His name was Mike, he was the toughest guy in school and he usually kept to himself. One day he was in a talkative mood and mentioned to me that if a person acted like they belonged, they could pretty much go anywhere unmolested.
Years later I was an extra in the movie "Rough Riders." One day I passed Sam Elliott on my way to the makeup trailer to get a haircut (I was supposed to be in the Army) and he smiled, his deep voice booming.
"Good morning, sir."
That was the first thing I learned on set, that Sam Elliott was a regular guy, and polite. The second thing I learned is that Mike's advice was right on the money.
There were two food lines, one for the extras and another for the cast and crew. The extras were fed baloney sandwiches and store brand potato chips. When I saw that, I remembered Mike's advice and strolled over to the line outside the catering truck. They were serving a choice of a steak lunch, or grilled swordfish with a mango salsa. I stood in line with the actors and crew and feigned boredom. Occasionally I'd look at my watch and sigh, as if I couldn't believe that I actually had to stand in line. When my turn at the window came I ordered the swordfish and walked back over to the table where some of my fellow extras were sitting.
When the inevitable questions about my upgraded meal were asked, I explained my friend Mike's philosophy of looking like you belonged. The next day two of the other extras joined me in line. They were both nervous, and it showed. Furtively they stole glances before averting their eyes back to the ground. They whispered to each other a few times, with terrified expressions. After a few minutes one of the crew approached them.
"You guys are extras, right? This line is for actors and crew only."
My would be compatriots scuttled off to the other chow line, with baloney on stale bread in their immediate future. I looked at the crew member that busted them and smiled a bemused smile, while shaking my head as if to say,
"Can you believe those guys?"
The crew member smiled at me and walked away. I ordered the steak, medium.