When my friend Aaron Canada announced he'd be in a major motion picture - Lincoln, starring Daniel Day-Lewis - we were all a little jealous. What a unique opportunity! As it turns out, being an extra is harder than it looks - never mind the scratchy beard he had to keep up for a few months! Read our short Q&A on how he was able to participate, his filming experience, and what scenes you'll see him in when you see this fantastic film!
1. Tell me how you first heard of the opportunity to appear in the movie.
I was in the final stretch of my senior year (finally) at George Mason University, and I had added my email address to the Film department's listserv at one point because I had wanted to volunteer my voiceover services to any students who might need some extra crew.
One day, among the 3-5 I received from the list on a regular basis, was a message that extras were being cast in Richmond for what was presumed to be Spielberg's "big Lincoln project."
I checked into it a little bit and decided it might be fun to go down and check it out.
2. What was your role after being hired? What were the requirements for the role?
I played a Union soldier, so when I got the call that I had been cast, I was specifically told not to cut my hair or shave my face. They wanted every soldier to look as ragged as they could, which was ok with me since I hadn't cut my hair since the casting call, and I could grow a pretty mean beard in no time at all.
3. What scene(s) were you specifically in? Where did you film them?
The scenes I've seen myself in are:
1. The brief shot where the negotiators from the South have been brought to the port where they'll be kept inside the riverboat for a few days. I can be seen in the top right hand corner of the screen at nearly the very end of the wide, panning shot of the dock and the ship.
I told my friends that I played the part of the bored and resting soldier pretty well since, when we were filming, I thought I would be too far away from the action to be seen, so I was genuinely bored and just resting.
2. The brief shot near the very end of the film where Lincoln finally makes his way to the port to meet with the negotiators. I'm on the front right corner of the group of soldiers waving to the President.
4. How long were you a part of the process? How many days did it take to film the scene(s) you were in?
In all, I was on-set for three days of filming. The longest filming session I was ever a part of for any particular scene was the one near the end of the film where Lincoln and U.S. Grant are sitting on a porch in front of a house, looking back on the war they had just ended.
It took roughly six hours for Spielberg to get it the way he wanted it, so me and roughly fifty other guys marched two-by-two for around three hours, followed by three hours or so of just random walking and marching back and forth in front of the house, so that our shadows would be cast onto the front of the house by a HUGE spotlight that mimics natural sunlight.
5. Tell me about your experience - what it was like to be a part of this movie, experiencing such an historically rich film in a local VA area, anything you learned or appreciated in the process?
It was pretty surreal at times, to be honest with you. I remember sitting with some of the other "soldiers" behind a set-piece, waiting for our turn to shoot, and we had a little time before we would be called.
So I pulled out one of the two books I'd brought (along with a journal, winky face) and started reading. I looked up after a few moments, and realized that no matter which way I turned at that moment, I couldn't see a single thing in any direction that would give me an indication that I was living in the year 2011.
For a few moments it genuinely felt like I was back in the 19th century.
The location was great, and the scenery in my shots was used to film the HBO miniseries "John Adams" as well.
6. Did you get the opportunity to meet any of the more famous actors/actresses? If so, what was your interaction?
I didn't really get to meet anyone of note. I did, however, get to stand roughly three feet away from both Daniel Day-Lewis and Steven Spielberg.
Aside from them, the only "celebrities" I met were two very cool long-time extras who worked on the Baltimore-based drama "The Wire" for a couple seasons.
They thought it was hilarious when I told them that we had been viewing and studying "The Wire" in my Sociology of Social Control and Human Freedom course at George Mason that semester.
7. Anything special you learned through this experience?
I learned that Daniel Day-Lewis doesn't play around. I happened to get a glance at the main characters' call sheet one morning that had their real names, their characters' names, and when they were due on set.
Where Daniel Day-Lewis' name should have been, right next to the name Abraham Lincoln? Was the name Abraham Lincoln. Not even joking.
8. Would you want to be a part of something like this again (another locally made movie) should the opportunity come up?
Definitely. I've often joked that one of my life's ambitions is to be one of the names that roll off three-by-three in the opening credits of a movie, right after the more well-known actors have been acknowledged one at a time.
(laugh) Dream big, kids.
9. Were you sworn to a confidentiality agreement until the movie release?
I was, but there wasn't much to tell from my few days on set. I did, however, mention to more than a few people that Spielberg is a lot shorter than I thought he'd be. Roughly 5'6 or so, if I had to guess.
10. Finally, have you seen the end product? What did you think?
I have. I loved every minute of it. And I was still blown away by Daniel Day-Lewis' performance. I genuinely had to remind myself a few times that it wasn't Abraham Lincoln.