Monday, October 06, 2008

My Short Acting Career

I dabbled in acting in high school, taking part in a couple high school productions. I never had any dreams of becoming an actor, let alone making it onto television. As luck would have it though, I was able to make the jump from the stage to the small screen, if for only a few brief moments. At the end of my grade 12 year, I managed to get a small acting role of sorts in a tv movie, a 1993 CBC mini-series on the failed Dieppe raid of World War II. Really, I was just an extra, but it was an interesting little experience, to say the least. My high school chum John, who was part of the local reserve regiment, got me interested since his unit was asked to supply extras for the project. Since I was 18 at the time and the school year was just finishing up and since I was casting about for something to do, I jumped at the opportunity.

For a few days in June of 1992, I was down on the beaches of Prince Edward County, south of Belleville, running around in an old wool uniform with a mock weapon in my hands. The film makers got hold of exactly one WWII-era landing craft which I spent some time riding around in. Thankfully the waves out on Lake Ontario were fairly cooperative as I couldn't imagine what it would be like to spent any more time than absolutely necessary pitching about in those flat-bottomed boats. Special effects were later used to make this lone craft appear as a large swarm, storming the beaches Presqu'ile Provincial Park and to add in the cliffs of the town of Dieppe.

The film was shot between Toronto and Presqu'ile throughout that summer and John and I, along with a few other friends waited patiently for the big premiere, in early 1993. I watched patiently all through the landing scenes, hoping to spot myself but to no avail. Much to my delight, I discovered I had about 3 seconds in the spotlight about 5 minutes from the end of the movie. The camera pans the carnage of the beach and there is a brief still-shot of me lying on my back in the hot sun. I could tell it was me by the rather impressive bloody eye injury one of the make-up artists had given me. I had been hoping the editors would use that shot rather than consigning it to the cutting room floor. So that was my few seconds of movie fame. I remember being pretty excited at the time, though part of me also considered that the "dead" soldier with the freaky eye wound was able to get up, walk away and sleep in a comfortable bed that night, unlike the real deal.

Two things about this experience I found quirky -

1. One of the regiments that took part in the fiasco was the Essex and Kent Scottish Regiment, based in Windsor, Ontario, were I was to attend university the following year.

2. I was also in a brief scene where the brains behind the raid, Lord Mountbatten, gave a speech, detailing the coming raid and imploring the men to fight a good fight. Mountbatten was played in the film by Canadian actor Victor Garber, who played a role in the 1997 blockbuster "Titanic". Of course I didn't get a chance to speak with him since I was standing in a huge crowd of extras. But Garber was and is the biggest actor I've come in contact with.

I'll leave the merits of the film to the critics who can, I'm sure, comment much more intelligently than I. (The film is limited in scope and concentrates mostly on the landing on Blue Beach. The film does a good job though, at depicting the life of a regular soldier.) From the perspective of a small-town 18 year old kid, though, it was all a very interesting and unique experience.


Kiggavik said...

Sounds like quite the experience Darcy. From time to time I run across (on a facebook group and a CEF forum) conversations of guys who played extras in Paul Gross'Passchendaele. They are rabid proponents of the film and by the sounds of things loved their experience, hypothermia and all.