Musing on the Coast: My Life As An Extra

By Michael Ray.

By Michael Ray.

The assistant director, Howell, was herding us into place.   It was not easy because 80 percent f the cast and crew were Spanish-speaking.  Howell did not speak Spanish, so as he yelled, a translator followed with his own Spanish yell, like an echo.

We were in Uruguay, which is sandwiched between Argentina and Brazil and is 22 hours and six time zones from LAX.  I had thoroughly drugged myself to sleep on the various planes, but was so jet-lagged only the adrenal rush of being in an actual Hollywood production kept me awake.

The commercials (they shot several) are for Bacardi Rum and I was in one.  It was a favor to my girlfriend, Laguna’s own Kim Bowen, who dresses people for TV commercials, music videos, and so on.  The director, Jake Scott, is her old friend and the favor was to give me a bit part.

The commercials involved more than a 120 people in costume, which  Kim sourced in Los Angeles and shipped to Uruguay in 15 very large containers. It was more complicated than it sounds. Kim had five assistants.

The commercials are set in the Spanish American War in Cuba (think Teddy Roosevelt’s Roughriders), and tell the Bacardi family story. The head of the clan, Emilio Bacardi, was heroic.  He collaborated with and helped finance Cuban revolutionaries against their Spanish overlords, a war America joined late in the game. Emilio was repeatedly imprisoned for his efforts.  And yes, there is a passionate love story.

I was supposed to play an American general and even have photos of myself in a general’s outfit. Then Jake needed a “surgeon” and Kim turned me into one. My job was to “work on” a wounded army man while a young hero on horseback galloped past us.  The scene was shot so many times I lost count.  The man playing the young hero really did grow up on a horse farm near Houston and was a great rider.   Good thing.  The horse, all 1,200 pounds of it, charged within inches of us.

The “wounded” guy in real life is the editor of the commercials. This was another favor by Jake. If the editor wants to cut me out of the final version, he has to cut himself.

All of the people playing soldiers, revolutionaries, peasants or townspeople were from Uruguay.  There were over 100 of them and they had a ball.

There were five principal actors. They were professionals, mostly from Los Angeles or New York, but the femme fatale was of Cuban extraction from Miami and even all the gay guys ogled her. She has startling black eyes and a va-va-voom figure.  Think Sofia Vergara.

Since Kim dressed her, I got to hang around in the trailer were it was happening.  The men making the commercial streamed through the trailer to check out her “costume.”  There were a lot of them. They kept badgering Kim to change the blouse, to make it even lower-cut and sexier.  Kim did not listen.  She did not like the peasant-type version that had been selected in Los Angeles, so she made her own.  The task took Kim and one of her assistants six hours. She ignored all the men streaming through; she knew what she wanted and she knew Jake would agree.

I did not say much, but I took so many photos and vids with my cell phone Kim finally told me to stop. She thought I was being a pest. I already knew that, but didn’t care.  After Cuban girl’s work was done, she asked me to forward her as many photos and vids of her as I had.

On the last day after all the shooting was finished and the costumes returned, the Cuban girl demonstrated why Hollywood is different. She strolled through the little village in her own outfit of such see-through brevity waves of comment cascaded ahead of her. She wanted to make sure no one would forget her. No one has.

Now, if only my visage gets three seconds of actual screen time, I will lord it over my kids for the next decade. Kim, of course, finds it all a bit amusing.  Been there.  Done that.  Have a nice day, Laguna.


Michael Ray grew up in Corona del Mar and now lives in Laguna Beach.  He makes a living as a real estate entrepreneur and  is involved in many non-profits.

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