Posted by: hollyburgh | April 21, 2012

Memories of a Henchman: On the Set of The Dark Knight Rises

by Justin Yee, Batman extra, a rather big deal

Before I begin to divulge any details about my experiences as an extra on the set of the upcoming 3rd installment of the Christopher Nolan Batman films, The Dark Knight Rises, it should be noted that I am contractually obligated to not actually say anything about my experiences on set. That being said, the likelihood of anything I say coming back to haunt me is pretty slim considering I’m not exactly “a big deal.” Okay, I’m kind of a big deal, but not a big enough of a deal. At any rate, in the interests of not getting sued in any capacity, I will be as vague as possible. I suppose I can mention some things that have already been revealed in the trailer–it’s not like I’m giving away any key plot points.

Staying with the theme of secrecy, I must say, being on set was rather disorienting at times as we were told as little as possible. They would hit us with a “You’re supposed to be fighting,”,“You need to be pissed off,”  “You’ll need to get out of the way so you don’t get hit by the Batmobile.” Yes, we were actually told that in a specific scene just minutes before; we were to brawl (like how they trained us, more on that later), then get out of the way when they sound an air horn, signifying that we are to get the hell out of Dodge, so “the car” can drive up into the area we were just brawling. In a way, we were almost like low-end stunt men. The physical nature of my extra role was also reflected in our pay. While most extras make minimum wage, my group got a whopping double that amount (plus overtime, of course). Come to think of it, it may not have been double minimum wage, but I do remember it was definitely more than what average extras make. It seems like kind of a big deal.

You see, I, along with approximately 60 other lucky “tough/athletic/military looking guys,” was picked to portray a mercenary. But even this is a bit of a misnomer, as we were actually supposed to be Bane’s henchmen (Bane is the main villain in the film). But as you can guess, when I first got that phone call informing me of my role as a “mercenary I had no idea if I was a good guy, or a bad guy.” Not that it mattered terribly, because let’s face it, it’s pretty cool to get randomly called up one day and learn you’ve just been cast in the latest Batman movie. I felt like I won the lottery. At any rate, they really didn’t want us to know we were Bane’s henchmen, despite the fact that it was overtly obvious once we were shooting scenes on set.

Speaking of Bane, Tom Hardy is quite possibly one of the coolest dudes on the planet. Extremely friendly guy, talked to everyone that was within earshot of him. He was constantly joking with us lowly extras. Christian Bale, on the other hand, well, his exploits on set are legendary. Maybe it was better that he spoke to no one but the director. The other weird thing I noticed about him was that any time we cut, he never took off the mask. The stuntmen would remove their masks between takes, but not Bale. Now, I don’t know if this was so he didn’t mess it up, or what, but this was July, and that thing can’t be comfortable in the muggy summer heat. I like to imagine he’s a devoted method actor and was really into his character, ridding the city of crime between takes.  Unfortunately, none of use got to know whether he used that ridiculous raspy voice when the cameras weren’t rolling.

Remember how I mentioned earlier that we were to “brawl like they trained us to?” Well, this is the part where I explain. When I was hired, I was informed we were to have a few days of “rehearsal” before we actually started shooting. So, I get this cryptic e-mail with directions to some place out in the middle of nowhere, with instructions to wear a black t-shirt or tank top, and to bring sunscreen, and basically be prepared to get some exercise. So when I arrived at this location, it turned out to be some private airport that I had never heard of somewhere near New Kensington. This is where our training began. They had about 10 stuntmen (one of whom was a stuntwoman) divide us up into groups. First off, remember the black t-shirt/tank top part? Well that was to signify that I was to portray a mercenary. The other half of us extras were clad in white t-shirts/tank tops to signify that they were to portray cops. One hilarious thing I noticed immediately is that everyone portraying a mercenary appeared pretty athletic. We were all in shape, and had some sort of background in either martial arts, military, or law enforcement, or just looked plain mean. On the other hand, about half of the people portraying cops were fat and out of shape.

Our whole purpose for gathering at this secluded location was to learn how to fake fight convincingly. So for the next 2-3 days (I say 2-3, because some of us were called back for an extra day, and some of us weren’t), we worked on throwing fake punches and fake headbutts, and basic routines of punch/kick/knee/headbutt combinations we could loop indefinitely to make it look like were actually fighting and hurting each other. This brings me to the most unpleasant part of my experience working on this film.

