Robert Power has put handcuffs on Gordon Pinsent, Allan Hawco, and Shannon Tweed, but he’s no cop. He’s a background performer (more commonly known as a movie extra).
It happened almost by chance back in 2009. A new tv show was just getting ready to start filming and they needed extras. His friend was working on the show’s costumes and suggested Power submit his headshot.
What was a one-day job turned into a recurring role. That show was The Republic of Doyle and Power would go on to appear in all six seasons. He recalls there was initially trouble getting background performers when the first season was being shot. He was cast as a pub patron, a police officer, and a wedding guest. But after the first season aired, “Everybody and his dog wanted to be in the background on The Republic of Doyle” he laughs. From then on, he was exclusively a police officer.
It’s led the retired school teacher to a number of gigs in films produced in Newfoundland. He’s been on the sets of Netflix’s Frontier, Away from Everywhere, Hunting Pignut, and Closet Monster. Not that people will necessarily be able to point him out on screen. “Sometimes you’re only a moving blob in the background and sometimes, there you are in the shot with the lead actor. You never know until it airs.”
When it comes to figuring out why he gets chosen for roles, he can’t say. It can be his age, height, or build. For example, if the main characters is 5’4, then the people casting for background performers don’t want someone to tower over the actor.
There are no typical days on set. “I’ve had days on The Republic of Doyle, for example, where I was called in and I was there for no more than two hours. But I also had 14-hour days. And sometimes when they’re shooting, they’re really shooting on the fly, especially if it’s an outside location.”
Or he could be called in at 7am to film at 9am, but the scene doesn’t happen until 2 in the afternoon. “You have to be ready to go at a moment’s notice.” Background performers are told to bring something to read or a deck of cards, something to keep themselves occupied.
He could also get very little warning before being needed on set. Once, Power got the call while at the grocery store; he left his cart in the aisle and was on set less than 25 minutes later.
Typically, extras are told to bring own clothes and an extra set in case it’s not suitable for the scene. But for roles like police officers and historical pieces like Frontier, they’re provided costumes.
One thing he hadn’t known before working on film sets is that the background performers are silent. Even if they look like they’re talking, they’re actually just mouthing the words. So a noisy bar scene is actually pretty quiet, with the sounds of chatter, music, and glasses clinking being added in later. “So the toughest thing about being background is being able to act, walk around like you’re not being careful about how you walk without making a sound, putting a telephone down without making a sound.”
In his short career as a background performer, Power has gotten to share scenes with Hollywood stars like Jason Priestley and Russell Crowe, but his favourite might be getting to know the people who make television shows and movies possible.