I can divide my time in L.A. into three major chunks. The middle chunk: my sabbatical from acting, playing music in local coffee shops and bars, leading worship for a church plant and rock climbing. The most recent chunk: quitting acting, collecting dust on my guitars, writing books and leading a community group. Then there’s the first chunk: flat broke, looking for an agent, sending out hundreds of headshots and resumes…and doing extra work.
And with that, the “Pirates of the Caribbean” film shoot.
Every extra (or background artist, as they are called) in town wanted that job. It meant several months of filming—guaranteed work—with the possibility of traveling to the Caribbean. I was surprised to get the call. Dave Gleeson, my extras’ agent, was a lesser-known agent. The biggest shoots he had booked me for were B-level television shows: “Dragnet,” the modern remake (an episode set in a strip club) and “Are You Hot?” (Does anyone remember this awful show?).
When I answered the phone, Dave asked, “Do you still have long hair like it is on your headshot?”
(A quick note: I had gotten several inches of my hair cut a week earlier. Headshot length was easy-to-tie-back-in-a-ponytail length. Now, it was baby ponytail length—that awkward stage of growing one’s hair out, more Dutch boy than a pirate.)
“Yes, I answered.”
“I need you to go to this address in Burbank tomorrow for a fitting. You got a pen to write this down?”
He gave me the directions and call time, and we said goodbye. I spent the rest of the afternoon excited (How cool, to be a pirate and possibly travel to the Caribbean?) but also slightly worried about my hair. It was the reason I’d been cast. I’d have given anything for another two months to grow it out again.
The next day, I drove to an old, industrial warehouse in Burbank. When I arrived, I noticed a couple of dozen men, maybe a few more, sitting in the lobby, filling out the appropriate forms. I was quick to notice their hair length. Most, if not nearly all, had shoulder length hair. Two men didn’t—they had short-cropped hair—and it helped me worry less.
“Is this for the Pirates shoot?” I asked the woman at the desk
She handed me a form. “Fill this out, front and back.”
Do this enough times and you come to know your measurements by heart. Inseam (32”), Hat (7 1/2”), Shoe (10”), Waist (32”). I sat in an empty chair next to a young man with wavy, brown hair, swept behind his ears (“Definitely ponytail material,” I thought) and quickly filled out the form. Once finished, I turned to the man.
“What do you know about this?”
“They’re casting for sailors and pirates.”
I looked around the room. Wasn’t hard to tell who would be sailors and who would be pirates. Several men were toothless and tattered, with leathered skin. They wore muscle shirts with huge, tattooed arms underneath. The others were like me, younger and more normal looking. Obviously, sailors. I kept an eye on the two men with short hair.
One was soon called upon. I listened attentively. Would he be sent home? The costume designer, an older woman with horn-rimmed glasses, looked him over. “Lets go to hair and makeup,” she said. “We need to fit you with a wig.”
Oh, no. A wig? I wanted to sink into my seat. Would I have to wear one, too?
The man returned twenty minutes later, wearing wooden clogs, a bloused shirt, vest and blue pants—the uniform of the British navy—and, of course, his wig. It looked hot and uncomfortable. And itchy. He stood against the back wall, as a production assistant took a Polaroid of him. Why did I have to get my hair cut, and only a week ago?
I still had hope. My hair was longer than his. I smoothed it as tightly as I could and tied it back. Several strands came loose and flopped against the side of my face. I cursed them, tucking them behind my ear. My number was called and I stood to greet the costume designer. She looked at me, then at my hair…an askance look. “Turn around,” she said.
I did so.
“Wig for you.”
My gut sank. I was right on the deciding line between wig and natural hair; it was up to the discretion of this woman, and she wasn’t giving me a fair shake.
“I can use hairspray to hold it back,” I offered.
“No. Let’s go.”
She marched me to the costume area, shoveled a bundle of clothes and pair of clogs into my arms and instructed me to try them on in a nearby dressing room. When I returned, she handed me a wig and told me to take it to the hair & makeup room for fitting. Was there anything I could do to avoid this?
Once, when I was a college student in Waco, Texas, I got my hair cut but later regretted it. A fellow student told me that horse shampoo made one’s hair grow faster, so I found a stable not too far from campus and bought a bottle. I’m not sure if it helped any, but my hair was never shinier. I considered buying a bottle once I left the fitting. If I could get my hair long enough by the time filming began in two weeks, maybe I could ditch the wig.
I sat in a makeup chair while a stylist fastened the wig to my head, securing it with what must have been 200 hair pins. I’m going to have to keep this thing pinned to my head for 3 months in the hot sun? When she finished, the stylist returned me to the costume designer; the costume designer marched me to the lobby. With wig on my head and sailor suit fitted, I stood against the back wall, holding an ID card in front of my chest, as the production assistant snapped a Polaroid and stapled it to the form I had filled out. He handed me a phone number and instructions on how to check for call times and filming location, then I drove back to the Westside, still kicking myself for getting my hair cut and wondering where I could find a horse stable in Los Angeles.