We’re stretching definitions with Extras in this series of posts. Extras are termed that by the fact that they are mostly in the background and once they have a line of dialogue they cease to be extras and becoming speaking parts. We’ve featured people who spoke but barely previously in this series. Here we’re pushing the boundaries further with a speaking part of several lines that plays over a scene. The character does not get a name and it is doubtful you would remember them but they are not really an extra and probably those in the previous posts weren’t extras either. So what’s the difference between an Extra Who Adds A Little Something and Minor Roles That Had A Major Impact? For me the latter usually involves more screen time, involves a scene I always remembered with a character who may significantly alter how the story goes. Yet these are not hard and fast rules to play by. For me there is a difference but it could all be in the eye of beholder. This week we’re talking about a scene that I don’t think really stuck in my mind but when I watched the scene again recently I enjoyed the way the performer did his moment. For Extras who truly stood out please refer to the awesome post by Mental Floss.
Finally we come to this months Extras Who Add A Little Something.
Recognise this man?
How about now?
Educated at Cambridge, 55 year old Neil Mullarkey worked the pub circuit as a double act in the early 1980s with British comedian Tony Hawks. When Hawks left, Mullarkey teamed up with Mike Myers. Often they would perform at the George IV in Chiswick where a young Hugh Grant was performing in the Jockeys of Norfolk revue. That must have been a grand time. Mullarkey remains a working comic performer, writer, voice-over artist and actor making a living doing what he loves and doing it well. To me this is a wonderful achievement.
In 1997 Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery came at an interesting time in Mike Myers career. He had become a star thanks to Saturday Night Live, gone supernova with Wayne’s World and an obligatory sequel but had failed with So I Married An Axe Murderer. I don’t know if having old friends around were a comfort or even if Myers doubted this film would be good but Mullarkey who had done script edits on Axe Murderer appears here with his old colleague as the Quartermaster Clerk (listed 21st on the cast list at IMDB).
It’s a simple scene, superspy from the 1960s Austin Powers has woken up from cryosleep in 1997 and is being handled his personal effects. It’s funny as so many scenes in this film are, one item Powers is handed plays a part later on in saving his life but not much happens. Yet Mullarkey’s line reading of “Babee” always makes me smile. He also ties the scene in a nice little bow at the end with his final gesture.
I just don’t see the scene playing as well in lesser hands than Mullarkey and Myers but maybe that’s just me. You can check out more about Neil Mullarkey at his website here http://www.neilmullarkey.com/
Extras are meant to fade into the background, never to be recognised and surely not remembered. Yet some prove the exception to the rule and when you’re in a scene as good as this one in Fried Green Tomatoes all you have to do is your job and you’ll probably end up being remembered for a long time. Few will recognise the names of Kathy Lawson or Missy Wolff. Fewer still would know they played Beetle Girl 1 and Beetle Girl 2 in the movie. Yet ask people what their favourite scene is from Fried Green Tomatoes and there’s a huge possibility they’ll say “When she rams the car of those two bitches in the car park.”
The genius of the scene is how relatable it is, how this happens to everybody and how we usually turn the other cheek too. We don’t really need people losing their temper and ramming into cars every time something likes this happens. Everybody knows if you rear end somebody most likely you’ll pay the excess. The point of the sequence though allows us to indulge in the fantasy. We’ve seen lead character Kathy Bates’s Evelyn Couch take a lot of shit from a lot of people throughout the film and this proves the turning point for her character. With a cry of Towanda she ploughs into their red Volkswagen Beetle Convertible (it’s no accident it’s red and a convertible) four times. Her punchline seals the deal and off she goes into the sunset. Towanda indeed. The writing and set up of this moment was always destined to be a classic if the two actresses hired in these small parts could make the Beetle girls believable but also instantly dislikable. To their credit they did and it remains their most globally recognised performances.
Kathy Larson was credited as Catherine Lawson for Fried Green Tomatoes. On IMDB she has 10 acting credits from Little Darlings in 1980 as Girl through to 1995 with the TV series in The Heat of the Night as Tracey Cole. Fried Green Tomatoes (Beetle Girl 1)and Kalifornia (Teenage Girl) are the roles she is best known for. The actress also had reoccurring roles on TV shows during 1989 to 1993 including Ryan’s Bar. See if you can spot her in the cast photo below.Maybe she works now teaching drama somewhere, acting in theatre, maybe she’s left Hollywood and the arts far away in her rear vision mirror. She’d now be older than Kathy Bates was when they had a stand off over the virtues of being a particular age.
Missy Wolff according to IMDB has been a stand in for Jeanne Tripplehorn and was offered the right of first refusal for the Ashley Judd role in A Time to Kill. She has four acting credits on the website for two roles in 1991 and one in 2010 and one in 2011. In 2011 she was also credited for Props for a short film Small World. This suggests she’s remained in the arts if not always in a way that gets her recognised by the Internet Movie Database. That’s okay, I worked on two short films and one feature film listed on IMDB but I’m not listed in any of their credit lists on the website. It’s a bit of process. After a quick google search it is proven true that she is still very much active in the arts. In 2015 she performed in Charleston South Carolina Who’s Afraid of Virignia Woolf? for the Footlight Players. A quick bio showed that she had been in other productions in Charleston and off Broadway productions in New York City throughout the years.
I imagine both Larson and Wolff were pretty excited in 1991 to get these small roles on screen. I like to imagine their families came to see them in with pride at a local theatre. Maybe for a while they dreamed of this being the first step of them becoming the next Julia Roberts or Mary Stuart Masterson. Maybe they thought they’d always get small parts and were already working towards having a different type of career. I wonder where Kathy Larson is now and hope they’re both doing well. I doubt they were anything like their characters. That’s working actors for you and Kathy and Missy remain two fine examples of working actors.
Extras often have thankless roles in films. Sit here behind the leads at a table having coffee, pretend you’re talking to a buddy but don’t draw attention to yourself. Many famous actors can be found as extras or small speaking roles (technically once you get a line of dialogue or a character name you cease to be an extra). For some you wouldn’t have been able to tell from that small moment that they were incredible talents. Other extras have hogged their moment onscreen with comical consequences. A good extra like all good actors in any part seem to give it something a little more nuanced or memorable.
Recently I saw Brian De Palma’s Blow Out which stars a young John Travolta as a sound recordist who gets caught up in a murder investigation with a young woman involved played by Nancy Allen. The film opens with the director and Travolta’s character noting a terrible scream from an actress in a horror film they’re working on. This subplot will be resolved at the end of the film. Halfway through though Travolta is briefly harassed by the director to deliver some work to him as he becomes more and more embroiled in the investigation. We see that the director has hired two actress to come in and record additional dialogue in a sound booth to dub a new scream over the original actress in the horror film. One girl a brunette screams while the other a blonde pulls her hair. It does not appear that their work is going to make the final cut. They then switch and as the brunette pulls the blonde’s hair she turns around to the men watching them work and smiles. An unexpected choice that plays as humourous and inventive. It was a classic stand out moment from an extra so I hurried away to the internet to see what I could find out about this little known actress.
Boy did I get egg on my face as it turned out that Robin Sherwood was a bonafide leading lady at the time and rather than her role in Blow Out being where she was first noticed this was more akin to cameo work. She had already been the female lead in Tourist Trap and Hero at Large and featured in a supporting role in Serial. Arguably these days she is most known for her work in Blow Out and the following year’s Death Wish II. A former model, with her acting career on the rise with good notices for her work in Death Wish II, Sherwood turned away from Hollywood stardom and went first to Paris, and then to running her father’s restaurant (fulfilling a promise she made to him once before his death). She’s occasionally come back into the public eye with successful business ventures or retrospectives on her work or even performing in theatre work.
Her talent as an actor and her beauty is all there in a performance that plays mostly in the background for a couple of minutes screen time. Ms Sherwood feel free to return to the screen or the stage whenever you like. You seem to be a talent at everything you set out to do including that of an extra.