Behind-the-scenes look at a “MacGruber” filming location

Bronson and Will Forte as MacGruber

Me, Bronson Peshlakai, standing along side with Will Forte, dressed as MacGruber, near a Santa Fe, N.M., filming location.

EDITORS NOTE: This is Part Two of a Two-part series about the upcoming movie “MacGruber” This article, or casual conversation, tells what it was like filming a short part of this movie near Sante Fe, N.M. Part One explained MacGruber’s synopsis and change in release date. That blog entry can be seen below this entry.

By Bronson Peshlakai

SANTE FE, N.M. — The air was crisp on a brisk August morning. I arrived to the historic El Rancho de las Golondrinos, near Sante Fe, to shoot my first feature film. I left home that morning at 2 a.m. to meet a casting call at 6. My first big movie. I walked thru the gates onto the ancient grounds, ready for my big debut…

OK, enough of literary redundant prose.

This is my account of being an extra on the set of “MacGruber.”

So, I arrived on location, not sure what to expect. I kind of aimlessly walked into the historical museum site I was supposed to report to. I went straight toward an RV stand that had spigots sticking out for coffee, orange juice and water. This was the place for me. I custom ordered an omelette, sausage and grits from this RV that was labeled “Hollywood Catering.” I guess this is where I start my journey as an extras cast member. I thought my stomach was full, but it really had butterflies flying around.

It was now 6:45, a full stomach, and I still didn’t know what the hell I was doing, or where to go. Prior to this moment, I thought I had my casting part down, a local Native American pretending to be a Peruvian.

Finally, someone started directing extras to a special area. There were only about 13 of us adult extras, the rest of the people eating breakfast were crew for the movie.

Bronson standing outside dressing room

Bronson Peshlakai in custom as a Peruvian villager standing outside my wardrobe changing room on location.

At last, we all were herded over to a series of RV trailers situated with at least seven doors each; each displaying a yellow star on the door. These were changing quarters for the actors and actresses. After being issued my wardrobe for my part as a Peruvian villager, I stepped into my private quarters to change… private for the next 15 minutes, at least.

Bronson in costume

Just got dressed in Peruvian villager costume and took a picture on cell phone

Wow. Fashion faux pas, or what. Is this what people in Peru dress like? My next stop was makeup. I wasn’t meant to look pretty, so makeup artists dabbed my face with blotches of dark color, like I was smudged up from working on a donkey-driven wagon’s oiled joints. My pristene clothing, that had TJ Maxx and Platos Closet tags, were intentionally scuffed up by special scuffing makeup.

Next was hair. They gobbed on greasy stuff and threw on a hat (fedora) — now, I’m ready for the camera.

Wow. Really?? That’s it? I started walking back to the holding area to wait my next orders. I passed an older man dressed very dapper as an Army General, or something.

The other extras started filing in. We did look quite South American. Most of us were Navajos, Aztecs and Pueblo Natives, dressed as if we just descended from Matchu Pitchu, or something. Frankly, we looked like unauthentic culture vultures of the third kind in an alien world of multiple lighting fixtures the size of 20-gallon fish tanks and thick electrical and camera cords to last a miles.

Courtyard filming location

A crazy look at the courtyard we filmed in

At about 9 a.m., we were led to a historic Spanish architecture stone church, with Adobe style walls forming a courtyard. On the way there I spotted another Army-dressed character puffing away on a cigarette. Was that him? Shorter than I thought, but it was — Ryan Phillippe. Or, Sebastian, as I’ve always type-casted him, from “Cruel Intentions.” The day just got more exciting after seeing one of the big screen names, in his own reality. A person, ready to act.. just smoking a cigarette and prepping himself to be an Army Leiutenant.

Within the stone-clay walls of the church courtyard was a historic village. About five or six portals, or entryways, looked like storefronts, or homes. The “Native Peruvians,” us extra cast members, were scattered about the courtyard. Some sweeping, others carrying about a normal day, like exchanging fruits for gardening tools, or carrying large water jugs. I initially was given the job of sweeping in the corner of the small village. Totally, not noticeable, I thought. So, during rehearsals, or blocking, which meant us trying to make our social interaction in this courtyard as authentic as possible, I ended picking up a basket of fruit and walking across the center courtyard to a merchant on the other side. (No one told me to do this, I just thought… I HATE sweeping!) And, that ended up being my role. Walking from one side of the courtyard to the other… RIGHT DOWN THE CENTER… pass the Main Entrance into our little courtyard.

A screen shot from MacGruber

MacGruber's team ready to take some action

Ryan Phillippe, or as his character is called, Lt. Dixon Piper, and his superior, the “General” drove up to the main village entrance in an old green military Jeep. They walk into the courtyard. Dixon says, “are you sure we can trust this guy,” or something to that effect talking about MacGruber, the MacGyver spoof character. The General says, “he is the best we got.” They pause in the middle of the courtyard. ME, or my village character, then walks right past them carrying some cantelope and other fruit. CUT. The directors (assistand director, the assistant to the assisstant to the director, and the background director) like this blocking for fliming.

