Casting director Nancy Mott was stumped when she had to find 40 extras who owned classy wardrobes and who would remove tuxedos, gowns, furs and skivvies--all of them--in front of cameras.
Mott was casting a scene for the movie "Surrender," in which Michael Caine, Sally Field and others are robbed of clothes and valuables at a charity ball.
Mott said she pondered her dilemma and, "went to a nudist colony. It worked out great."
Besides well-dressed people willing to undress, Mott has during her career ferreted out topless dancers, an alligator wrestler and a man who bore an uncanny resemblance to an imaginary man dreamed up by a studio artist. She has ransacked bars, gyms, hospitals and retirement homes to find extras with specific physical characteristics or talents.
Once they've agreed to work, she makes sure that they arrive at the set suitably dressed and on time, that they don't look directly at the camera and that they don't pester the stars for their autographs. And she hopes they don't simply get bored during long waits between takes and vanish.
Mott casts extras, actors with non-speaking roles, for movies, television shows, commercials and rock videos.
About a dozen casting directors hire extras in Los Angeles, but Mott, who works in Huntington Beach, is the only person who casts extras in Orange County.
During nine years in the business, she has worked on such films as "Dreamscape," with Dennis Quaid, and "Extremities," with Farah Fawcett.
Producers who have hired Mott, a 39-year-old with the wardrobe and personality of a teen-ager, describe her as reputable and competent.
Production manager Charles Newirth hired Mott for the film "Big Country," with Dan Aykroyd and John Candy, which will be released this summer. "She did a fine job," Newirth said.
But Mott's task of casting extras for the silver screen could give her gray hairs (it hasn't, so far), especially when she must find a very specific type of character.
For "Shy People," shot in Louisiana, Mott searched for a younger version of a portrait of "Uncle Joe," who was modeled on an artist's imagination. "I went up to strangers in the swamps in Louisiana," Mott recalled. "Being in a movie was the furthest thing from their mind."
When Mott finally found a man she thought was the very image of a young Uncle Joe, she was dispatched back to the swamps to find a taller one.
Other times, she'll approach people ideal for a role who , for one reason or another, are camera-shy.
Although Mott admits that she's star-struck (she displays many autographed photos of famous actors in her office), many people she tries to hire apparently consider Hollywood no more fascinating than, say, Hawthorne, for example.
Mott said when she offers people who make $100 a day on their regular jobs a mere $35 for eight hours of work as an extra, they sometimes say: " 'Are you kidding? Get real!' "
While visiting senior citizen homes looking for a 109-year-old man, she mostly encountered octogenarians and nonagenarians who were unwilling to be immortalized on film.
"They'd say, 'I'm too old, I'm too ugly.' I'd say, 'That's just what we need.'
"I've had to find a really homely, homely girl. How do you tell someone they're homely?"
Mott tells them she wants them to play a "character" who dresses and makes faces to project an unattractive appearance.
Another search for a specified type--a tall, blond surfer for a Beach Boys video--embarrassed Mott when lifeguards she asked to meet her at a nightclub didn't show up. "I was asking guys, 'Are you a lifeguard?' and one guy said, 'Why, are you drowning?' "
Mott was also embarrassed when she was given a description of actor Max Von Sydow and asked to find a stand-in for him.
She approached a group of about 60 extras and asked a tall fellow among them if he wanted to be a stand-in.
"For whom?" he asked.
"For Max Von Sydow," she replied.
"Allow me to introduce myself. I am Max Von Sydow."
Mott has fewer difficulties when she needs extras of no particular physical description. For these, she advertises in newspapers and actors' magazines, and sometimes posts notices on trees.
She estimates that she cast 4,000 extras last year.
Mott herself worked as an extra before she began casting.
She fell into the line of work in 1979 after literally stumbling into actor Andy Griffith on the set of a television show in Idaho, where she lived briefly.
After toppling a plate of food onto Griffith, she asked him how to become an extra while removing peas and carrots from his shirt.
Mott made friends with the woman who cast extras for the show, and when the woman came down with pneumonia, Mott took over her job.