In 1994 I decided to re-start my acting “career”. (Is it really a career if you don’t make a living off of it?) I had taken a break from theatre in my late teens and early twenties and was strictly working on my singing voice. Then at age 24 I decided to get back into the acting game. I didn’t know where to start so I went back to what was familiar.
Now that my voice was much stronger than it had ever been, I started auditioning for musicals. And while I was nailing the singing and the acting part of the auditions, my dancing had become a bit rusty as I couldn’t do a double pirouette. This eliminated me from any lead roles and I was demoted to smaller parts.
Down, but not out, I decided to also sign up with casting offices in San Francisco to do extra work in movies and television. In March 2005 I got my first call to be an extra in a Nike commercial starring Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi.
Now, even though I had never watched a tennis game in my entire life, I knew who Andre Agassi was….. but who the heck was Pete Sampras?
The day of the shoot, in the Financial District of San Francisco, my friend Kristen and I joined a crowd of about 300 extras who had gathered around a huge roped-off downtown intersection that contained a long net in the middle. Andre and Pete came out and started playing a tennis match and we were to be their adoring fans behind the ropes.
With at least two cameras rolling simultaneously and never cutting, a man with a megaphone instructed us to keep cheering these tennis players on and not to stop. He was looking for authentic crowd reactions to the game. It was a call for improvisation on behalf of the background artists.
One female extra decided to really get into it and climbed under the rope, ran towards Andre Agassi and gave him a hug. This would normally be a huge no-no on most television and movie sets, as background is always instructed to “never approach the talent unless they approach you first.” (It always bothered me that principal actors were the only people on a set called “the talent” when others who working just as hard, were also “talented”, but that is beside the point).
However, in this case, the director loved it because there was quite a response from the crowd. I happen to be standing to the right of him when he turned to me and said:
“Go out there and kiss Pete.”
I did not hesitate.
Under the rope I went as I ran towards the man who wasn’t Andre Agassi. I threw my arms around him and kissed him on the cheek. He responded with an “awww” as if he thought it was sweet that this perfect stranger had planted one on him, and he hugged me back. Next thing I knew all these other extras had dog-piled on top of us and the moment was over.
I thought nothing of it and went back to doing my usual background duty of cheering the game on for the rest of the shoot.
Two weeks later, my friend Kristen caught the 30 second commercial on television and told me she couldn’t find us in the crowd.
Six months later I got a call from a woman who worked for the ad agency Nike had hired. She told me that Nike had just extended the original 30 second commercial into a 60 second one, and I was now officially in it, and they were going to pay me for it. I had been upgraded from background to principal.
“This is your lucky day,” she told me.
The ad agency mailed me a union contract for a principal part and I signed it and returned it to them. Every time the commercial aired, I got a residual check.
I had requested a copy of the commercial from the ad agency, but never heard back. However, my friend Liz who worked in sports television and had access to all sorts of editing equipment, taped Wimbledon that year, found the Nike commercial and put my short on-screen time of running towards Pete Sampras in slow motion. In actual real time, the clip went so fast, I couldn’t believe they paid me for it.
I am the girl running in a purple sweatshirt about 22 seconds in. Don't blink!
And just like that, I was eligible to join the Screen Actors Guild. In a day and age where every year, hundreds of aspiring actors flee to Los Angeles to try and get their SAG card, I had become eligible by kissing a tennis celebrity during my first day of doing extra work in San Francisco. Seeing that it cost $1200 to join at the time, I decided to wait for another big-paying union job to come along that would make it worth my while.
And as it turned out, Pete Sampras was a good kisser: