The day I doubled for a Hollywood film star
Every day in Morocco is an adventure, sometimes an unexpected one. I was minding my own business one Monday when a message popped up on the Facebook group Expats in Essaouira. There was a casting for a US TV Series that was going to be filming. I popped along, had my mug shot taken and waited to hear.
A month or so later, the call came. Could I get to the temporary production office now for a fitting and also bring any other foreigners I knew with me. Advance notice is clearly not a characteristic of the industry.
I grabbed my downstairs neigbour, Lavinia, and we duly trotted off to a warehouse beside the supermarket. There was no system in place, so we hung around for an hour till a thin man with glasses called Noureddine came round and categorised us: FBI, CIA, Marine, Foreign Affairs. How I hoped for Marine or, at the least, FBI, but no, Livvy and I were Foreign Affairs.
When we got to the front of the costume queue, we were looked up and down and then told to come the next day dressed in our own clothes, suitable for an office, beige if possible. I don’t own any beige.
Lavinia was freed but I was put to one side and then loaded into a tinted-glass-windowed 4×4 and driven to the airport. I hoped this wasn’t the first step to rendition. Youssef, the driver, who was clearly very important because his ear was stuck to his phone, was in communication to the wardrobe and make up crew. Sadly, for him, I can speak both Arabic and French, as he was put in a horrible position. The wardrobe mistress was asking him how old and what size I was, and being a gallant kind of chap, he didn’t want to sound rude but needed to tell the truth. After a string of “no, no, older, I think bigger”s he finally gave up and said, “She speaks Arabic and French and she is sitting right next to me, please speak to her!” When I revealed my age and size, there was a sharp intake of breath at the other end and then a silence.
At Essaouira airport, which is where the filming was taking place the next day, there was a big tented camp complete with a proper Hollywood makeup trailer. In I went to be confronted by a wall of false beards.
My ego took a momentary dip. I may have some masculine characteristics but, surely…. Phew. No. I wasn’t doubling for George Clooney but for the American Ambassador in Yemen who was being played by Jennifer Ehle.
The lovely make up lady, (I am sure that is not a PC description) was a British/South African and had lived in Morocco, so we had lots to talk about.When I pointed out that I didn’t really look anything like the Fragrant Jennifer Ehle, she told me not to worry because it was only a head shot in a car. She then looked at my big mat of hair,
“Hmm, if I had seen this on a photo I would have said no, but I am going to make it work.”
The next half hour was spent cramming my hair into a wig which, when it was on, transformed me into…. Hilary Clinton! I seriously had a moment of considering running for President.
The day of my stardom dawned and Lavinia and I headed for the buses, which were leaving at 3.45 am from the port. There were about 200 of us all filing in as extras, and the mood was jovial if sleepy.
When we arrived at the airport we were ushered into the costume tent where Lavinia and I were roundly scolded for wearing sandals and not office shoes by a hyper-stressed, hyper-diva, costume master.
I looked enviously at the marines in their full uniform, the UN peacekeepers with their plastic guns and the FBI clad in bullet proof vests. But I was going to be Jennifer Ehle’s double, so I comforted myself with that.
Onto set we trooped, leaving our mobile phones behind so we couldn’t leak sneaky set pictures. By now it was around 8 am and the sun was up. The set was the runway with a big army plane in the centre and armoured vehicles strategically placed. The runway was still working so we were given a firm safety briefing and assistant producers ran around yelling at those who kept lighting up cigarettes beside the re-fuelling tankers.
Then followed 10 hours of boredom and beating, hot sun. Our job, basically, was to queue to be evacuated. There was a little bit of running and jostling but the rest of the time was standing.
My eye was firmly on the prize. There, five people ahead of me, was Jennifer Ehle in the Hilary Clinton wig. I was hoping I could speak to her, maybe exchange a jape or two about being her double, but no such luck. When not being filmed, the sunglasses went on and she strode back to the green room, reading a book. She clearly did NOT want to be disturbed. Fair enough, I was feeling a bit jaded myself and I was only half way through one day.
The hours wore on, punctuated by lots of bonding with our fellow extras. In between takes, we would admire each others’ costumes, crawl under the armoured trucks to take advantage of the shade, or share bottles of cold water.
Then at last, my moment arrived. A group of cars positioned themselves by the plane. This was it. I would be off to makeup to get that wig on and then I, Alice Hunter Morrison, would become Jennifer Ehle, Ambassador to Yemen.
But nothing happened. Instead, I was loaded on to a bus, to continue in my role as a Foreign Affairs person being evacuated. My moment had passed. Fame had eluded me. There was to be no day in the sun. The wig fitting had been in vain.
Two hours and many takes later, we were allowed off the bus and made our way home. I never found out what happened but even though I didn’t get to hit the big time, my day as an extra was worth it. It had been a day when I doubled for a Hollywood Film Star Almost.
If you enjoyed the story, check out my books.