(LOS ANGELES) — They’re the unsung heroes of movies and TV shows: thespians who “talk” in wordless conversations and toil at fake jobs in the background of shots, all to make a scene seem more real.
And now, background performers, often called extras, have their own award. Sort of.
In a clever bit of marketing, steel container company Stanley PMI created The Stanleys, meant to highlight those extas.
The Hollywood Reporter caught up with the inaugural winner of the prize, 36-year-old Tommy Bechtold. The burly, bearded man with a gap-toothed smile says he was shocked to discover he’d won the award, let alone any award.
His honor came with a golden mug-shaped trophy — Stanley also makes conveyances to keep coffee hot — as well as a cool $5,000.
Bechtold has appeared in more than 15 movies and twice as many TV shows. “I carried a coffin on House, had a burrito thrown at my face on a Disney show. I did a hot-dog-eating contest with Adam Sandler,” he says.
Being an extra takes patience and practice, Bechtold notes, explaining he mouths the syllable-laden phrase “watermelon elephants” for scenes in which he pretends to speak — because it’s a tough phrase for lip-readers to decipher.
His patience has paid off: he snagged a recurring role for five seasons of ABC’s recently-ended sitcom The Middle, and just wrapped a series for Facebook Watch called Take It Outside.
In addition to the prize money, The Stanleys donated $10,000 to The Actor’s Fund, and gave Bechtold a full-page ad in The Hollywood Reporter.
He says of the award, “The amount of attention it brings is a reminder that you’re out here working and that’s never bad, especially in our industry, where there are so many people trying to break in or break out.”
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