Now, two digital cinemagraphic film cameras are shooting this same scene over an over again. I’m the one walking right by Phillippe and the General each and everytime. (I have to be in the movie during this scene.)

The last take of this scene was the SteadiCam film camera walking into the entrance of the courtyard… a “Point Of View” sequence. The extras did as they usually did, except there were no actors, just that one camera that captured us walking about. There I am, front and center walking in the center courtyard and looking toward the entrance at “the intruders into our village” kinda look… My face was like, “who the hell are they”, as I slowed my walk and became guarded. (I should win an emmy for that pose!) LOL

That was the end of most of the scenes I worked on. It was almost noon by this time. It was very interesting to see the FX people lighting smoke containers around the courtyard, to imitate fires, or ovens cooking. The smoke emanated from burning beeswax. Very realistic. It smelled like being incensed in a Catholic Church.

Lunch came next. Cast and crew went back to the holding area to eat. Ryan Phillippe was two people in front of me getting his grub from the buffet line. I wanted to say hello, or something… how lame. He took his food and left for his private trailer anyway. However, I sat next to a stunt double dressed just like MacGruber was, in his religious monk wardrobe.

Later, when filming action went inside the historic church, MacGruber sat meditating; sitting in a lotus position. This is where the stunt double took over and did an instantaneous flip thru the air into a standing position. The director did the take about six times, and the stunt double delivered flawlessly each time. His maneuver elicited applause each time from everyone watching. In the movie, this is where Dixon and the general find MacGruber and ask for his assistance in fighting the bad guy.

Toward the end of filming, around 8 p.m., the sun was going down. The director, Jorma Taccone seemed to be getting all the last minute shooting — making sure nothing was missed with continuity and other elements. Everyone was weary. Ryan Phillippe sat next to me and the other extras cast and we chit-chatted about how this was his first time filming in New Mexico. Cat had my tongue and we couldn’t talk about anything else. (Damn, I know I let people down)

Some overzealous person wearing casual wear and Nikes and sitting in one of about seven director-style chairs with “MacGruber” emblazened across the back, was inviting people over to an Albuquerque bar called Imbibe, located in the Nob Hill district. I thought I kind of recognized this guy, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. Everyone seemed to be taking extra cordialness with him, and accepting his offer, and also making superficial jokes or forced conversation with him. Who was this guy?

When he finally got up to leave, the name “Lorne Michaels” was on the chair. Damn! I thought. I was sitting less than 6 feet away from him (his back toward me), but why didn’t I realize it. And say something. Another lost moment to savor. “Hi Lorne, I love SNL” Geez. What could I have said? It haunts me to this day.

Well. After 13 hours of filming and waiting around, I was exhausted. OH WAIT. I forgot to say, earlier in the day when me and another extras cast member were talking about Phillippe, and his wife Reese Witherspoon, I found out they had split up. Oops. A producer of the film overheard us and outrageously shushed us saying “don’t mention anything about Reese here. It will upset Ryan! No more talking of that, you hear?!” I was like damn, bitch. Seriously. I didn’t know. (Guess I lost the memo on that one.)

The day ended in jubilee. Directors, producers and actors were happy. I was happy I talked with Ryan, for about a minute. I also chatted with Will Forte, and got a picture with him. It’s one of my proudest moments of 2009. Thanks Will. You rock!!!

Background acting for this film was kind of grueling. I wasn’t in too many takes, but damn, it was about 100 degrees. Standing in the hot sun redoing takes and trying not to sweat profusely in restricting polyester clothing was difficult. Ryan Phillippe and the General wore full military dress greens (is that what you call the dress up uniform?) Suit coats, dress shirts and T-shirts, ALL day long. They were also caked with makeup. It seemed like they did not even sweat a bit. Wow. Kudos to them. It brings a whole new meaning to what actors endure in the elements, looking good and making the movie seem somewhat real.

As I close this, I’ve acted in a film in New York before. I had about eight pages of lines, playing a Native American trading post owner. We filmed for 16 hours on just those eight pages. It’s draining! The lights are hot; doing scenes over and over again; and being challenged eached time by the director to be someone else is extremely exhausting.

But, after doing the NYC movie, and MacGruber, PLUS, playing a supporting role in “CTRL+ALT+Delete” for the Pierre, S.D., Players, I love acting! I got the bug in me, and I’m ready for my next role. Bring it on, Hollywood, and move over Adam Beach… the next Native is moving up in the ranks.


(Adam. Put me in touch with your agent…)

Published in: on March 11, 2010 at 4:22 pm  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Very nice. Thank you. I read a blog last year from a woman who played an extra in “The Bang Bang Club” that was filmed in South Africa. She also commented how exhausting it was, a 16 hour day with the leads working that many hours along side her in the heat and dust. I think you were very cool not to fawn over the celeb’s you met. Thanks for sharing the experience and I’ll watch for you in the film. (No wardrobe malfunctions?)

  2. Wow.. looks like somebodys been takin it easy on the do-nuts. Wait… I swear I saw you in the background of a Richard Simmons infomertial

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