Tales of a Looking Extra
Emillio Mesa Quiet on set
During my second week of living in the Bay Area, after relocating from NYC, I was cast as a featured-extra for HBO's new show, Looking, which will premiere on Jan. 19 at 10:30 p.m.
The half-hour dramedy is the brainchild of Michael Lannan, inspired by his times as a San Franciscan from 1999 to 2003. The forthcoming eight-episode series focuses on three gay friends in present-day San Francisco, who experience life's highs and lows (and everything in between), while desperately searching for love. It stars Jonathan Groff, Frankie J. Alvarez and Murray Bartlett. For those of you who may not remember, a scripted show taken full-time residence in this city since 2009's Trauma.
My on-screen moments consisted of pantomiming my face off (because I'm not a SAG member -- yet); I was cast as the pantomiming sous-chef, then the pantomiming busboy in a pop-up restaurant scene at Punjab Restaurant. In between takes, and for meals, we were housed in the Brava Theater and the Galleria de la Raza art gallery. For four days I shot with one of the leads, Murray Bartlett, and supporting cast member Scott Bakula.
Bartlett plays Dom, one of Patrick's (Jonathan Groff) friends, who is coming to terms with being a gay man turning 40 (you might remember him from Guiding Light or Sex and The City -- or maybe you're one of the few who remember him from both). Bakula has a recurring role as Lyn, an attractive entrepreneur and pillar of the Castro community known for his roles in Quantum Leap and most recently for his Emmy-nominated role in Behind The Candelabra).
Both actors could not have been more personable or gracious to the crew and the groups of extras. They joked and rehearsed with us, and always stood in the same line for meals and ate at the same table as us. I cannot reveal the plot, but I have major respect for Bakula. In one scene the straight-and-married father of four (who's still attractive and in fantastic physical shape at 59 years young), shares a deep-kiss with one of the leads, and let me tell you that he really went for it -- for six takes. He never flinched, now that's a true professional.
Since it's an HBO show about gay friends, sex, and the search for true love, the comparisons to Sex and The City and Girls seem to be inevitable. But speaking as a somewhat "insider," these are not one-dimensional caricatures that act as props to enhance a straight plot. They are multilayer, fully-developed LGBT characters, leading complex lives; as opposed to the clichéd gay stereotypes of the best friend, the fashionista, or even the hairdresser. I would go as far as to compare it to a contemporary Tales of The City.
The unreleased show is garnering a lot of buzz on the internet -- positive and negative. To address the comments that it lacks diversity, and is a "San Francisco show through a Hollywood lens," I ask they place their judgments on pause. While I, along with my fellow pantomiming busboys and servers waited on the street side of the restaurant for a scene to be set, a skeptical Latina woman expressed her cynicism to me. "I only see white faces and that is not this neighborhood. I know because I've lived here almost all my life." I responded to her in Spanish, by telling her that I thought the same, but the cast was colored by all the ethnicities that make up this city: Hispanics, African Americans and Asians. She smiled at me and said, "Sounds good, I will wait to see."
I can only speak from what I witnessed -- they filmed the show based on widely-known facts of life and love. I just hope they continue on the path I saw, to the point where it becomes the truest reflection of current-day San Francisco life.