Saturday 21 July 2018

What it feels like to... be a movie extra

Grandmother Sheila Moloney (78) from Killiney, Co Dublin, wasn't ready to give up working after retirement, so she began a whole new career instead

On a role: Sheila Moloney was an extra in Game of Thrones. Photo: Caroline Quinn
On a role: Sheila Moloney was an extra in Game of Thrones. Photo: Caroline Quinn

I was at a dear friend's house several years ago and her gorgeous son was heading out to work on the TV series, The Vikings. On his way out the door he said 'here ma, they're always looking for oul wans, you and Sheila should apply', and that was how it all began!

I signed up with MovieExtras.ie about four years ago and it has been just so brilliant, I honestly can't believe my luck to have a new career at my time of life. They don't care how old you are - in fact, sometimes I think the older you are, the better. And it's great fun - I'd nearly pay them, but shh don't tell them that! - because I love movies, seeing what goes on behind the scenes and how movies are made. People say to me: 'Do you not get fed up? All that sitting around?' But I could sit til the cows come home. I always have my diary and a book with me and I write down things that are happening. I meet lovely people, they feed me really well, mind me and it's such fun. The time hardly ever hangs heavy.

It's a long way from my old job. I used to work as an adult education supervisor in a secondary school and I taught a vegetarian cooking course too. I loved it and I was raging when it was time to retire. I didn't want to leave and I really don't think people should retire until they're ready.

All my life I wanted to be an actress. I joined amateur companies and things but I never got anywhere. They'd let me be the stage manager or make the cucumber sandwiches for The Importance of Being Earnest or something but all I wanted to do was act! Perhaps I'm proof that if you wait long enough, then what you wish for will come true.

I tend to get something every couple of months. In the summer, I was lucky and got to work on a movie that gave consistent work for about seven weeks. That was unusual and lovely because I got to see the same bunch of people all the time. But I can't really talk about it because the movie's not out yet.

Quite often you have to sign confidentiality agreements and they rely on your discretion. You know if you're going to blab, then you won't get the job so you do try and be discrete. In Game Of Thrones I played someone's body double, but I'm afraid I don't know if I'm allowed to say who, so you'll have to guess. I was so lucky to get that part because we got to go away and stay in a lovely hotel and I got to bring someone with me because I think they think that when you're over 70, you need someone with you to mind you in case you fall or anything like that, so that was brilliant. And it's a nice way to impress people, saying 'I was in Game Of Thrones', because it's very well thought of. Although I have to say, I've never seen it.

Part: Sheila was in Little Women
Part: Sheila was in Little Women

I did a music video that was great fun, and my friend and I were lucky enough to get work on the recent filming of Little Women. It was shot entirely in Ardmore and done so well. All that fake snow was wonderful but it was a bit of a pain squeezing into the costumes.

Two of my eagle-eyed daughters spotted me in one of the scenes but I missed it. I actually hate looking at anything I'm in because I'm not particularly photogenic or gorgeous or anything. But it's funny, now when I'm watching a series or a movie, I'm not really looking at the stars, I'm looking at the extras and thinking 'look at your one there, she's getting a really long shot'.

I've only once had a speaking part and that was when I played a nun in a children's series. It was great fun working with kids - in spite of what WC Fields said - they're so professional and helpful, they know exactly what they should be doing and what you should be doing too, but not in a superior way.

This isn't something I do for financial reasons (pay for extras is around €75 per day) but the money isn't bad and you get fed as well and, when you get a good run on something, you can get quite a nice surprise when you look at your bank account.

The reason I love it is because I think it's important to keep trying to learn new things, challenge yourself and have fun. Look it, everything scares me, but a lot of the time it turns out quite ok, so you have to try things. The idea of reaching a certain age and reaching for the slippers and knitting, that's gone out the window, thank goodness. I'd be thrilled if my experience inspired someone else my age to give it a go.

I got a call for one role not long ago, asking would I be topless and I thought 'feck it, I probably won't get it' so I said yes… and then got offered the role. I thought 'oh my goodness, what am I doing at my age…' but it was for a horror movie and it wasn't really topless at all. They gave me long white hair, red eyes and a white face and taped this black lace gown to me. I didn't know myself when I looked in the mirror - I shrieked!

I love the diversity of roles open to older people and you'd be surprised how many people go for them. I went for a job recently and there were all these ancient extras - some of them, I was glad to see, even more decrepit than me. I've several friends who also do movie extras work but it's not competitive, we're not like Bette Davis and Joan Crawford - there's enough things going around.

My husband - you might say he's my toyboy, he's 73 - had a stroke two years ago and is living in a sheltered home, but he's great, he can walk and his state of mind and speech weren't impaired. He loves hearing all about my work and he adores movies. We've four daughters and we're all movie mad in our house. They've all been so supportive of me.

I've four grandchildren (two living and two deceased) and my youngest granddaughter is 11 and a fabulous little actress. She's always hoping that I'll be asked to do a movie and they'll need a young person and she can be in it too - I'd love that.

I'd love to do more speaking parts too, nothing huge, but I like that feeling of being a 'real' actress. This is something I hope I'll still be doing until I'm 100. When you're doing something you love, why would you stop? As long as they keep giving me parts, I'll be there.

In conversation with Chrissie Russell

Irish Independent

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