09.23.09

I Got Cast in Sex and the City

And it was the worst day of my life. Rebecca Dana plays a lipstick lesbian and lives to tell. PLUS, Samantha's anti-menopause diet and Charlotte's new nanny (who doesn't wear a bra!)

“Tell Cynthia to sit up straight!” Patricia Field hollered across the set of the Sex and the City sequel early one morning during a break in filming.

It was 85 degrees, and Field was wearing a large purple hat with fur pompoms and a pair of lime-green suede booties. The famed stylist’s waist-length hair was its regular electric red, and it swished around as she hustled between costume adjustments. At one point, she took a cigarette break, plopping down on the edge of a dolly, while members of her team presented her with different itty-bitty clothing options for Sarah Jessica Parker.

I spent 14 hours of the longest day of my life as an extra on Sex and the City 2 this week. And then, instead of going back for the second day (and the five nights I was supposed to do in October), I quit.

Field, Parker, and the rest of the cast and crew were shooting on location at the Glen Cove Mansion, a resort complex on the North Shore of Long Island, just down the road from the Nassau Holocaust Center. (If you don’t want to know some things that happen in this movie, stop reading now! Seriously. There are spoilers.) The scene was brunch, the morning after a raucous gay wedding. Cynthia Nixon, in full Miranda garb, was slouching with her three best gal-pals on the veranda of a lovely restaurant, which was actually a rickety assemblage of white-painted plywood walls with fake windows and no roof. The dialogue was five script-pages of the usual inchoate patter:

Charlotte (to Samantha, who is about to down a handful of vitamins): “How are you going to swallow all of that?”

Samantha (incredulous): “Have we met?”

Outside, just so things looked realistic, a few hung-over wedding guests were bopping around, sipping fake cocktails, hugging and kissing each other at random and swatting bees. If you go see this movie when it comes out in May, and if the scene isn’t cut, look out the window over Charlotte’s left shoulder just at the moment she says “swallow.” You will see a group of nubile young men in golf attire pantomiming flirting, a heterosexual couple strolling arm-in-arm, and, in front them, a stray girl in a strapless purple dress, wandering aimlessly in mismatched Jimmy Choo sandals and carrying a hideous $2,100 Valentino handbag. That’s me.

I spent 14 hours of the longest day of my life as an extra on Sex and the City 2 this week. And then, instead of going back for the second day (and the five nights I was supposed to do in October), I quit.

This all started in early August, when on a lark I went to an open casting call for the film in Manhattan. I waited for several hours in line with thousands of other hopefuls, stood for two photographs, and wrote about the whole experience, such as it was. When I didn’t hear anything more, I put it out of my mind. Then last week, I got a call from a woman from Grant Wilfley Casting.

“Do you still have the same haircut?” she asked. I do. “Great,” she said. “You’ll be playing a lesbian.”

She told me to dress as extravagantly as possible, in whatever designer clothes I own. “ Sex and the City loves labels,” she said, in the understatement of the century. I was to wear a chic summer ensemble and should err on the side of overaccessorizing. A coach bus would pick me up on the southwest corner of 36th Street and Third Avenue at 6:30 a.m. Monday morning and spirit me off to Long Island, where I would spend the day engaged in some kind of non-verbal Sapphic restaurant activities in a “Connecticut country club-style setting.”

(This seems like the right time to mention that I never pretended to be anything other than a journalist who was doing this to write about the experience. Since I had written about auditioning last month, I thought it even could be a possibility that they cast me because of that piece. I identified myself as a reporter on the set. After the shoot, I called Grant Wilfley back to tell them about this new story, and was transferred to a woman named Sable, who reacted with horror. “We definitely didn’t know you were a journalist,” she said and angrily told me I wasn’t permitted to write about my day. I told her I was never asked to sign any confidentiality agreement and considered it fair game. “Whatever, it doesn’t even matter,” she said, and hung up.)

For the ride to Glen Cove, I sat next to Fran, a spry septuagenarian who would go to the hospital later that day after falling on set and injuring her knee. Fran told me all about the nightclub she’s opening in Mexico called Yellow Brick Road and the good old days of background work, when auditions were held in real theaters and non-union brats like me couldn’t just show up and get a part. She said this in a nice way and encouraged me to try out for Gossip Girl.

