What's It like to Be a Jobbing Actor in the World of Major Music Videos?
From being buried alive by Spike Jonze to learning kung fu in Romania, five unsung stars tell their stories.
Being a jobbing actor is a weird gig. One day you’re swanning about in the back of a BBC costume drama, the next you’re proclaiming the joys of cheaper car insurance to your fake wife. Music videos are actually a huge part of your day job, as they hardly ever use big-name stars, pay pretty well, and don’t require long commitments.
It’s funny that once the mental mind of some super-cool director has come up with some outlandish concept, your agent gets a call demanding you take kung-fu lessons or dress up as a giant dog. Then when the video is shown thousands of times, on every channel, across the globe, you go completely uncredited. Nobody knows your name.
Until now, because we’ve tracked down our favourite bit-parts from some of the biggest music videos, to glean their weirdest stories.
Dorian Lough: The Man Shouting at the Man Lying on the Pavement in Radiohead's "Just"
Dorian: So, I met the director Jamie Thraves when he was at the Royal College of Arts. Someone put me in touch properly and I ended up doing these weird, abstract little films for him. For the Radiohead video, he just called me up and asked. At the time I’d just heard of the band from Pablo Honey, so I said yes.
We were shooting down near Liverpool Street Station in London on a weekend, either Saturday or Sunday, back when the city was truly empty on a weekend. Nowadays there are all sorts of things going on, but it was deserted, and I remember that it was a beautiful day – very blue skies.
As you can see, I had to trip over the guy lying on the pavement. The assistant director was like: “Shall I get some mats to put down for you? You’re falling down a lot.” But it was almost more like a comedy trip, so I was like: “No no, it’s fine.” I know now that when you do something 30 or 40 times it's very different, and basically I completely fucked my wrist. I still have problems with it now. I think I caused a spiral fraction.
Anyway, so many people have asked me what the man on the pavement says at the end. I’ll be walking down a street and someone will go: “What did he say?” And I’ll turn round and go: “What? I have no idea what you’re talking about, mate.” They’ll say: “Radiohead! "Just"?” That happens around three or four times a year, which is astonishing considering the video was released over twenty years ago.
But I can’t tell you what was said. It’s top secret. We all had to sign waivers. Who knows what would happen to me if I shared what was really said.”
Tony Maxwell: Charles the Dog Boy in Daft Punk’s “Da Funk”
Tony: In the mid-90s, I was involved with a fairly popular indie LA rock band called That Dog. We did our first music video for pennies and Spike Jonze directed it back when he was just getting started. I got to be friends with him, and from that point on he would call on me to do various things for him on camera. He threw me in the Weezer video for "Buddy Holly", you can see me dancing in that, and he used me as the star of some Nike and Levi's campaigns he directed a few years later.
One day, he called and said: "Hey, I’m doing this music video for a new band called Daft Punk. They’re out of France, it’s this really cool dance music and we want to take a really different approach to this. We don’t actually want to make a music video, instead we want to make a short film. Would you be interested?" And I said: "Of course!"
I was playing Charles the Dog Boy, so I had to wear that dog head. They had made it out of foam latex, initially making a plaster cast of my head, which required sealing me up: eyes, ears, mouth, and putting tubes in my nose. I was sealed up, basically buried alive, for 20 minutes. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t handle it. So they had to break it off and destroy it. Eventually they brought in this sort of Guru to keep talking to me throughout so that I could stand the torture of being buried alive. Luckily, that worked.
But it was so uncomfortable; I had to really squeeze into the dog head. There were these electronic servos that would make the ears go up, make the nose look like it was sniffing, and the lips move, so there was this complicated rigging that had to go underneath my wardrobe. And the foam latex dog paws meant I couldn’t really do much when I was in the costume; I had no use of my fingers, so I was at the mercy of these handlers who came with the company that made the dogs head - they were my life line. They had this gadget that manoeuvred all of my facial muscles and helped tell the story, but it was my voice that came through.
So, we flew to New York and filmed in some incredibly cold conditions for the two overnight shoots on the streets of the East Village in Manhattan. One of the problems was that the faceplate and the whole thing, the headgear, was all fitted to me in Los Angeles, in 72 degrees, and when we were shooting it was much colder, and the head constricted. All of a sudden it didn’t fit as well. It was digging into my head, and creating this giant bulge in my head. It was very unpleasant.
The shoot felt very run and gun, and Spike is such a joy to work with. He’s extremely visceral in his approach. We were filming on the streets as real people were passing by, we weren’t stopping traffic or manipulating anything, real life was happening all around us and people barely noticed us while we were doing it.
What was special was seeing the streets of New York City react in real time to the character of Charles the Dog Boy as if he was real. Because of the location and the nature of how it was put together, aside from a few knowing smiles, most people just accepted it as reality and that was kind of amazing. Half the people totally ignored Charles, as if he was just any other character on the streets, and that was part of what made it so magic. I was laughing to myself all the time.
For example, it was really cold so I’d duck into a bar between takes and I’d sit down at a bar stool, and a bunch of people would come up and say hello, but just as many people would just carry on drinking as if it was normal. That was just what a crazy blurring the lines of fiction and reality it was, and how exciting that was to see that transpire before my eyes, and knowing I was part of it.
And that was that. As for the head, I didn’t own it, the record company own it. I think they have it. I don’t even know where it’s vaulted at this point, but they did give me the plaster cast of my own head and face, so I have this big statue of my head and upper torso at my mother’s house.
