I was fortunate enough to book Episode #9 of CSI Las Vegas, Season 13, entitled “Strip Maul”. I auditioned on Thursday, October 11, 2012 and got the call from my agent around 6pm that day. It’s very hard to tell from an audition whether you’ve book, but I felt I had done a good job with the audition itself. The role was a Korean tourist in Las Vegas who ends up in the hospital. The script indicates that the character, Anthony Pak, uses humor to deal with his hospital experience, so I tried to portray the good-natured tourist that makes light of everything. Also, the script says that Anthony has hives and has trouble breathing, so I tried to put that subtlety into the audition, doing a light bit of heavy breathing in a couple key places during the read.
A couple times a year, CSI Las Vegas shoots in Las Vegas itself. For the cast and crew, it’s a bit crazy, with all the equipment and the crowds, but you get a lot of production value. For our scene, we shot the evening of Wednesday, on Fremont Street, which I had never been to before. It’s actually pretty fun. Fremont Street is a pedestrian walkway with a huge digital ceiling and very powerful speakers that go on for a few blocks. They play music videos on the ceiling, and if it’s a good song, the crowd stops and sings along or dances, it’s really fun energy. A few shots below, sorry for the poor quality coming from my ancient iPhone G3:
As you can see, it was hugely crowded and quite crazy. Imagine trying to shoot a scene in the middle of all this; if you know anything about sets, you’d see this is quite challenging. Not only is there a bunch of equipment sitting out in public, but you’ve got people in the background in every scene who are not acting like street people, they’re busy trying to take pictures of the stars. And it’s hard to hear anything another actor says, much less record it. I had to ask the sound guy, and while you can get some sound, you will most likely have to do the lines again in a studio during post production.
Eventually, they put barriers up and had extras inside the barriers with the cast, so hopefully, the extras blocked out anyone in the background not acting like regular Las Vegas people. There was also the usual sign, though hard to find, that said something like, “you may be filmed, and your presence indicates your willingness to be filmed”, etc. Some of the cast members would have preferred the privacy of a studio, but there wasn’t much to be done.
I arrived on set about 800pm, dressed as my character, a Korean tourist, in a Hawaiian shirt. Some of the cast members are below: Inbar Lavi on the left, Matt Vairo to her right, Luciana Faulhaber next and me and the far right.
I walked into the little circle set aside for rehearsal. At this point, there were no barriers, so they had not yet separated out the crowd from the cast and crew. One of the ADs took a look at me and said, “Sir, would you please move back. Over there sir.” The director was a few feet away and immediately introduced himself. The AD was horrified, and apologized. Then the director said, “But that’s exactly what we wanted, someone who blends into the crowd”. I wasn’t offended by any means, there was really no reason the AD should think I was cast. But the more interesting part was what this all said about my casting: I was non-descript. Not really a surprise, because I have always said that casting wise, I’m a bit middle of the road – not really lead, but not really character. And so here was as clear a confirmation of that idea as I could get. And if that wasn’t enough, for the next 20 minutes, everyone on the crew tried to get me off the set. Even over at craft service, where I started nibbling on the raspberry and the blueberries, the 6 foot, 200+ pound security guard stared at me for a good 20-30 seconds as I raided the fruit. And then I thought, I better tell him I’m cast before he actually does something. So I finally said, “I’m cast”. With that settled, the security guard laughed, because he was definitely considering picking me up and tossing me out. Finally, when we went back to shoot my next scene with Elizabeth Shue, the director introduced me and said something like, “Remember we were looking for an ND guy that would blend into the crowd?” He pointed to me and told the story of how people were trying to shoo me off set. And I think “ND” meant nondescript. Sigh, those good-looking people in life have it so easy. 🙂
So we shot this scene, and others, where a young guy, played by David Magidoff, runs around with a fake head on a Vegas street. The CSI guys confront him, and as I walk through the crowd, I get smacked by the fake head. Here’s David below with the head:
I had to pretend to get hit by the head and fall to the ground. I did it a few times, and then the stunt coordinator, Jon Epstein, gave me an adjustment, that I needed a little more snap of the head and that I could even raise my hands as I got hit. The next take was good for camera, although I have to say, falling to the ground was beginning to hurt. I had to hit the ground (solid concrete) 10-12 times, I think, and while the martial arts I had studied made things easier, the ground was still hard. For those set aficionados out there, technically, doing the fall should have been worth a stunt bump, because I’ve seen stunt guys get paid a full day for just that alone, but I didn’t really want to make a big deal of it.
From time to time, the music we play and with all the noise, we’d have to take a break from shooting. For example, they played Queen’s “We will rock you”, and the crowd got into it, dancing and waving their hands. Meanwhile, the crew and cast would walk around and record video of everyone. On another one of these breaks, Jorja Fox did an impressive little dance in a little hidden space behind video village. When she came out for the next take, I said to her, “I caught your little dance. You got some moves, I was very impressed.” For the record, I thought she was quite good. “You should do a musical. In fact, you should do a musical version of CSI, where everyone sings and dances.” Now I have to admit, I have always found Jorja Fox to be likeable on screen. Even back on West Wing, where she played a Secret Service agent, I wanted to see more of her and hoped that her storyline would get extended. And it turns out in real life, she’s actually exactly that – very warm and friendly. When I met her at base camp, she immediately introduced herself in a very welcoming way, and when we took the van to set, she was like, “Have you met everyone?” She played a bit of a host, even though she had, of course, no obligation to do so. So when I brought up the musical, she didn’t even blink, she said, “Oh totally, and I have this great idea for it.” And she went on to describe how all the music and dancing could happen in one of the CSI character’s dreams. And then she said, “I’ve been pitching this, you gotta help me sell it to the producers.” So later, I walked up to one of the producers, mentioned my conversation with Jorja, and the musical CSI Las Vegas idea. He sorted grunted, nodded, and walked off. Hmm… guess that went over well.
We shot until 2am or 3am, I think, and all in all, it was a pretty fun night. Here’s a few more photos. Alimi Ballard below left in the cop’s uniform, who seemed to have an iPod glued to his ear and texted all of China during the shoot:
And below, George Eads signing autographs. George was nice as well, although much more crowd shy. At one point we were walking down the street and some woman recognized him from across the street. For a minute I thought she was about to come over and go fan crazy, but we just kept going and a crew person kept her away, I think.
And finally, you have to love all the characters. For extras, they even had Harajuku girls:
CSI Las Vegas airs on CBS.