“Johnny Depp said it hurt him to watch me…”
The Lone Ranger hit the local theater in Crested Butte this week, giving audiences a peak at more than Johnny Depp’s latest film (and the return of a look reminiscent of Captain Jack). Four locals landed roles as extras on the set, bringing their Crested Butte flair to the silver screen.
Rob Mahedy, long-haired champion of the Crested Butte Mountain Bike Association, John Snider, better known as Johnny Five, and Dan Anderson, a.k.a. Detail Dan of the auto detailing business The Detail Shop, were hired on as extras. Todd Wilkinson landed a somewhat surprising role as a contortionist thanks to a well-hidden talent: the ability to put his legs behind his head.
Gore Verbinski, director of The Lone Ranger and Pirates of the Caribbean, reportedly needed an array of eclectic individuals to recreate the building of the railroads and the freak shows of the Wild West. He wanted tall, scruffy guys with long hair, contortionists, amputees, fire breathers, and even fire dancers.
Crested Buttians, it seems, fit the bill.
Making the cut
A little over a year ago, Todd Wilkinson and Detail Dan headed out to Moab for the Easter Jeep Safari and a week of rock crawling. Appearing in a movie was the furthest thing from their minds. Wilkinson had already let one opportunity to work on the set pass him by—he had work in Crested Butte, after all, and wasn’t that interested.
But then he and Detail Dan met up with a friend who happened to be an amputee and happened to be going to the casting call. The guys decided to go along.
“We were out there to go 4-wheeling and ended up crashing the casting calls,” says Detail Dan. “It was like American Idol, but the worst talent you can imagine.”
There were about 1,700 people looking to land one of 400 parts—a sea of people jockeying for a role. Most of the contortionists were girls wearing leotards, and Wilkinson saw an opportunity.
“I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, I could freak all these people out,’” he said. “I put my leg behind my head, sitting in my chair. Dan screamed and pushed me out of my chair, and I landed in front of the casting director.”
At that point, Wilkinson says, it was no longer a matter of whether he wanted to be in the movie. The casting director sent him to get measured and have photos taken and the role of specialty extra was his. “It was over. I realized I was going to be in this movie,” Wilkinson said.
By contrast, Detail Dan thought he’d escaped unscathed. Initially offered a part, he later received a phone call that it wouldn’t work out. “They gave a bunch a people parts but then weeded them out by saying there wasn’t a position for them. Everyone who threw a fit didn’t get the part and anyone who was cordial to them was able to proceed,” Detail Dan explained. “I was one of the few people who was, like, ‘Thank you for not making me drive all the way out there.’”
Mahedy also thought he’d lost his part when tight budgets (the movie producers didn’t want to spend more than $250 million) put the squeeze on his scene. But he too got called back in, and together with Johnny Five, Crested Butte represented with some of Hollywood’s biggest names.
“I think for us we’re all kind of shy or what have you,” Mahedy said, “but it was an excuse to go to Moab and get paid to be out in the desert.”
A Day in the Life
As a newly discovered contortionist, Wilkinson filmed in Santa Fe, on the set with Johnny Depp, Arnie Hammer, Helena Bonham Carter, and a bunch of Cirque du Soleil performers. He describes the scene, called Hell on Wheels, as a freak show.
As a front-bending contortionist, Wilkinson was paired with a back-bending partner. But there were also scorpion eaters, bearded ladies, and a half-man/half-woman. One particularly tall man was made to look like the Elephant Man.
“It looked so convincing I tried not to look at him too much because I actually thought he was deformed,” Wilkinson said.
They filmed from sundown to sunup for five days, with Wilkinson putting his legs behind his head and standing on his hands all night long. Thanks to a roommate who snored, he barely slept the entire time and said he was more or less delirious by the end.
“By the end, any time we weren’t shooting I was talking to myself and completely delusional,” he said. The life of a movie extra was no less demanding for the rest of the Crested Butte crew: Mahedy, Johnny Five and Detail Dan were all on set near Moab—not far, according to Mahedy, from the location where Thelma and Louise once drove their car off a cliff.
They didn’t shoot with the main stars of the film, but in Moab the crew shot several scenes at once. Mahedy was in a train scene and was in charge of shoveling coal into the steam engine while a helicopter hovered 10 feet away with a camera on its nose. Johnny Five was a railroad worker hauling steel rails, and Detail Dan played an Irish immigrant in a nearby scene on the same set.
As temperatures soared above 100 degrees, the crew filmed from 5 a.m. until 10 p.m., taking a substantial break only when the train caught on fire after a mishap with propane in the smoke stack.
“They had everybody get off the track and called in the guys with fire extinguishers and water,” Mahedy said. “It got singed and they had to repaint it, so they shut down the whole set.”
In true Crested Butte fashion, Mahedy jumped in to help with the painting. Detail Dan took on multiple roles, too. When he finished with his duties as an extra, he worked for the casting company and sought out extras in Moab.
“It was entertaining because I would go up to people and say, ‘I know this is strange but I’m looking for scruffy old dudes,’” he said. “I could talk to anyone saying something silly like that.”
Food—the way to an extra’s heart
There was one common thread to each of the extras’ experiences—there’s no “Crested Butte time” on a movie set. Even with hundreds of people on set, everything stayed on track, everyone was incredibly nice, and the food was amazing. On the Santa Fe set in particular, one entire trailer was dedicated to chocolate.
“People knew how I liked my food cooked, people I had never even seen,” said Wilkinson. “That blew my mind the most. They feed you like a king and then some.”
He was so taken with the experience that he’s in the process of getting his Screen Actor’s Guild card—both he and Detail Dan said that once you get in as an extra, your chances of being called back for a sequel or a film produced by the same crew go up. It may be only the beginning for these Crested Butte mountain men turned extras.
But as for watching themselves on screen? For Wilkinson’s part, he’s a little reluctant.
“I don’t know if I’m happy with lots of people seeing me put my leg behind my head. Not many people have seen it, and there’s a reason. Johnny Depp said it hurt him to watch me,” he said.
Catch The Lone Ranger at the Majestic Theater this week to see for yourself (and to find out if each of our extras made the final movie cut).