You may not notice them, but they’re there. Background actors are one of the many aspects of filmmaking that makes a movie seem realistic. Even though everyone in the audience is there to see the famous actor in the foreground, it is the extras, bit players and stand-ins who take a film to the next level by creating a world for the main characters to live in.
The earliest silent films set the precedent for using extras, although they may not have felt so detached from the main cast back then since no one had any speaking parts. In Anthony Slide’s new book, “Hollywood Unknowns: A History of Extras, Bit Players and Stand-Ins,” he chronicles the history of these overlooked talents and their role in the entertainment industry.
What is the working relationship between these “unknowns” and their more famous counterparts? Is it ever contentious? How does one get into this line of work? Have any extras successfully worked the way up and out of the bottom rung to grab the brass ring?
Anthony Slide , author of Hollywood Unknowns: A History of Extras, Bit Players and Stand-ins (University Press of Mississippi); resident film historian for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences