Being a reporter isn't always an easy job. But being an extra playing a White House reporter is definitely hard work.
I got my first taste of "stardom" in mid-August when I and a few other select real-life reporters were invited to be extras on Scandal. The ABC political fixer drama would be filming their second episode of the third season, which meant I may be able to find out what happens with Mistress-gate! I jumped at the opportunity, which would end up being one of the longest, yet enlightening nights of my life. The actual episode just aired Thursday, so there are spoilers ahead for those who haven't yet watched. Check out a timeline of my night as a Scandal extra:
3:30 pm: I arrive at Sunset Gower Studios in Los Angeles and head to wardrobe. There, I'm told Chuck Taylors are not allowed, while another fellow reporter — EW's Sandra Gonzalez — is told her leather skirt is too hot for the White House. Who knew? When it comes to what's proper White House attire, I guess it's a case of "Tomato. Tomahto." I also manage snag a pair of flats (thankfully!) instead of torturous heels and also get away with not wearing the seemingly requisite pearls since I'm sporting a tie.
3:50 pm: Josh Malina, who plays David Rosen, stops by to chat since the cast has arrived early for a security meeting. He jokes he doesn't have to attend since his fan base is "older Jewish women."
5:15 pm: After waiting in a holding room and chatting with the other reporters — including ET Online's Jarret Wieselman, Gonzalez and TV Guide Magazine Editor-in-Chief Debra Birnbaum — Tony Goldwyn offers us a warm welcome on our way to the makeup trailer.
5:37 pm: On set, we're told we'll be part of the White House press corps. President Fitz will be holding a press conference to address the rumors of his infidelity. It's going to be a frenzy, with every reporter (including us!) shouting questions at POTUS. I'm oddly looking forward to yelling at Goldwyn, because, seriously, when would you ever get to do that?
5:40 pm: We're outfitted with press badges that allow us inside the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room. Hopefully the name on mine won't show up on screen since it says "Jeff Barnett," who is actually the assistant property master on the show. Even with a tie on, I'm pretty sure my long blonde hair will be a dead giveaway that I'm a woman. A woman named Jeff, apparently.
5:45 pm: In the press room, we get seated in a place of honor in the first two rows before the rest of the extras enter. The whole group is told we should yell questions that include, "Does the First Lady know? "How long has it been going on? "Was there anyone else?" At this point, we haven't seen the premiere episode, which ends with OPA and the White House pointing the finger at a White House staffer, so I'm thinking Fitz is about to reveal the truth about Olivia.
5:57 pm: After we have a practice run of shouting at a stand-in President, both Goldwyn and Jeff Perry enter the set. "It's so funny you guys are reporters," Goldwyn jokes. Within two minutes, we're doing a run-through where POTUS walks into the press briefing room and we're all surrounding him, yelling in his face.
6:05 pm: After a few run-throughs — the scene in roughly 10 seconds, at most — Goldwyn is ready to throw in the towel. "You people are tough," he says after a take. "I don't want to be President anymore! Do we have to do that again?" After the next take, Goldwyn jokes he needs a bullwhip to keep us at bay. President Indiana Jones!
6:20 pm: In between takes, Perry sits at David Rosen's desk on a nearby set. For the record, the U.S. District Attorney's office is not inside the White House. Most sets don't actually lead where you think they do. Camera trickery and TV magic. For example, a door on the Olivia Pope & Associates set will lead into Olivia's apartment.
6:35 pm: In the second half of the scene, POTUS will be talking to the press corps as he gives what ends up being a very revealing speech to us real-life reporters who are unaware of that particular plot twist. But first, the camera is trained on our reactions. "These guys get their close up before me," Goldwyn jokes before turning around and hamming it up for the camera, as if he's going to steal our shot.
6:36 pm: POTUS begins his speech, in which he names his mistress as White House Staffer Jeanine Locke (Samantha Sloyan), not Olivia Pope, as we expected. There's an audible gasp from us real-life reporters, and we squirm in our seats with surprise until the scene is over. When the director calls cut, we jovially hound Goldwyn for some follow-up questions.
6:42 pm: The scene with the speech goes on for quite a bit longer, so we have to look like we're paying attention while taking notes for our respective D.C. outlets. I write down, "The president is a slut." Hope the camera doesn't catch that!
6:44 pm: On a turnaround — which means they set up the same scene with the camera facing a different direction — I grill Goldwyn about this new revelation. "It's not what you think," he says. Young stops by David Rosen's office, where the four of us real reporters have set up camp. "Now you guys know a little secret," she says, holding the episode's script tightly against her chest.
7:01 pm: As Goldwyn runs lines between takes, I notice that the fake reporters (aka regular extras) have prop notebooks that have likely been used in this press room before. There are some keywords about foreign battles, which could be a nod to last year's story line about nearly going to war.
7:07 pm: Now that the camera is behind Goldwyn's head, the actor jokes that the director has put him out of his "neurotic misery." Perry, who jokes that he totally understands, quips that he's now heard this speech so much, he's written it down verbatim. Two seats over, I notice that an extra has masterfully sketched the entire scene of POTUS at the podium into his notebook. The extra quickly flips the page before the scene restarts.
7:16 pm: With the hot lights beating down on us, Perry begins fanning the press with the door that Fitz enters through. After a few more takes, exhaustion starts to set in. We've been here for nearly four hours. I'm starting to forget we're on camera. It feels more like we're sitting in the ballroom for the annual Television Critics Association press tour. I have a newfound respect for extras.
7:24 pm: The sweet release! After the last take, Goldwyn claps and thanks everyone, yelling again, "It's not what you think!" Before we can leave, they have to take what's called a "jazzy snap" or "photo burst." It's a stream of real-time photos that usually kick off a scene. The actual camera makes that same noise you hear on the show.
7:26 pm: Goldwyn turns to Perry and says, "Are you happy I said Jeanine?" It was a strange revelation to hear then, but it makes sense now since Cyrus, Mellie and OPA teamed up to leak Locke's name to the press against Fitz and Olivia's plans to come clean.
7:30 pm: As the extras file out of the press briefing room, I hear one say to another, "So this show is like The West Wing, only more scandalous." Yup, that pretty much sums it up.
7:55pm: I return my press badge, kick off the flats in exchange for my Chucks and say goodbye to my extra gig on Scandal. Seriously, that was difficult, but so worth it.
Scandal airs Thursdays at 10/9c on ABC.