motorcycle accident, so apparently I look like a tough biker…or a really poor one.