They showed up without stars in their eyes. Most of them, anyway. If any had dreams of being discovered, the conference room in downtown's Holiday Inn wasn't the place for it.
And yet by 2:30 p.m. Saturday, more than 400 people had jotted their names and measurements, posed for a photo and left. R.J. Burns looked dazed by the day's routine. His cargo-shorted nonchalance didn't exactly scream Hollywood, but neither did the forms he passed out asking for suit sizes and email addresses. Burns wasn't here for talent. He was here in search of a look that would look at home in the background of the forthcoming cable series Yellowstone, starring Kevin Costner and set in Montana's ranch country.
"I'm pretty good at finding the look, I think," Burns said. "I haven't failed yet. Thought I was going to fail on this one just because the numbers were so high. But a day like this? It's great."
Paul Toussaint fit the bill, with his cowboy hat and handlebar mustache. They looked genuine on Toussaint, a rancher and former Montana law enforcement officer. Toussaint wasn't looking for a big Hollywood break. Just an opportunity to see if his look passed muster.
"It's a matter of luck," Toussaint said, with more than a hint of a Belgian accent. "If you have the appearance for what they are looking for exactly, then I guess you have a chance to be there, stay quiet and not say a word."
Jacquelyne Eileraas was no more starry-eyed than Toussaint. She certainly wasn't there for a chance to share a set with Costner. She admitted, timidly, that she wasn't even sure who he was. But as a lifelong Montana resident and former high school theater tech, Eileraas thought it might be exciting to revisit the world of drama on a project set in her home state.
"I've spent my whole life here, so I see myself as a part of Montana," she said. "And being a part of that would be nice, kind of fun to do."
- photo by Alex Sakariassen
- R.J. Burns, Montana extras casting director for Yellowstone, helps Suzette Dussault fill out the form that could land her in the background of the forthcoming cable series.
Many applicants said they'd heard about the casting call through Facebook or local media. Brandon Taylor had other sources. He'd been messaging with a girl on Tinder, he said, and when he mentioned he was an acting major, she let him know the auditions were coming to town. Taylor, a Great Falls native and lifelong fan of Westerns, had dressed as Western as he could in a short-sleeve button down shirt, jeans and workboots. A bit as an extra wouldn't look bad on his acting resume, he said, and besides, it's Costner. Asked what movie he best remembered the two-time Oscar winner for, Taylor didn't miss a beat:
The prize for longest commute in pursuit of a sliver of screen time may have gone to Raven Martin and Kristen Roberts, small-town adolescents who drove to Missoula from Reed Point and defined opposite ends of the Costner-fandom spectrum. Martin cited Waterworld and Armageddon (the latter, oddly, did not star Costner); Roberts prefers Dances With Wolves. The casting call forms contained no check-box for fandom, but if Burns was after the Montana look, the couple had an honest shot. Martin carried himself like the scrappy rural firefighter he said he was. Roberts' square-toe boots and belt buckle backed her story about riding horses since age 10. She made no attempt to hide her Kentucky accent.
"It's about a family trying to keep their ranch," Roberts said of Yellowstone. "I've done a lot of ranch work, so I was like, 'Huh, that might be something where I just fit right into the swing of things.'"
Applicant traffic picked up around four o'clock. Burns bustled to and fro, his stack of blank forms growing smaller. Then the crowd waned again and Burns returned to his chair, reminiscing about past casting work in Montana. One time, he said, he had to find a bunch of extras for a bar scene in an hour. He knew the look he was looking for. So, his story goes, he went to a bar across the street and offered the patrons $50 each, then marched them to the set. "The director looked around and said, 'God, they even look drunk.' I said, 'They are. Just let 'em be.'"
As Burns talked, more hopefuls trickled through. Ana Noell was in and out in minutes, explaining her motivation by rubbing her thumb against two fingers (extras could make as much as $150 a day on the shoots in Darby and Livingston). Then she laughed, and said acting runs in her family.
"My mom was an extra in Hello, Dolly!"