Fringe | A Day On The Set Of Massive Dynamic
I am in tonight’s episode of Fringe. Well, maybe. We’ll see.
In August, I was invited to visit the Vancouver set of Fox’s critically acclaimed science fiction series, currently in production on its third season. This wasn’t my first time visiting Fringe, having traversed the halls of Massive Dynamic and Walter Bishop’s Harvard laboratory earlier this year in anticipation of the second season finale. But this trip would be much different than the last, as I wasn’t invited just to report — I was invited to act.
Before I make this sound too glamorous, you should know that I was invited to participate as an extra. So, no, despite being within a five foot vicinity of actors Joshua Jackson, John Noble and Blair Brown, I wasn’t actually acting with them — just acting around them. That doesn’t make my televised debut any less glorious — at least that’s what my mom tells me — and lest you think otherwise, the role of an extra is not an enviable one; sure, there’s the free food and the opportunity to schmooze with a wide range of industry folks, but there’s also heartbreak.
Two rounds of heartbreak on my part, at least.
Let’s back up. After spending a full day lying in the sun on location for Human Target — check in with Comic Book Resources next month for some great interviews from that visit — myself and a small group of journalists were invited the following morning to participate in a scene for the fourth episode of Fringe’s third season. We were tasked with playing employees of Massive Dynamic, the shadowy science group previously owned and operated by William Bell (Leonard Nimoy), but now under the guidance of the considerably more unhinged Walter Bishop (Noble). As Massive Dynamic employees, each of us needed to bring appropriate business attire to the set ahead of time. Not a problem for me; I was already scheduled to fly to a wedding in Massachusetts later that night, meaning my suit was going to become the talk of the party. Nice!
When we arrived on the set of Fringe, the men and the women were divided by gender and led off in different directions. For the gentlemen, our first stop was wardrobe: as it turned out, if we hadn’t brought the appropriate dress ware, we could have easily been accommodated with the numerous business suits lining up the wardrobe trailer. Some small to moderate modifications were required for a few of my fellow reporters; I’m happy to report that I received instant approval on my attire. Talk about an endorsement for my wedding suit — the girlfriend would be proud! So far, so good.
Next, hair and makeup. This is where things got a little, well, hairy. At the risk of exposing too much information about myself, I’ve long struggled with an affliction dubbed “the neard.” The neard, for those of you not in the know, refers to the fact that I’m only able to grow facial hair on the underside of my face, not in the spots that would constitute a traditional manly beard. Hence “the neard,” alias “neck beard,” alias “near beard,” alias “nerd beard.” The list goes on, and I’ve heard them all.
Needless to say, my neard — which I had not shaved prior to arriving on set, because it’s so inconsequential that I frequently disregard its presence — was completely inappropriate for Massive Dynamic’s office environment. So the delightful hair and makeup department workers shaved my neard straight off, resulting in the very first shave of my life that came at the hands of someone other than myself — as far as I know, anyway.
The hair problem didn’t stop there. Before they could let me go, my ‘do required a bit of an overhaul, resulting in a gelled swirl of hair that I felt made me look like Harry Crane on “Mad Men,” while my fellow reporters — and the Fox publicists, shame on them! — insisted I looked more like Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius. I guess he was nominated for an Oscar, so I shouldn’t be too put off.
With my hair slicked back, makeup caked on my pudgy face and my suit and tie rounding out the whole ensemble, one last piece was needed to create the full effect: an ID badge. I was equipped with a Massive Dynamic ID tag with a photo that somewhat resembled me, but not quite. Regardless, it was a very cool addition that made my status as a Massive Dynamic employee all the more official. Finally, I was ready to get schooled by Walter Bishop.
Or so I thought.
Instead, I was schooled by an assistant director, who strolled up to the gathered group of extras — only about a third of which were reporters — and delivered some troubling news. The scene that we would be featured in was filming in a room that quite simply couldn’t accommodate all of us. Cuts would have to be made; not every extra, and certainly not every reporter, would have a job that day.
I was not selected.
With a bitter taste in my mouth that only my four fellow dejected journalists could truly appreciate, I walked off towards another portion of the set to contemplate my failures. What was wrong with me? Why was I not selected? It couldn’t have been the suit — I had already received an A+ in that category — so perhaps it was my Jimmy Neutron hair? Maybe shaving the neard was a mistake?
Enough about me — what about the rejected non-reporter extras? They were here to work. Would they be paid for their time? Would they be compensated, despite the fact that they were cut from the program? How were their spirits and egos doing?
I didn’t dwell on those thoughts for long — after all, how often am I allowed to have a Hollywood ego and think purely about my own diva-esque needs? — so as the five of us sat and continued to consider our flaws, a new ray of hope came our way. The assistant director was back to tell us that a handful of extras were still required. This was it. This was my second chance. Massive Dynamic employee extraordinaire Jimmy Neutron was getting another shot at the title. My television debut was just moments a–
No. Not again. It’s not possible.
Sadly, it was. I was rejected once again, with only one of our fellow reporters making the cut. What was once five dejected journalists now became four. Dressed to the nines in our Fringe approved outfits, we were forced to sit on the sidelines and watch as a very, very select group of reporters were allowed to film a scene alongside the brilliant John Noble.
This was the silver lining, I suppose; although we weren’t able to participate in the scene, we were able to watch the actor deliver take after extraordinary take as Walter gave a drug-addled lecture on the nature of existence, culminating in his pants falling down around his ankles. It was priceless to watch not just the man himself, but the surrounding Fringe production team shooting the scene with such efficiency. From the wardrobe department to the camera operators, everyone on the Fringe set that I encountered was a consummate professional.
When filming was finished, the lucky reporters joined the rest of us in another area of the set where we would soon have the opportunity to interview most of the Fringe cast. But with what seemed like minutes to go before the interviews were supposed to begin, the assistant director was back; the four of us who had not filmed scenes as extras were being given a third and final chance.
This time, I’m happy to report, victory was ours. The same scene was being shot from a different angle, this time focused on Peter and Nina as they stood in a doorway, watching Walter’s speech in awe. Behind them, a group of Massive Dynamic employees walked back and forth in the hallway — a group that just so happened to consist of me and three fellow reporters. We made it — we filmed a scene on Fringe!
After multiple takes and trips up and down the hallway, the shoot was over and the interviews kicked off. As enjoyable as it was to sit down with cast members like Jasika Nicole and Lance Reddick — with those interviews premiering on Spinoff Online in the next couple of weeks — it was impossible not to think about the experience of filming a role on the set of Fringe. Was it the most breathtaking acting experience imaginable? No, certainly not. But it was a pleasure standing on the same set as Noble, Jackson, Brown and the rest of the Fringe team. More than that, after two bitter brushes with rejection, finally getting the chance to film a role on the set — no matter how small the part — tasted so sweet.
So, for those of you watching tonight’s episode of Fringe — which, after this, should be all of you — watch out for Walter Bishop’s drug-induced lecture in front of a group of Massive Dynamic employees. Keep your eyes locked onto the space just past Joshua Jackson and Blair Brown’s shoulders. If you look hard enough and you see a man who looks like one part Harry Crane mixed with two parts Jimmy Neutron, don’t panic: that’s just your friendly neighborhood Spinoff blogger having the time of his life, sans neard.
Fringe airs on Thursday nights at 9/8 p.m. central, only on Fox.