Every once in a while, unexpected opportunities pop up when abroad that may never happen at home. One such occasion occurred when a friend told us that a major Hollywood film, “The Coup”, was being shot in Chiang Mai and they were looking for Western extras. Furthermore, the movie was to star Owen Wilson, Lake Bell and Pierce Brosnan.
So, of course, we signed up right away and were happy to be called for a “night shoot” to take place at the Lampang Airport. In the middle of the afternoon, a casting van drove us about an hour south of Chiang Mai, through beautiful greenery and windy roads, and dropped us off in a field filled with movie trailers and big tents, close to the small airstrip of Lampang.
After dining on a meal of white rice, baked beans (direct from the can!) and a couple of bananas stolen from the crew tent next to ours, we were ushered to the wardrobe area. A crew member handed us wardrobe numbers 9 and 10, respectively, and our clothing choices were inspected. I had to change into one of my other shirts, as my fashion selection was apparently too close to what Owen Wilson would be wearing.
With the strict warning of “No photographs allowed on set” we left our camera behind and walked with about 100 other extras to the arrivals hall of the airport. This was our very first time on the set of a movie! Things somehow simultaneously looked real and fake. This, I suppose is the essence of a movie that is based on fact, but designed to be fiction.
A plastic, golden statue of a spectacled dictator by the entrance, a written language that seemed to be a merging of Thai, Cambodian and Burmese, and huge posters highlighting the gorgeous scenery of the fictional country in which we had arrived. We amused ourselves by figuring out where in the real world these scenic places are: the temples of Bagan in Myanmar; the karst mountains of Vang Vieng, Laos; and a pristine beach somewhere in the south of Thailand.
We were casted to play a couple waiting for someone, so we took up our position just outside the arrivals door. After a couple of run-throughs with fill-ins, likely to check sound and lighting levels, the stars arrived and our hearts raced excitedly as we recognized them immediately.
Conversations among the extras focused on Pierce Brosnan’s past role as James Bond, as we all waited for the actual scene to be shot. Owen Wilson and Lake Bell play the parents of two daughters in the film, and in this particular scene, they had just arrived after a long flight and looking for their pre-arranged, but absent, driver. Countless times, the director yelled “Action!” and we eagerly scanned the cast of stars and extras filing past us with their luggage, looking for someone who never arrived.
That was our only role during the movie shoot. We sat idly by, observing the crew put up and dismantle cameras and lighting. With interest, we watched the follow-up scenes of the family meeting Pierce Brosnan’s character convincing them to take a yellow song taew decorated with photos of country singer Kenny Rogers and a huge sign that read “Kenny Roger”, complete with its misspelling.
One of the highlights of the entire shoot for Mindy happened next. In between shots, we overheard Lake asking for some gum or a mint. It seemed that she was ignored and realizing that she had gum with her, Mindy boldly walked over and offered a piece. Lake graciously accepted and thanked her and Mindy wore a smile that didn’t fade for the rest of the night.
Another highlight for us was when we looked at stars of another sort. At one point we had time to rest and we took the opportunity to walk out on the runway in the darkness of night and look up. It was amazing, and had it not been so cold, we would have stayed out there much longer.
The best part of this experience, though, was taking home a couple souvenirs. The snagged piece of fake language that fell from the wall was good, but the ultimate prize is the bilingual exit sign, which required my persistence and pleading with three people, before my request was finally granted. I plan to hang it on the back of our front door, wherever we live.
Now we play the waiting game for the movie to finish post-production and get to the big screen. Only then will we see if we made the cut. “The Coup” might be a movie we go to the theater to see!