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Thursday 22 February 2018

Hey, I know that guy!

Joe O'Shea on Hollywood's most popular extra, Jesse Heiman

Jesse Heiman in cult classic Old School.
Jesse Heiman in cult classic Old School.

Joe O'Shea

He's a professional background artist, an everyman actor you have probably seen scores of times on TV but never actually noticed.

Known in the business as "That Extra Guy", Jesse Heiman has appeared in hit movies like Old School, American Pie 2 and Spider-Man and several top-rated TV shows including Entourage, The OC, Glee and Lost.

He has brought his unique talents to classic roles such as "Winking Comic Book Nerd", "Chubby Restaurant Customer" and perhaps his finest, "Locker Room Student With Inhaler".

But Jesse Heiman, a Hollywood veteran with a shock of bushy red hair, rosy cheeks and an impressive frame, has never known real fame (and has hardly had one line of dialogue in his entire career).

Until now.

After a decade of being the chubby kid in the background who only gets the rare 'Hey, haven't I seen that red-headed guy somewhere before?' from fans, Jesse Heiman is finally ready for his close up.

A snowballing internet campaign, backed by a growing army of Heiman fans, is calling for TV and movie producers to move Jesse out of the background and into the limelight.

The campaign started on the TV and pop-culture website tv.gawker.com, when a regular contributor pointed out that this unknown extra was popping up everywhere and dubbed him "The Most Interesting Television Character That Ever Lived".

Gawker.com had no idea who Heiman was but listed his most recent appearances (including a background role in Glee) and asked fans to find out more about the red-headed, rosy-cheeked man-mountain who "looks like the bespectacled lovechild of Harpo Marx and Raggedy Ann".

It should have been a throwaway item about a pop-culture oddity.

But scores of TV addicts responded with posts that all pretty much said the same thing: "OMG! I thought I was the only one who was obsessed with this guy! I keep seeing him in the background of my favourite shows!"

An insider at one of Hollywood's major talent agencies soon solved the mystery, the actor in question was a 30-year-old "background specialist" called Jesse Heiman, a sort-of legend in the extra business and the favourite of such actors as Will Ferrell and Vince Vaughn.

Heiman has now become the star of a web version of Where's Waldo?, where TV and movie fans compete to come up with clips showing Jesse standing around in the background.

Fans of the hit series Lost (easily the nerdiest TV fans on the net) pointed out that he has played very minor characters on both Lost and the hit US comedy drama Chuck.

And in the kind of inside joke that all true TV geeks love, Chuck referenced the crash of Flight 815 (the plane in Lost) in its pilot episode, neatly closing the Jesse Heiman circle.

In the past few weeks, Heiman has gone from background nobody to one of the most talked about actors on the net.

Fans have set up a Facebook page calling for him to be given bigger roles and most of them are also following him on Twitter.

Most of all, they want to hear him break with more than a decade of non-speaking roles and finally get some substantial dialogue.

But while Heiman does Tweet, he has so far stayed true to his background artist past and remained largely silent about his growing web notoriety.

Friends say he is "largely bemused" about his sudden internet stardom.

One pop-culture website has tried to fill in the blanks in Jesse's backstory, claiming that even as a baby, he would crawl behind the other, more photogenic toddlers when the cameras came out.

He apparently moved to Hollywood in 2000 with the burning ambition to stand near some cameras, not exactly on-camera but "camera adjacent".

Those who believe in the growing "Legend Of Jesse Heiman" also believe that if their idol ever gets an actual speaking role, he may just disappear in a puff of smoke.

Still there are quite a few background extras who have gone on to stardom.

Ben Affleck and Matt Damon did extra work in movies like Field of Dreams in the days before Good Will Hunting and Brad Pitt kept body and soul together with background roles throughout his early career.

Closer to home, actress Kara Tointon was a regular extra in the BBC soap EastEnders before she was spotted by the producers and became the character Dawn Swann.

Jesse Heiman may struggle to emulate the likes of Brad Pitt and Matt Damon, partly because he lacks the traditional Hollywood leading-man looks.

There are rumours that Will Ferrell, among others, is now interested in using his quirky looks and growing internet profile in an upcoming movie project.

But for the moment, Heiman seems to be happy to, literally, stay in the background and enjoy his steady work on some of the biggest TV and movie projects around.

And strangely for an actor, his sudden notoriety could be a serious setback for his career.

After all, when you are paid to basically be a human prop, the last thing any director wants is to have his background guy drawing the eye away from the A-listers.

Irish Independent

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