An “extra” is another name for a background actor who is used in non-speaking roles to add atmosphere to a scene and sometimes will be referred to as the “atmosphere”, “BG”, “props that eat” and even “background talent”. In other words, these are the people who act more as a prop in the background of a commercial, movie, or television show that are seen but not heard.
You wouldn’t recognize them as being famous unless they’re a friend or family member but that doesn’t make them any less important to the scene, for without the people in the background there would be no scene. The space would be filled with just the actors and would not feel or appear fuller, richer and natural to the viewing audience.
So what does a movie extra do in a movie or on television? Regardless of the scene, location or time period, movie extras are used to fill the background in crowds at sporting events, diners at a restaurants, workers in an office, jury in a courtroom, commuters on a bus, criminals at a prison, soldiers on a battlefield and a myriad of other scenes. Unless the scene is just has the principal actors in it, it’s almost a guarantee they will need and use extras to populate the background.
The good news is you don’t have to look like Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie. In fact, it’s usually the case that the more average looking you are, the better. And all types are needed. Extra roles can range from the ordinary, such as a businessman walking down the street in Spider-Man 3, to the extraordinary, such as a Greek warrior engaged in battle in Troy. And you don’t have to be a member of the actor’s union (the Screen Actors Guild, or SAG) to get work as a movie extra.
If you think you’d enjoy seeing yourself up on the big screen at the theaters or on a episode of your favorite television show, or being in close proximity to your favorite actors, give being an extra your best shot!