The Heidi Chronicles, Chapter 50: Waiting on Wisteria Lane
On a recent Monday, the dog and I got the call we'd been waiting for: We were to report to Universal Studios on Wednesday afternoon as nonunion background actors to portray "Neighbor with Dog" on an upcoming episode of "Desperate Housewives." "Background actor" is just a fancy way of saying "extra."
I have no show biz aspirations, but since you can't send a German shepherd to a major studio by herself, I am resigned to doing what I must for the dog. I'm not an actor; I'll just play one on TV. We eagerly agreed.
The process is rather complicated: Much like citizens on jury duty, background actors are given a special call-in number to check in the night before. A recorded voice details where to report, where to park and what to wear. At about 9 p.m., I learned that the "neighbors" would be required to look "very conservative, very wealthy, very Republican" -- no black clothing, pastels preferred. And bring several sets of these very conservative Republican clothes to provide a choice. Those cast as "younger people" (yeah, thanks a lot) could wear somewhat sexier duds, but should still attempt to look like preppie college students home for the summer.
I pawed through my wardrobe for summer suits, and managed to scrape up some suitably Brooks Brothers tops and shoes. But I wondered whether to attempt to tame my very curly hair, which definitely voted for Obama. I decided to sleep on it.
Nervously packing in the morning -- including an assortment of bandannas and training treats for Heidi -- I decided to make a last-minute run to a salon to have the curls blown straight. "You are definitely starting to look Republican," the hairdresser assured me as she blasted enough hot air to nearly melt my ears.
The "extras with cars" -- some are asked to bring background vehicles -- had been given instructions to drive through the Universal lot to the "Housewives" set on Wisteria Lane. The rest of us were told to park in a structure and take a tram, but since I was shepherding the shepherd, I persuaded the gate guard to let me drive up too.
This may have been a mistake. Dodging tour trams as I tried to follow winding Steven Spielberg Drive up the hill to Wisteria Lane, I kept making a wrong turn at Jaws Lake and ending up in the Mexican Village. Finally, with a big rubber fish in my rear-view mirror, I found my way to ersatz suburbia.
Waiting to be told what to do next, I winced as a furnace of dry wind blew my Republican hairdo into a bipartisan fright wig. But Heidi loved it when a "Housewives" golf cart ferried us over to the costume and makeup trailers. There, I was told to change my pale blue sweater for a pinstriped blouse so I wouldn't match the attire of a veteran extra who would also be in our scene.
The extras then piled into a van to go back to Wisteria Lane -- dog too. An actress in a mini-skirt and platform shoes did not seem too pleased when friendly but anxious 70-pound Heidi attempted to climb into her lap.
The other extras, all veterans, were used to the drill -- they came prepared with knitting and reading materials, knowing that we could be waiting for a long time. They parked us on the back porch of one of the homes used for shooting, surrounded by real vines draped with fake wisteria blooms. Heidi and I took a little tour of our surroundings and, yes -- Heidi peed on world-famous Wisteria Lane.
While we waited, a gaggle of tall, lovely young women showed up, and immediately started cooing over Heidi. I learned that they were waiting to interview for the role of "Busty Waitress." "Finally these things are good for something!" observed one. Said another, with a slight frown: "There's an interview, but I don't really think this is about our acting." I liked these girls because they were nice to the dog, and felt sorry for them because they would never be able to look down and see their toes.
But in the end, Neighbors, Busty Waitresses and Dog had only arrived to wait -- they didn't use us and asked if we could come back tomorrow morning -- although the waitresses were given the option of staying on to be part of a fraternity party scene filming that evening at the Chicken Ranch, the building used for the film "Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" but now standing in as a frat house. This did not surprise anyone but me. I thought about the fact that my editor was expecting me back in the office in the morning, and had not seemed pleased that I had already taken an unplanned day off to take a dog to her first TV job.
But I looked into Heidi's shining eyes -- she loved Wisteria Lane, and loved the Universal lot -- particularly the woodsy parts where she saw squirrels and a family of deer (BIG squirrels!). She even kept a watchful eye on the waitresses, her own herd of buxom sheep. Face it: She was born to be a Desperate Housedog. And like any stage mother, I had to wonder: If I refused, would my working dog ever get the call again?
"We'll be there," I said.
-- Diane Haithman
Photos: Diane Haithman