My personal low point occurred one day when a director on "Malcolm" told the stage mothers that he needed a sleeping baby for the next scene. While the director and the assistant director and the assistant to the assistant director gathered in front of the studio stage to watch, all the mothers got to work, frantically pushing their double strollers to encourage drowsiness. I was determined to have my babies drift off first so they would be chosen for the cameo. I strolled with the zeal I usually reserve for the blood sport of parking in West Los Angeles. It wasn't about the money--all the babies on "Malcolm" get paid whether or not they are on camera. It was about winning.
My technique paid off. I neatly executed a three-point turn with the stroller so the directors could see the fluttering eyelids of one of my twins. "I think one of my boys may be asleep," I simpered, avoiding the temptation to shoot a glance at my rivals. The group of directors burst into applause. As I basked in the warm glow, the assistant to the assistant to the director barked excitedly into her walkie-talkie. "Baby asleep. Baby on his way to the set."
So is all this just a bit of harmless fun for me? Days on the set can be confining and tedious. Last-minute changes in call times can wreak havoc on our lives. And the $200 or so each twin can gross each workday--during a stint that may last 30 or 40 days--isn't going to buy them a Bel-Air mansion or a college education. (After 20 days on the show, my boys each had $2,250 in their savings accounts.)
So why do I do it?
I guess it's because there's something irresistible about the whole scene. I take pleasure in knowing little details about the stars' lives, like the fact that Frankie Muniz, the Emmy Award-nominated actor who plays Malcolm, gave himself a Pontiac GTO muscle car for his 18th birthday. And then there's all the unusual footage of my boys.
I found myself reflecting on all this as Diana Infante began to pack up her trailer after a long day with her twin girls on the set. It would be Rio's and Zoe's last day on "Malcolm in the Middle," and Infante made sure to take plenty of pictures for their scrapbook. The show had decided that their acting was too mature for the part of Jamie, a baby who is supposed to be half their age. Infante confides that she is relieved that her girls' career as extras appears to be coming to a close.
"My husband tells me, 'The girls have had enough of nine-hour days in the trailer. What about play dates? What about trips to the park?' " She shuts the door of her Volvo SUV and readies for the long drive home to Long Beach. "If we go out for any more auditions," she calls over her shoulder, "it will be for commercials. That's where you can make the really big bucks."