Since then, I’ve gone off into a whole different world. After my band split up, I went over to the other side of the fence and sort of worked for a record company with the group Garbage and some other bands. Then I started working for the channel VH1. But now I actually work at Nickelodeon, and I run the promotion team, so I have a whole team of people that make fun stuff.
Russ Bain: The Man with No Name in Muse's "Knights of Cydonia"
Russ: I met the director while doing a Renault commercial in Italy, and he asked me if I’d like to play a cowboy in a music video for Muse, filming out in Romania. So obviously, I said yes.
A couple of days before the shoot, they had me take kung-fu lessons with a martial arts teacher. But, in reality, it was really just some fat Romanian stunt guy who would drive up to my hotel and take me to a hilltop in a local park, where we’d use nunchucks. I'm not adept in this kind of stuff at all, so I was actually pretty worried, but the fact that I was really shit at it ended up working in my favour. You see, at the beginning of the video, I'm doing all these silly moves, and it turns out that's what the director wanted all along.
Working on it was a little boy’s dream. Cowboys, girls, guns. I even got to ride a horse and a motorbike. See those galloping shots of me on the horse though? That’s me sitting on a quad bike with four Romanian guys pushing the quad bike into the ground and up again to try and make it look like a galloping horse. The challenge was keeping a straight face.
The director invited myself and my girlfriend out to LA after a couple of months to see the director’s cut. The video that was released had some snogging on a bed, but in the director's cut, which was a little fruitier, there was a proper...you know...more pornographic bit. My girlfriend didn’t know that was coming, so she just looked at me like: "Oh!"
We got to hang out with Muse a bit too. They invited us to go see them play Shepherd’s Bush Empire and we went to the after party. My girlfriend and I got very drunk - I remember her going up to Dominic (Muse’s drummer) not realising who he was, and saying: "This is fucking great isn't it? Free booze!" And he was like: "Yeah, I’m paying for it."
Now, I actually live out in LA with Richard Brake (the bad guy in the video), the director and others I worked with. They’re like family now. Since then, I’ve worked on a variety of things, such as television shows like Graceland and Castle, and I also voice Rodrick Forrester on the Game Of Thrones game. Most recently, I worked with Joseph again on this bootleg of Power Rangers. But, in terms of fun, of having a toy box to play with freely, this job was the best. I wish it could have lasted longer.
Stephanie Landwehr: The Girl Having Nightmares in the Chemical Brother's "Let Forever Be"
Stephanie: I had been working as a professional dancer for three years before this video, so this happened very early on in my career. I wasn't completely green, but it definitely boosted my career and my confidence. It’s such a rare thing as a commercial dancer to be given such a starring role in something - usually you work as an ensemble.
I got the call for an audition and went in not knowing who Michel Gondry was. I was very aware of his work, but not of him. He definitely saw something in me at that audition, because I certainly didn’t go in looking to be an actress - I was very much a dancer at the core. It was only after I got the part that I realised who Michel was, and I was like "OH MY GOD! The guy from the Bjork videos?! WTF!"
He came in on the rehearsals, and made sure that the transitions were perfect. The transitions were so key to this video. For example, if I stretched my arm up, the choreographer had to do what I did and make the other dancers do the same. It was very specific, and Michel was always there to make sure everything was clear.
The shoot took place in downtown LA, with one day of rehearsals and a one-day shoot. Before we did it, he took me aside and he showed me his storyboards and explained the whole thing. My mind was blown. It was totally over my head, but, he had it all thought out, and the whole shoot was very smooth because he knew exactly what he wanted, every little detail. Michel has a great presence about him; he was also very quiet but really easy to communicate with. I remember he used to always wear a different pair of crazy socks everyday, rainbow colours and all that.
I loved how despite the large scale; the guy who plays the drummer in the video was just the AD (assistant director). They just had him change clothes and throw a beard on.
Since then, I’ve worked on a Tina Turner video as well as a GAP commercial. I've always been performing and dancing. Most recently my life has shifted a little bit, so I've spent some time teaching with AMDA (American Musical and Dramatic Academy) in LA.
Derrick T. Tuggle: The Dancing Man in the Black Keys "Lonely Boy"
Derrick: I’ve been acting since 2000, just doing background parts here and there. But it was this one that really took off.
When I got the job, I had no idea what I was going to be doing. The crew wasn’t very big, and we were shooting at this rundown motel that’s still in operation over in Sherman Oaks, LA. I just turned up at the set, it was pretty unnerving, and they just asked me: "Can you dance?" I said "Yeah."
The original idea for the video was to have me and six other people lip syncing and dancing to the song. It was going to start off with me as the motel manager, them giving me the key back to the room they were staying in. But after seeing me perform, the director decided that I would be the only person in it.
The video that you see was a one-take thing, and all those moves were off the cuff. I'd say Travolta, Michael Jackson, and Carlton from Fresh Prince inspire my dancing. I just threw all those influences in together as I went along.
Patrick (drummer for The Black Keys) thanked me straight after we shot the video, and we still keep in touch. In fact, I was at their concert here in LA back in November. So I had backstage passes and things like that, and I got to meet Rita Ora.
It was pretty fantastic getting to be involved with something like this, especially as it led to more opportunities, like being in Pharrell’s "Happy".
You can follow Lucas Fothergill on Twitter.