When we arrived, the first stop was the breakfast burrito truck and omelet bar. The second stop was the costume trailer. At this point, it seemed pretty clear that we’d all been brought there to act out one of former Rep. Mark Foley’s more elaborate pastoral fantasies. “Can I get my gay golfers and my topless gay sunbathers over here?” one of the costumers shouted. A dozen young men in Polo shirts trudged over to the side of the trailer. “Let’s see what we’ve got,” she said, and half of them lifted their shirts to flash rippling abs.

Then came hair and makeup, which is where I met Ebony, a gorgeous clairvoyant deejay from Brooklyn and my girlfriend for the day. We joined the others in the “Extras Holding” pen, a large party tent equipped with citronella candles, picnic tables, and a crate of donut holes. The real actors swapped stories about past gigs. A quick survey was made of everyone’s astrological sign. Then we were called to the set.

W.C. Fields gets credit for saying “I never work with children or dogs,” and to that I would just add “…who have been dropped on their heads.” Monday’s scene called for newly fertile Charlotte to bounce into brunch late with her two children—the adopted Asian one and the surprise one born to her at the end of the first movie, who is now 2. To cast the 2-year-old, producers put out a call for “Italian twins,” the parents of whom were paid $200 per child per day.

Early in the day, a handler was carrying one of the girls across an uneven wooden walkway, took a tumble, and landed smack on top of the toddler, who promptly started wailing. On hearing this, her sister started up, too, and that was that for the rest of the day. This meant lunch was pushed back three hours. I felt like I was going to collapse, but my castmates were delighted because, per SAG rules, it meant we accrued lucrative “meal penalties,” which is how you rack up the big bucks in extra work. In this way (and this way alone), movie producers are like congressional Republicans: They get people rooting against their own self-interest on the dubious promise of future wealth. When the bus comes late and keeps you languishing on set, away from your family, for an extra hour or two, it can mean a relative windfall.

In the rare moments when one or another baby wasn’t crying, the actors did manage to get in a line or two of dialogue, while Ebony and I walked hand-in-hand outside the window. The four stars seemed friendly enough, padding around in UGG boots (except Parker, who never took off her leopard-print high heels) until the moments before shooting, when someone would yell “shoes!” and a man would run in with a plastic bag full of stilettos. From what I could hear during filming, the brunch-time dialogue was largely about menopause.

“I’ve tricked my body into thinking its younger,” Samantha says and then produces a copy of Suzanne Somers’ Breakthrough: Eight Steps to Wellness from somewhere in her enormous magenta bag. Waving it around to show the other women, she explains how she plans to live forever with the sex drive of a teenage boy (or something, I couldn’t hear all the dialogue), through a daily cocktail of pills. Poor sclerotic Miranda, wearing a green strapless jumpshort ensemble with scalloped leg openings and a gold belt, gets off a crack about her thighs: “I’ve tricked my body into thinking its thinner,” she says. “Spanx.”

In the middle of this, Charlotte’s comely nanny bounds in to grab the children, who are trespassing on mommy’s girl time. Nanny Erin, played by British actress Alice Eve, jogs in and out of the scene quickly, and for the rest of the time the women make jokes about how floppy her boobs are. “Erin Go-Braless,” they call her. (Before filming, Eve did a few practice runs for director Michael Patrick King to make sure they’d achieved the proper buoyancy.) The plot point hardly needs to be spoken: Will Charlotte’s adoring hubby, Harry, be tempted to cheat with the hot young babysitter?

And while we’re at it, what are all those paparazzi photos of Samantha in a wedding dress? Now that menopause is far off, there’s still plenty of time for child-rearing with Smith Jerrod.

And what will Carrie do when she fills up that giant walk-in shoe closet Big got her? Can their relationship survive the move to a storage space in New Jersey?

I have answers to none of these questions, in part because by the end of the day, after I had my steak lunch at 6 p.m., I didn’t care enough to ask. The bus back to Manhattan left Glen Cove at 7:30. On the ride home, I sat next to the actor who played Mr. Bobbles, the mentally and physically handicapped homeless man who was the center of a multi-episode arc on the final season of HBO’s The Wire. He put on a pair of white cotton gloves to keep his hands warm on the bus. Then he took out his cellphone and showed me a picture of himself in character, with dirt smeared all over his cheeks and his mouth frozen open in a palsied grimace.

“That was a really great part,” he said, pointing with one gloved finger. “This other stuff just pays the bills.”

Rebecca Dana is a culture correspondent for The Daily Beast. A former editor and reporter for the Wall Street Journal, she has also written for the New York Times, the New York Observer, Rolling Stone and Slate, among other publications.