True Lies: What I Learned on the Set of ‘Sex and the City 2’
Yesterday, I fulfilled a goal of performing as an extra in a movie filmed in New York. The only way I was getting out of bed at 5am for a 6:30am call time was the idea that I was going to be a part of one of the most popular empires of my generation: the Sex and the City dynasty. Consequently, I was also ready to look like someone straight from the cast of Dynasty because I was scheduled to be ‘background’ in the 80s flashback scenes for the SATC sequel. When I arrived to the set at 6:30am bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, I was met with a group of disgruntled extras who had been dealing with the busy set, and long hours for a few days. I hit up wardrobe for my colorful costume: a calf-length ruffled dress in a bright pattern, finished with huge gold bracelets and big square earrings, an Hermes clutch, and an authentic reproduction of an Yves Saint Laurent shopping bag (I was listed as a ‘Wealthy Shopper’).
My makeup was atrocious, but it all came together on set as a thing of kitschy 80s beauty. What do extras do? They sit around for a long time waiting for their scene to be filmed. They read magazines, they freeze on early morning sets, they walk repetitively in the background of scenes trying to think of a different way to make the walking look better each time, they hobble around in uncomfortable shoes — and if they’re like me, they listen like a fly on the wall. Here are some of the tidbits I learned about everyone’s favorite sequel, all pretty much hearsay, but interesting notions nonetheless.
● It was a rockstar experience. As we walked out of the “Extra Holding Pen” onto set, it was astounding to see thousands of fans crammed behind barricades down 5th Avenue at 9am. It was utter hysteria in some aspects … bystanders pulled my clothes as I walked onto set, begging for photos, asking us, merely extras dolled up in 80s gear, if we were famous. I must have taken 20 pictures with crazed fans. ● The Sex and the City crew really does try to respect the habitat; midway through filming a scene where a bookish Miranda struggles in a careless crowd in front of Bergdorf’s, a confused elderly shopper was escorted through the scene to the front doors. Unfortunately, it seems as though rude pedestrians are at fault for clogging up the walkways. I saw a number of people stopping to make rude comments to people on set, purposefully walking slowly to keep others making through makeshift walkways with ease. ● Most of the extras on set weren’t there for their love of SATC; they just want to get through the day and get their paycheck. Many of the extras were annoyed with the huge crowds. “These bitches must be doing something right,” a veteran extra said, “but the crowds make a long day even longer.” ● SPOILER: Someone on set told me the reason they filmed all around Bergdorf’s was because this is ground zero for where Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte, and Miranda all met. Whether or not this is true is questionable, I’m not sure if on-set gossip can be trusted. ● Even former Governor Spitzer likes SATC. As the crew shooed away gawkers and pedestrians, they were confused as to how to ask the scandalous politician to walk away. “Keep it movin’ Mr. Governor,” was how they went about it. ● Craft services: Chickpea salad, loaves of bread, granola bars, chicken wings, fruit, Asian trail mix, and a lot of candy. ● Steve Sands seems to have the run over the entire production. One of the assistants on set was telling me the reason why he so freely skulked around was because he has so much dirt on the cast and crew that it would be a dumb move not to let him in — and everyone on set knows it. They all know him and seemed to make sure they spoke to him in a respectful way. “He has photos of actors partying with directors, some of them doing drugs — apparently Sharon Stone has the worst of it. He has a lot of information on her … if it were to get out, it would be a huge scandal.” So, naturally the pap has free reign over film sets and access to “exclusive parties.” When the crew was screaming at photographers brandishing official press passes to get out of the way, they asked Sands nicely to stop shooting, though he basically wandered around the set as he pleased. “Come on, Steve,” a NYPD officer said, “let’s get out of the way now.” ● Sarah Jessica Parker is basically a Beatle. When she first walked out from her trailer to film part of the 80s flashback, hysterical screams and cries emerged from the masses behind the barricades, moving in a wave that started from the side of the plaza and washed over the thousands of fans along 5th Avenue. It echoed all the way to Central Park. It was one of the most amazing things to see, this tiny superstar in cheesy 80’s garb elicit such a dramatic response. ● I think the actresses really do get along. As Cynthia Nixon was filming her scene with braces and books, SJP pulled up to the set in a black SUV, rolled down the window, and shouted: “Hey Cynthia!” It was a good show, and almost funny, as if she was playing a joke on Nixon. ● Being an extra is not the easiest thing. With a 6:30am call time, freezing morning temperatures in thin costumes, and repetitive movements in heels that barely fit, I was beginning to get worn down. That is, until SJP rolled onto set. Seeing the crowds respond to her as she bounced along in 6-inch heels served as a reminder of what a historical production this was. ● The girls care about their fans. As soon as Kim Cattrall wrapped her scene, she rushed over to a mob of fans and signed autographs, posed for pictures, and just chatted them up. ● Kristin Davis wears a wig in the sequel. Between bites at the craft table, I overheard one of the hair dressers talk about how he makes the best wigs (he said he was responsible for Michelle Pfeiffer’s rug in a film). ● Bette Midler is in the 80s flashback. ● There will be a Sex and the City 3. They are currently filming both SATC 2 and SATC 3, as told to me by a few other extras who overheard it from crew members. ● The people in that crew are geniuses. Not knowing what we look like on film, nor if we could be trusted with walking with a normal gait, they pointed to random bodies, yelled cues to us, and when the cameras rolled, it turned into cinematic magic. ● Patricia Field is a genius. I was wearing authentic 80s gear down to my buttons. I have no idea how they were able to know what kinds of characters they would need, but they had the most beautiful wardrobe details; “wealthy 80s shoppers,” “gay rights campaigners,” even schoolgirls and hot dog stand hawkers. ● Extras don’t have much interaction with the talent. Kim Cattrall said she liked my dance to keep warm. She apologized to us for ruining a scene by dropping her Walkman (though she didn’t see me trip and fall in the background minutes earlier). I commented on Pat Field’s busted iPhone at the craft table, and she sighed at her misfortune. Cynthia Nixon asked an extra to run into her a little bit harder. Yeah, that’s about it. But it was totally worth it.