Behind the Scenes at POTC2/3: Costume Fittings for Extras in Los Angeles, February 17, 2005
By Diane B. Rooney
Tuesday, February 8 started out as an ordinary day. I work at home, and
since I was in the middle of a project, I decided to ignore the phone and cell
phone until a suitable break.
I'd forgotten the first law for would-be background artists (extras).
Opportunity doesn't knock, it calls. When I checked a few hours later,
there were two messages from Sande Alessi Casting, saying I should call right away about
an upcoming costume fitting, and two frantic messages from my friend in
When I called Sande Alessi Casting, I got bad news first. Because I hadn't
called back right away, they'd had to go on to the next person. I apologized
and asked if there was any way I could have a back-up appointment for the
costume fitting, covering for no-shows. They called back within fifteen
minutes, with approval for the back-up appointment.
I was to go to the location of the fitting, and plan to be there for several
hours until there was a break in the schedule when I could be seen. I
explained that would not be a problem, that as a writer it would be
interesting to talk to other extras about their work and their interest in Pirates of the
Caribbean, and that I could get material to work into a behind-the-scenes
article about the film.
There's a lot I won't be able to tell you about my experience. Like where
it was and especially about the incredible costume photos and drawings for the
sequels lining the corridors and walls of the dressing rooms. The journalist
in me was dying to whip out my camera and photograph everything in sight,
but the aspiring background artist knew how quickly that would lead to a hasty
and permanent exit.
But there are some things I can tell you, like what actually happens at the
costume fitting. For those of you who've never done this before, it will give
you an idea of what to expect if you ever work as a background artist.
Interesting information in the hotline messages from Sande Alessi Casting:
Absolutely no acrylic fingernails, highlights in hair, or breast implants.
(Apparently breast implants do not look good in the 18th century period
Maybe the acrylic nails could damage the costume fabric and people with
highlights would not photograph properly in period costume?) Also, we were told to wear underwear and take a shower. Have people from the
open call been living in character too long or what? And to be on time, or
lose our spot. I guess I can also tell you that the fitting was for townspeople on Tortuga
and that the filming will take place in Los Angeles in March over two,
possibly three, days.
Since I was told to be at the fitting location by 9AM Wednesday, I arrived
around 8:30 to find parking and get situated. A few folding chairs had been
placed outside the entrance. This proved to be a good vantage point, as one of the first people to come
out for a break was costume designer extraordinaire herself, Ms. Penny Rose,
who was nominated for BAFTA, Costumers Guild, and Golden Satellite awards and
won the Best Costume award from the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and
Horror Films for her costume design for Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse
of the Black Pearl. Fortunately I recognized her from the behind-the-scenes
documentary on the Pirates DVD. She is even more impressive in real life.
Ms. Rose gave me a once-over and said, "Were you in the first film? No, you
weren't, were you? Well, you are going to have such fun!" My reaction
was, "My God, she remembers everybody, since she approved the costumes for all of
When I went inside to check in, my name was on the list to be fitted, but
not until 5:30PM. I figured it was going to be a long day, but then they gave
me my welcome letter, sessions payroll form, and the set of tags with my ID
number that would be used to keep track of all the items associated with my
character, and told to take a seat. Looks like I ended up being the first
female extra to be seen and fitted.
Each ID tag said TCW and the number. TCW? The Costume Warehouse? Tortuga
Cantina Wardrobe? Hmmm.
I was led into the costume area, where several dressing rooms had been
curtained off. The open area was completely filled with costume pieces,
by size and type on racks that seemed endless. It looked like containerloads
of stuff had been assembled.
I asked one of the assistants if the costumes were new or being reused from
the first film. She said they were new. One item that was tried on me had a "
London" tag on the inside – perhaps they were made in the UK?
You need to be comfortable undressing in front of people of the same sex and
having them put clothes on you. The costume assistants and fitters were just
wonderful. It was the first day of fittings for these scenes, and early in
the day, so everyone was in a good mood. They study your build and coloring,
then bring in various items to create a look. At this point the background
artist is pretty much walking furniture – you just stand there while stuff is
draped on you and scrutinized, and notes made of any alterations that need to
be done. There are no mirrors in the dressing rooms or corridors, so you
can't see what you look like.
I can't describe the costume but I will tell you the pieces that were
selected: chemise, underskirt, overskirt, bum rolls on the hips to make the
skirt stand out, stockings, shoes, jewelry, hat, and corset. And they are not
kidding about the corset, which is the last item put on, except for the hat.
In my case, I was told to bend forward while one fitter held my shoulders from the
front and another tightened the laces in the back. Then I leaned backwards,
and the corset was pulled down toward my waist.
The curtains opened, and I was presented to Ms. Rose for approval. She
seemed to like the costume that had been put together (heck, I WAS the first
person), trying a few small changes like the way the sleeves draped but
rejecting them, and deciding not to have my skirt lengthened, so I could walk without
Ms. Rose reviewed every background artist - the actor in the dressing room
next to mine, for example, was told he needed more color in his costume, so
the assistants quickly went to get some alternate pieces for him.
From the costume area, I took myself and my tags to Hair and Makeup. These
people were wonderful too. The stylists tried three different wigs before
deciding on one they liked. I received just a touch of eyebrow makeup, to
lighten the color.
I was told not to worry about the height of the wig, since it would be
restyled before being used in the Tortuga scenes. Something said about being
first in The Wedding (now, I am not revealing anything here, as the wedding of
Elizabeth Swann and Will Turner was mentioned in the Disney 2005 Investor
Conference at the beginning of February: "Captain Jack's problems throw a
huge wrench into the wedding plans of the blissful Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann.
") Just imagine, my wig on the same set as Orlando Bloom.
The stylist took two Polaroid photos of my look, holding my ID tag. Next, I
checked in at Props, but was told I might receive a prop on the day of the
Back to Ms. Rose for a final inspection with hair and makeup, then to the
reception area for another photo with my name and number written on a
whiteboard behind me. The wig returned to Hair and Makeup and I returned to the
dressing room to get out of costume, with help. All my items were placed in a
large striped plastic bag tagged with my ID number, hopefully awaiting my return.
I nodded goodbye to Ms. Rose who said cheerily, "See you on the day!" (One
can only hope.) At the reception desk I completed my payroll form and my license and Social
Security numbers were recorded. I thought I saw Director Gore Verbinski but
from an angle, so I couldn't be sure. And then those famous last words,
"We'll call you…." I was out the door before 10:30. Never got to talk to any other extras about
their interest in the film.
With the exception of its stars Pirates is largely a character film. The
crew members, soldiers, wenches, and townspeople are not all young and
beautiful. They will be a range of ages and some will be fairly ordinary
looking. I'm sure that's why I was called. And since then, I'm paying more attention to
the phone, hoping to be called for filming in March.