On Monday night I had to go to bed at 8 pm, in order to get 8 hours sleep before getting up for my call to the set of Young Victoria. I eventually went to bed at 9, because I'm not a child and can deal with 7 hours sleep. Oh yes.
11:45 pm. Oh no. I'm still awake. My determination to get to sleep is having the opposite effect.
3:45 am. Ooh. Must have drifted off. Damn, don't need to get up till 4:15, so lie awake in bed cursing the day I ever agreed to be a bloody film extra.
4:15 am. I spring out of bed with all the enthusiasm of... well, a man in his 80s. Amazingly, once I have clothes on, have brushed my teeth and washed my hair, I feel a bit better. But one look out the window, at the total darkness, saps my soul a bit more. Yawn.
4:30 am. I have a half-bowl of cereal to keep me going, then leave for Belvoir Castle. It's an hour's drive away from where I live. I need to be there by 6 am, so I'm giving myself 30 minutes of "emergency time", like a puncture or a breakdown. I'm now on the road.
4:40 am. Shit. I'm not convinced I have enough petrol for a 2-hour round trip, so find a 24-hour garage. I always find myself strangely fascinated by the fact society keeps on ticking past midnight. All those poor sods doing graveyard shifts, they're unsung heroes.
5:36 am. Oookay. I'm at Woolsthorpe-on-Belvoir. That sounds like I'm in the right area. Now where's Belvoir Castle. Are there any signposts? Anywhere?! I drive down windy, dark, narrow country roads, seemingly in a circle, for about 10 minutes.
5:49 am. Hooray! Belvoir Castle. This way. Up the road, on the bottom of a hill, is a collection of buses, cars and tents. A bloke guides me in to a car park, then directs me across to a large tent next to a snack-food van.
5:53 am. Oh yes. I'm on time. It's still depressingly dark outside, but inside the tent is quite bright and warm. The tent is divided into three areas: snack area, hair/make-up and costume fitting. I'm the third extra there. In the snack area, I meet some of the other extras and gulp down some coffee.
6:20 am. Still dark! More extras have arrived and we all sit around, small-talking. It seems most people are here for the money (£80 a day), and not the experience. So I feel like the odd-one-out. The money will come in handy, but is nobody just a little excited to be on a film set? Hmm.
Time now gets hazy. A rule of being an extra is keep mobile phones and other such devices off set, so I have stashed my mobile phone away. It must have been coming up to 7 am. I'm slightly irritated that I had to get up at 4:30 when 5:30 would have been fine. Oh well.
It's not long before the snack area is quite full, and I'm part of the first batch to be "processed", for lack of a better word. So it's off to the costume section of the big tent. I get my artilleryman's outfit on, then stand around to be fussed over by costumers -- who fit me with a holster, chest belts, a shiny buckle, etc. There! Off to hair and make-up...
I like sideburns. I get a nice fake pair stuck to my face using "spirit glue". They look a bit naff, really. The make-up lady says they cost £200!! Ahh, but then the magic happens. Once they're attached, you can fluff them out, then blend them into my hair colour. Wow! I now have a month's sideburn growth in under 10 minutes.
Hair next. I'm wearing a helmet, but I don't think the make-up girl knows this, so I just let her get on with it. The Victorian fashion was for front combing, so she basically brushes my hair forward and curls it with tongues. Simple stuff, but suddenly I really do look like a soldier from the 1840s! Cool. Oh yes, and I did have a shave the night before, which makes me look totally different (if you'd seen me the day before, anyway.) It all helps my mind-set, as I now really do look the part!
Back to the snack area for an egg bun, that unceremoniously squirts down by trousers. Shiiit. I spent the next 10 minutes secretly ferrying to the tea urn, to wet some napkins and sponge the egg away. It works. Phew!
By now it must have been 8 am, or thereabouts. People are arriving back into the snack section looking like they've beamed in from a Dickens novel. It's amazing how authentic modern people look in the right costume and make-up. It shouldn't be a surprise, but it sort of is. Movie magic. Only one Victorian gent playing on a PSP gives the game away...
I'd say it was 8:30 when we were called to the set. Just my fellow artillerymen -- six of us in total. We marched out to a minibus, with an Assistant Director, two costumers and... er, two other members of the crew. The bus drove up from the foot of the hill, through winding roads and pretty gardens, slowly ascending, until Belvoir Castle came into view...
Belvoir Castle is nothing astounding, like Windsor Castle or Blenheim Palace, but it's a quaint, picturesque place. Basically, a big mansion in the style of a castle -- no moat or anything, sadly. But there are some peacocks strutting around, rather oddly. There are also lots of trucks, vans, cars and horse boxes parked around Belvoir, with people walk about carrying Victorian props, while others mill about, or chat on phones and walkie-talkies.
We were led into Belvoir Castle, looking appropriately dapper and commanding in our blue-white uniforms, only to sit down in an ancilliary room... to wait again. Yes, the "waiting game" is something you play all the time as a supporting artiste! After a 20 minute wait, we were moved to a dim cafeteria, where other extras were waiting (dressed like Dickens characters), only to wait for another 20 minutes.
A posh military expert called Alistair arrived, who informed us we'd be firing canon in one scene. Cool! He detailed the chronology surrounding this part of the film (which I can't remember now), and told us the outside of Belvoir Castle was actually doubling for a coastal town Victoria visited in her 20s! They'll CGI in the water, I hope.
Anyway, the call came to go outside for a rehearsal of the canon scene, so out we went. The day had only just begun, and by the end... back pain and sores would have killed the novelty value of sharing a screen with Emily Blunt and Miranda Richardson...