He’s been in three hit films, “42,” “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” and “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues” without ever auditioning for a role.
That’s because Gary Miller has been in popular demand as a featured extra. The Chattanooga businessman has appeared as an umpire in “42,” a black market vendor in “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” and now as a news reporter in “Anchorman 2.”
For Miller, a 1971 graduate of Bradley High School, being a featured extra in three successful motion pictures has been enjoyable, exhilarating and even educational as he learned what goes on behind the scenes of filmmaking and the stars who draw us to the silver screen.
Picking up where he left off as an extras umpire on the set of “42” (covered in the April 7, 2013 Lifestyles article), Miller, 60, explained, “A lot has happened in the past year. A couple of months after “42” wrapped, I got a text from Rose Locke, who had cast me as an umpire in “42”, saying she had a role in a new project, asking if I could work a few days in Atlanta in October. Turns out the role was of a Hob Vendor in District 12 of the “Hunger Games: Catching Fire.”
Miller said he grew his beard out for a couple of weeks prior to filming and wore a black eye patch with silver studs, making him a far cry from his usual mild-mannered, conservative appearance.
“During the ‘reaping’ scene when they draw for the District 12 representative to participate in the 75th Hunger Games, out of over 300 extras, I was selected to stand with Katniss’ (Jennifer lawrence’s) family,” Miller said. “So I’m standing with her little sister, mother, and boyfriend Gale, getting a few seconds of screen time in the movie.
“There were some scenes filmed in the Hob (black market) of District 12 that were not used in ‘Catching Fire’ that I suspect, because they were so big and dramatic, may be used in the next ‘Hunger Games: Mockingjay’ movie as flashbacks. In these scenes there were only about two dozen of us as vendors, selling our meager wares from our little tables and, without giving too much away, the Peacekeepers (police-like force) play an impressive role as they enter the Hob.”
Worldwide, “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” has earned more than $830 million. The recently released “Anchorman 2” has already crossed the $100 million mark. Explaining how he got a featured role in “Anchorman 2,” Miller said, “The “42” premiere in Hollywood was on Tuesday, April 9th, and we flew home the next day. Legendary Pictures had the Atlanta premiere on Thursday, April 11th and Sharee and I were invited.
Just before the movie started I ran into Rose Locke, who had cast me in “42” and “Hunger Games: Catching Fire.” We got to talk about 30 seconds before the movie started. From that 30-second conversation I ended up with a role in “Anchorman 2.” The next morning she sent me a text, saying she would like to submit my photos to the director for a featured extra role if I could be available to work two days the following week. I said ‘yes’ and that evening she sent me another text saying I had been approved by the director.”
Miller said he worked two days on the set of “Anchorman 2” and even surprised the wardrobe department with his authentic clothes that captured the look and tone of the movie.
“When I went to Atlanta for my wardrobe fitting I took a bright yellow blazer, yellow and green plaid slacks and some white dress shoes that had been in the back of my closet since the mid-’70s,” Miller said. “The wardrobe people went crazy over my outfit! They said it was perfect for the movie and my role as a GNN newsroom reporter. They couldn’t believe what good shape the clothes were in and also that I could still fit into them almost 40 years later! Hair and make-up was interesting, with me spending an hour and 15 minutes in the chair each day, with them adding sideburns (real hair) since I didn’t have time to grow mine out.
“Will Ferrell was a very nice guy. While they were setting up our scene he came over and introduced himself and we stood there and talked. We laughed about our wardrobe and he loved my outfit, saying ‘You look like a professional golfer.’ I laughed and he said, ‘No, you REALLY look like a professional golfer!’
According to Miller, there were a number of scenes where they positioned him behind the all-star cast as part of the newsroom team, making him easy to spot with his bright yellow blazer. He said the most fun he had was working a scene with Ferrell, adding, “There was a huge song-and-dance number with most of the cast and that scene didn’t make the movie, but I’ve heard it will be in the DVD. During the song and dance number there were several related scenes to be interjected into the musical. One of those scenes was with just Will Ferrell and me! They positioned the camera extremely close to me, so close I could extend my left elbow down and to the left and touch the lens. I was told to look straight ahead.
“Will Ferrell would just stick his head over next to mine and ad-lib some off-the-wall comments. I was supposed to look stern and after Will delivered his line, my job was to look directly into the camera without cracking up, which was very hard. They let Will do 10 or 12 different ad-lib takes, with everyone else on the set cracking up after each one. After we finished the scene, rather than just walk away, he stopped, shook my hand, and said, ‘I appreciate the work you did with me today. Thank you.’ That really showed me the type of person he is since that unexpected courtesy wasn’t necessary, but certainly was appreciated by me as just an extra.”
Miller said many friends have asked him about how Ferrell, Steve Carrell, and the other principal actors acted on the set.
“When the cameras weren’t rolling, they all were relatively quiet, low-key and focused on preparing for their scenes,” he said. “But when the cameras rolled, it was easy to see what genuine comedic talent looks like. Their timing and facial expressions were dead-on and it was difficult for the crew not to laugh out loud during the scenes.”
While his behind-the-scenes look into the making of Hollywood films has given the Cleveland native a deeper respect and understanding for what they do and how they do it, it was the rich tradition of a Hollywood movie premiere that lingers in Miller’s fondest memories of him and his family meeting the stars at a gala event that started on the red carpet.
“In April (2013), my wife, Sharee, and I attended the premiere of ‘42’ at Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood, walking the red carpet, then attending the after party,” Miller recalled. “My daughter, Rachel, who was living in Newport Beach, Calif., was allowed to walk the carpet with us. Walking the red carpet was exactly like what you see on TV with all the photographers shouting and waving at us to look their way. Everyone walking the red carpet at a premiere must have an escort. Our escort was the owner of a movie industry related company and he knew everyone. He was so nice to introduce us to many movie and sports stars, even taking our photos with some of them.
“Sharee and I were also invited to the ‘after party,’ which had a baseball theme. I worked a scene in Chattanooga with Harrison Ford that didn’t make the movie and at the after party he remembered me. So I was able to introduce Sharee to him and we talked a few minutes about his time in Chattanooga, which he enjoyed. We had a chance to say hello to many of the ‘42’ actors I worked with and catch up with what they had been doing since completing ‘42.’
Miller said many of his friends and family have told him they’ve enjoyed “living vicariously” through him as he shared stories and photos of his adventures as an extra.
“I’ve been very, very blessed to have these extraordinary life experience opportunities and reflecting back on them I still shake my head in disbelief, thanking the good Lord,” he said.