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Television Wed Jul 15 2015

Going the Extra Mile: How Adrienne Lewis Casts Extras for NBC's "Chicago P.D."

By Taylor Scheibe

The walls inside the Tail Sticks Casting office (the official extras casting department for NBC's "Chicago P.D.") are plastered with headshots. As the NBC drama enters its third season, extras casting director Adrienne Lewis will analyze hundreds of these hopeful faces each day searching for the extra with the right look. On the rare occasion that she finds exactly what the directors are looking for, she must then ask some uncomfortable questions: "Are you comfortable being half-naked in a strip-club scene?" "Do you ride a BMX bike?" "Is your pinky broken at a 45-degree angle?" For this extras casting director, there is no such thing as a realistic expectation. (Season 3 of "Chicago P.D." premieres Wednesday, Sept. 30.)

Is it difficult to find extras for "Chicago P.D."?

It's not very difficult finding extras. The difficulty is finding the number of extras that we need sometimes. Like 40, 50, 60, 70 -- even 100 extras -- it's fairly doable. It's when we need like 500 extras and are searching for really specific things like, "we need an extra that looks like the guy from the Dos Equis commercial" and really really weird, specific things like that is when it gets really hard. We've had two shoots now where we've had to find two African-American kids that were not minors, that were 18, but looked younger, who also had BMX bikes. We didn't find those kids. We found a different version of what they wanted. Or having girls who are comfortable being half-clothed on national television for everyone to see in a room full of 100 men -- that can be a little bit difficult.

How many submissions do you go through a day?

Probably somewhere between two and four hundred just on a daily basis. We have our core group of extras that we know are very reliable and we like to give them a lot of work, but there [are] always people that we want to get in and we want to see new faces. Sometimes they submit and I don't think they know what they're getting into. Then we talk to them and they're like, "It's not a lot of money and you're asking me to take a day off work." Sometimes to find 15 people we go through 50 submissions to find the right look and to find the right type and to find people that we haven't used or featured.

Describe to me the ideal extra.

GB-ALewis-headshot (1).jpgThe ideal extra to use on a consistent basis, I would say, has kind of an everyday look. So no crazy hairstyles or anything like that. They have multiple, multiple wardrobe options -- they have something for casual, business casual, for a cocktail scene, for a really upscale business attire, and then also a car that is not red or white because they don't like those.

Why no red or white cars?

It has to do with lighting. White in particular just shows up way too harshly onscreen. Some of the picture cars, the main cars that they use, they want to be able to utilize a red or white car so you can't have background cars pulling focus away. They count cars the same way they count actors. Like say one of the girls in the scene is a blonde, they don't necessarily want an extra standing right next to her that's a blonde. They want opposition. There is an additional $25 added to the traditional $75 for eight [hours]. We call it a car bump.

What are some big no-no's that can get you blacklisted from being an extra on "Chicago P.D."?

Do not talk to the actors, do not take photos and post them on social media, and show up on time. Fifteen minutes early is on time. People violate those rules immediately. We've gotten reports back from actors that ask us, "Please don't bring this person back because they were distracting, they were bothering me when I'm trying to go over lines." When you upset the actors, you are forever blacklisted and banned. Another wonderful way is when we book you and you don't even let us know that you're going to cancel.

Is that the most annoying aspect of your job?

The most annoying part is having the extras who have no clue about anything that is this industry. We book them one time and they come to the set and then somehow they think that they're an actor. And then they call the next day and say, "I had a really great time. Um, I would really like a speaking role. And how do I go about doing that?" That's probably the most annoying. There's lots of paperwork and lots of money involved in getting a line, just speaking one word on television or film.

Do you have any crazy stories?

[Laughs] They needed a hand double because the scene called for -- Voight was breaking this guy's pinky -- literally breaking it. They were like, "We need someone with a pinky that's broken at least at a 45-degree angle." And we were like, "Are you serious?" So we put up a post about it, sent out emails. And then a guy submitted with [a picture of] his hand and his pinky is broken at a 90-degree angle. We printed the picture out and ran to the AD's office. Those are the best moments. It's like trying to put together a puzzle and one piece is missing, and then you find the missing piece.

Taylor Scheibe is working toward a bachelor's degree in journalism at Columbia College, Her writing has been published in Michigan Avenue Magazine, El Mestizo Magazine and on ChicagoTalks.org.

 
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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »

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