Unfortunately, mastery of these movements requires a partner to practice on. Otherwise you look like an idiot throwing your arms around at nothing but air. So I get paired with… the worst partner on the planet, i.e., one of the fattest of the fat extras . It’s bad enough he’s reminiscent of the Stay-Puft Marshmallow man, but he also had the athleticism and mobility of… well, a 300+ pound fat guy. As you can imagine, our routines looked terrible, which I attribute completely to him. First off, the proportions were pretty bad. The fat guy was about 6’ 1”, and I’m 5’ 9”, so already it looks a little goofy that I’d be brawling with this guy. He couldn’t duck when he was supposed to duck my punches, so I very conspicuously had to raise the height of my punches to clear his head (which also looked ridiculous), he couldn’t bend his knees (which is a problem), and he couldn’t remember the combinations, so would continually throw the wrong punch, or move the wrong direction (not to mention was incredibly slow, further adding to his suckiness).  But that was not the worst part about working with this guy.

The worst part was, for reasons still unknown to me, the one time he decides to throw a convincing punch was the one that ended up connecting with my face. Yes, I got punched directly in the face, full force, by a 300+ pound fat guy. It hurt, to say the least. My nose exploded. I was bleeding everywhere, and had a headache for the rest of the day. But what upset ,me the most was the possibility that they might end up pulling me from the movie due to injury (I thought he broke my nose). Luckily, it didn’t come to that, but I didn’t know that at the time, and I didn’t know if I was concussed (turned out, I wasn’t, just a little woozy, got my bell rung so to speak).

So yeah, that pretty much sums up my training experience. Despite the little set back with the fat guy, the overall experience was pretty cool.  I got to do all kinds of things I never thought I would get to do. It’s not every day you get to run through the stands of Heinz Field, brandishing an assault rifle, yelling and scowling at people, or run from explosions, or be part of a Braveheart-like battle scene (hence all the training we did). I got to see the Batmobile up close and personal… all three of them! Very cool. Though, I suppose I do have one more gripe. My costume. It was awful. I mean, I suppose when I was propped up, it looked okay, but without the tactical belt with the holster/sidearm, and the assault rifle I got to sling around, I basically looked like a homeless guy. I was dressed in dirty looking jacket, with dirty green cargo pants, with the most beat up WWII era combat boots I’ve ever seen. Also, they made me cut my hair. I had a Mohawk when I went to that open casting call and had a sneaking suspicion that it was part of the reason they cast me, but when I went to my wardrobe fitting, they cut it off, and told me to keep my hair buzzed. Oddly enough, I have yet to re-grow the Mohawk, and this was back in July of last year, and it’s currently April of 2012 as of this writing.

All in all, I can’t really complain. Not too shabby considering I went to the open casting call on a whim at the suggestion of my friend. I almost feel a little guilty considering all the people I saw while waiting in line that clearly wanted it more than I did. I just thought it’d be fun to show up, I never actually expected to get a call back. So yeah, I guess I am kind of a big deal.

Okay, medium deal.

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Responses

  1. Oh my God! You have no idea how big a deal this is! I am just about the biggest Batman geek ever – I am sooo jealous! You saw the batmobile! Yay about Tom Hardy – I knew I liked him for a reason! Sorry about your nose. Do you know anything like if Bane is going to kill Batman? That’s what happens in the comics… Did you see Anne Hathaway at all? Oh my God! You’re so lucky!

    • Thanks! They really didn’t tell us too much about the plot– and barely even what we were supposed to be doing, haha– but it was really cool. The Batmobile was sighted all over the city. There was fake snow falling in July!

    • I am an idiot, I meant to reply, not post a comment. If you want to see what I have to say, you can read my comment. As you can probably tell, there’s a reason I was a “guest blogger.”

      • haha – no worries. I hope you get some more extra work!

  2. Plot wise, I don’t really know much of anything, other than I was a bad guy and helped Bane do bad things. I’ll just cover the celebrities I saw here: Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, Marion Cotillard, Matthew Modine (not sure if he counts as a celebrity these days, but I’ve always held him in high regard for Full Metal Jacket), and that’s pretty much it. Sadly, I didn’t get to see Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, or Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Also, as a fun side note, one of the stuntmen that helped train me was in 21 Jump Street. I just caught that about 2 weeks ago, and noticed one of the bad guys was the same guy that I trained with. I didn’t know his last name until I saw it in the credits for 21 Jump Street, so if you wanna imdb him, his name is Mike Seal. I just called him Stuntman Mike (not to his face, but that’s what I referred to him as, especially because that’s Kurt Russell’s character in Quentin Taratino’s installment Death Proof of the movie Grindhouse).

    • Oh, and of course, Christopher Nolan. That was a trip for me. I was within arms length of the man for much of my time on set. It was quite unreal.


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