I Was a Bourne Extra

[Published in Esquire, April 2012]

Today I’m gonna be absent from my usual work as a writer. Today I’m gonna be a movie extra for The Bourne Legacy.

I arrive at the Manila set half an hour before my 5:30 call time. It’s dark, quiet, crisp. A handful of people lurk in the shadows, fiddling with props, getting things ready. I text my “agent” (a friend of a friend) who tells me to look for the extra’s room. I make my way down a road lined with trucks, film equipment, and plenty of cables. An extensive set of portable toilets stretches into the distance. Obviously a lot of people give a crap about this production, in more ways than one.

I love the Bourne films. The first movie, The Bourne Identity, almost single-handedly buried the James Bond franchise. Then Paul Greengrass came on board and knocked the next two instalments right out of the park. With The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum, he completed the perfect neo-spy trilogy.

Of course, a fourth Bourne was always inevitable.

Except this time it’s not quite Bourne. Matt Damon is gone, replaced by Jeremy Renner as agent Aaron Cross, presumably a product of Treadstone/Blackbriar and with similar ass-kicking skills and psychological issues. Greengrass is replaced by Tony Gilroy in the director’s seat, but that’s no loss. Gilroy penned all three previous Bourne films, wrote and directed the Oscar-nominated thriller Michael Clayton, and while he doesn’t have the same affinity for shaky cam as Greengrass does, he’s an equally deft filmmaker.

So I’m sold on the flick before it’s in the can. Little did I bargain that I’d be in the actual movie.

A number of cast and crew are gathered, eating breakfast. I look around for famous people, as you do. It’s probably too early. My contact arrives and hands me some papers to sign. The contract forbids me to reveal movie details. I’m told I can’t take pictures. If you’re wondering why this article is somewhat vague, well now you know. When it comes to today’s events, I’m supposed to act like I have amnesia. Just like Jason Bourne, only less handsome and without the ability to kill a man in 2 seconds.

We’re escorted to Wardrobe, which is in fact a large trailer filled with clothes. My wife would want one of these, I note. I’m given a dull shirt to wear and get changed. The wardrobe lady eyes me slowly then gives me the thumbs up. “Makeup will do the rest,” she says.

The makeup lady, a harried yet focused Brit, tousles my hair and weaves Hollywood magic on my face. We’re done in less than 5 minutes and I emerge a different man, ready for my close up.

By this time the sun is fully out and we’re marching to the set. It’s a familiar Manila spot, dressed to match the movie’s exact requirements. Props abound. Production crew are all over the place. A steely Brit barks orders into his radio, coordinating vehicles and making sure things move like clockwork.

What exactly is my cinematic contribution? Well let’s just say I do a specific action. That’s about as much as I can give away I’m afraid. What I can reveal with 100% certainty is that if I make it into the final edit I will no doubt pause the DVD many hundred times over and point out my split-second claim to fame.

So I’m standing there, in all my extra glory, when I notice a familiar figure walk into view. Edward Norton is typically fine in sunglasses and a simple long-sleeved shirt. He’s followed by Jeremy Renner, rugged, sweaty and charming. The street is flooded with charisma.

Several women faint. I text my lady friends that I’m just a few feet away from the Edward Norton. My phone explodes from their replies.

I edge closer to the stars. Norton is focused, refusing to smile. When the cameras roll he springs into action; in between takes he paces the set, like a panther waiting to pounce.

Renner, on the other hand, is less uptight. He’s focused, for sure, but in between takes he enjoys a cigarette puff and listens to his iPod. At one point a female extra taps him on the shoulder as he walks past, saying “Now you’re my co-star!” Renner humors her with a smile. The rest of us curl our noses.

The set coordinator breaks my reverie. We’re motioned into position and made do to our background action. It commences, not surprisingly, with the cry, “background action!”

We move, pretend it’s real, strut our stuff.

“Cut! Reset!”

During a break I notice Jeremy Renner in a corner blowing smoke. “Let’s say hi,” chirp some girls I’m standing with. Nobody else seems to have noticed him. We steal across to where he’s sitting.

Renner looks up, his face scrunching into a cheeky grin. He engages us in chat. I say nothing, pretending not to be star struck. There’s a craggy, Daniel Craig-like swagger about him. What does Rachel Weisz thinks of this, I wonder.

The girls start asking him silly questions (“How do you like the Philippines so far?”) and I turn away, as if to say I’m not really with them. That’s when I see Ed Norton to my left, carrying a Starbucks, his golden hair twinkling in the sunlight. He looks at me through his Ray-Bans, decides I’m not a threat, and continues to his trailer.

Now that’s how you do cool.

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