Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Memories of CARLITO'S WAY


"Hey remember me, Benny Blanco from the Bronx?" -- John Leguizamo in Carlito's Way

I was reminiscing about Carlito's Way the other day. I worked on it for a couple of days as an extra back when I was a young, wide-eyed kid right out of college, dreaming of making it big in television and the movies. Even though you can't see a glimpse of me in the final film, it's still one of my fondest memories.

I had done some stage work before and had just finished a stint as an extra on Law & Order, so to me this was the big time. I first had to go to Kaufman Studios in Astoria to get fitted for my costume. This was a period gangster film, so they had me decked out in platform shoes, bell-bottom pants, a polyester shirt like the kind Larry used to wear on Three's Company, and big framed slightly tinted glasses. Gotta love the disco era!

The film shoot took place at the Palladium, the old night club in Manhattan. It seemed like there must have been over 200 other extras for the scene in which Carlito Brigante and his lawyer were celebrating his release from prison. Even though I was one of many, I was thrilled to be on the same set as actors Al Pacino and Sean Penn, and director Brian DePalma.

Pacino and Penn were in character throughout the shoot, even in-between takes. We were instructed, "Don't talk to the talent!" Even though I was a lowly extra, I found that to be slightly insulting. I considered myself talent too. Only later would I realize that many people in the industry consider extras not as background actors but as glorified props.

In between takes, I chatted with other extras and made some new friends, but I also tried to absorb every detail I could. There was a cooler the size of my living room coffee table filled with bottles of water and a big sign: "AL'S WATER -- DO NOT TOUCH!"

I was one of the lucky ones chosen to be near the principle actors. They had me walk behind the table where Pacino and Penn were doing their scene. I did it a bunch of times, and each time I strutted like I was the king of the world.

I stayed professional and focused while cameras were rolling. At one point between takes, I made eye contact with Pacino and I couldn't resist giving him two big thumbs up and a goofy grin. (I swear, I was still in character as a goofy nightclub patron!) Al Pacino just rolled his eyes at me. Correction -- Carlito Brigante rolled his eyes at me!

Months later, I went to see the movie and I wasn't surprised to see no trace of my brilliant strut on the silver screen. It didn't bother me too much. It was still a wonderful experience that I'll never forget.

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