If you don't know it, it's the true story of how Tony accepted a bet with his friend Kevin that he he couldn't circumnavigate the coast of Ireland solely by hitchhiking. And with a fridge in tow. The inspiration for the whole silly adventure was that Tony once really did see an Irishman hitching, with a fridge, on the side of the road and it was this insane sense of optimism that Tony hoped to tap into. What ensued was a hilarious and occasionally moving caper that changed Tony's life and which proved the great warmth of the Irish people who embraced his mad ambition and helped him wherever and however they could to try to win his bet. The book was a huge success and even spawned a spin-off - The Fridgehiker's Guide to Life. Anyway, Tony was telling me that he and old friend (and Red Dwarf director) Ed Bye were in the process of making a film based on the story. And a film always needs 'supporting actors'. Oh, all right, extras. Did I fancy a small part? Oo-er.
I'd done some extras work before. As a child, I was in several TV shows that were filmed in Cornwall, including The Goodies and The Onedin Line. I was also, along with brother Andrew, in a film that was especially made to accompany Ennio Morricone's The Good, the Bad and the Ugly theme when it hit the Number One spot in 1968. Oh yes, I've been in a Number One chart 'video' ... although I was aged seven and dressed as a cowboy. But I hadn't done anything like this as an adult and so looked forward to the experience.
For the past two days, shoppers at Wimbledon's Centre Court shopping centre have probably been confused and bewildered by banners proudly proclaiming that 'Ireland welcomes Fridge Man'. The upper level of the centre has been doubling as a shopping centre in Dublin and this was where the crew were filming the last few climactic minutes of the story. Was Tony going to win his bet or not? You'll have to read the book, won't you?
We had a fair swathe of amateur dramaticians and semi-pro thespians, along with newbies like me but all were lovely people and great fun to be with. And that's a good thing as you get to spend a lot of time together. There's a hell of a lot of waiting around to do.
The scenes mostly revolved around Tony making his way - at a fair old lick - to meet Irish news reporter Roisin (played by Valerie O'Connor) and be reunited with his friend Kevin, played by Andy Taylor (who you may remember as the ship's doctor in Red Dwarf).* Mostly we were employed for the crowd scenes while Tony made his thank you speech to All Ireland Radio. However, I did also get a scene when Tony is seen first rushing into the centre, supposedly late for his meeting. As he does so, he hares past several surprised-looking shoppers, the last of which were myself and another extra. So there you have it ... my three seconds of cinematic not-quite-fame.
Andy, Valerie, Tony and Saiorse the fridge. Its name means 'Freedom'.
Of course, that's why some people are here. As we saw in Ricky Gervais's series Extras, many people do this kind of work in the hope of being 'discovered' and getting that elusive first line. Others, like me, just do it for what the Irish would call 'the craic'; the fun of it. Although, I don't know how much fun it would be to do a lot of extra work. There is a lot of just sitting or standing around. And many scenes get shot over and over again, often from several different camera angles. But, as any extra will attest, the catering is always good and this was no exception with some fantastic spicy meatballs, veggie chili and a gorgeous peach and cherry crumble on offer, amongst other delights. Because it was so warm, I did supplement this diet with an ice cream from a nearby McDonalds and, upon seeing its name, decided that I'd like my stage name to be Rolo McFlurry.
Tony and Valerie praying for Boob Patrol Man to go away (see below)
The best part of the day for me was watching the genuine shoppers. Undirected, unguided and unbidden, they wandered aimlessly into shot, positioned themselves where they shouldn't and generally made themselves a nuisance for the first director. To their credit, they had infinite patience as they politely asked people to step away or, if they wanted to be in a crowd scene, persuaded them to sign the necessary legal disclaimers. The high point came when a couple of young lads - mid 20s I'd say - turned up looking bemused and speaking a language I curiously couldn't begin to identify. From their facial appearance I assume they were from some Eastern European/Western Arabic state. But it was what they were wearing that caught my eye. One was dressed in your standard gang drag of peaked cap with big round shiny labels, loose vest top, gold chains and a baggy trouser crotch that barely cleared the floor. The other, however, was every girl's dream ... around five feet four, wrap-around bug shades, a big white belt with what appeared to be a Star Trek Federation logo for a buckle, black jeans and black t-shirt bearing the slogan 'Boob Patrol' in large, white tasteless letters. And he had tiny, tiny feet. His white trainers looked like a child's. I couldn't stop giggling as I watched him walk right into the middle of the set as the cameras were rolling, all the while staring hungrily at the lovely Valerie. Hilarious.
Tony's brave smile upon discovering that 'Pouty' Craig has landed the Bond role.
These kinds of shoots involve long, long days and these were pretty normal averaging around 12 hours. Quite where the cast and crew get their stamina from is beyond me. All I know is that I was completely knackered upon getting home. But a great experience and one that I'd repeat. But maybe not too often, eh?
The film, incidentally, is scheduled for a cinema release later this year, or possibly early in 2010 dependent upon distribution. The movie website is here. Meanwhile, you can buy all of Tony's books on Amazon here or via his website here.
*Tony was also a 'Dwarfer' in that he played the host of the Better than life total immersion video game and provided the voices for several of the ship's vending machines and toasters.