The world of film extras is a fascinating one. They mostly serve to fill up the background of crowd scenes (if you had only actors in every scene, then New York City would look awfully sparse) but in a lot of cases, extras are actors who just have not hit it big yet. A number of famous actors got their start working as extra, like Clint Eastwood, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon. In a Movie Legends Revealed a while back, I even discussed how Joss Whedon literally cast one of the extras from The Avengers as a lead in his next movie. However, while some extras would love to get speaking roles in films, some extras are just there to make some quick cash. This, then, makes the story of Layla Sarakalo so fascinating. Read on to learn about the woman who accidentally got a speaking part in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.
The plot of 1986's Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home was that our favorite crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise find themselves trapped in their past but our present day San Francisco. There is a terrible threat to Earth in their time and the only thing that can save them are humpback whales, which are extinct in the future. So they travel back to 1986 but don't have the ability to get home. So the crew splits up to A. find some humpback whales that they can bring back to the future, B. find a way to store the whales on their ship and C. find a way to power their ship for a return trip through time.
Commanders Pavel Chekov and Nyota Uhura are tasked with finding a nuclear reactor, because nuclear energy could possibly power their ship. The only nuclear reactors in the area are on nuclear powered submarines. Their only problem is that they don't know WHERE the nuclear vessels are. This leads to a comedic scene where Chekov, with his thick Russian accent making "vessels" sound like "wessels," asks people on the street where Alameda is, as Naval Air Station Alameda has nuclear submarines. One woman stops and tells them she is unsure, but she thinks that they are in Alameda, which is, of course, exactly what they are asking - where is Alameda? It's a funny scene.
It is a funny scene, but it was also ad-libbed. You see, notice how everyone else ignores them? The woman who answered them was also supposed to ignore them. The comedy was supposed to come from the fact that they couldn't get an answer (and, yes, from the way Chekov says "vessels").
The woman in question was Layla Sarakalo and she was living in San Francisco and woke up one day to discover that her car had been towed. You see, she had missed the fact that there was filming on her street and her car was in the way (she had missed the signs). The film being made on her street, of course, was Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. She decided that one way to get the money to pay for the towing was to get a job as an extra on the film set.
In an article on her ten years ago, StarTrek.com detailed what she did next:
After deciding what she would do, Layla changed into a suitable outfit, grabbed her whippet Anubis (her dog) and headed down the street to where the action was taking place. After speaking with the assistant director on whether she could get a day's work, she was told she could and was instructed to stand with the group of extras already hired for the day.
Layla said to the others that she had never engaged in this acting thing before and asked what she should do. They told her to act naturally. With the cameras rolling, Layla walked down the street into shot and soon came to the spot where Uhura and Chekov were unsuccessfully trying to find out from passing pedestrians where the nuclear wessels [sic] were. Most of the extras who were asked this question looked at the two like they were from another planet and carried on. Layla, however, answered them. Naturally.
The problem was, she wasn't supposed to say anything. But, because she did, the filmmakers decided that this was good, spontaneous stuff and that they should use it! A bit of rancor by fellow extras aside, Layla's star was now lit and hanging in the firmament.
After some retakes, they finally broke for lunch. When production personnel approached her, they asked if she was in the union (Screen Actors Guild). "No," she replied with a smile, "I'm in the neighborhood."
So they had her sign up for the Screen Actors Guild (everyone who has a line in a film has to be a member). But she didn't think anything of it, as she didn't think it would actually MAKE the movie. But after the film came out, people occasionally recognized her from the movie, so she went to go see it.
For years, she was unknown, just a "mystery woman" in the film, but she eventually came forward. As of 2005, she was working in Paris, running a small fashion house.
Isn't that awesome?
The legend is...
Thanks so much to reader Peter D. for suggesting this one!
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.