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My day as an extra on the set of "Fair Game," a film about the Valerie Plame affair.
AMAN, Jordan — The night before the big shoot, I got a call from the extras coordinator. I was to show up the next day on set as a business traveler passing through Jordan’s Queen Alia International Airport on his way to Iraq.
As someone who regularly travels to Iraq on business via Queen Alia, this didn’t seem all that complicated: To my mind, she was asking me to wear what I do just about every day — a pair of khaki pants and a plaid, collared shirt.
Still, I confirmed with the extras coordinator that my “authentic” outfit would be OK. More than 7,500 miles from Hollywood and I was already prepared to sell myself out to make it onto the big screen.
I'd volunteered to be an extra in a Doug Liman movie filming in Amman in the hope of getting a little first-hand experience in Jordan's budding film industry. Even before he took the throne, King Abdullah II, a friend of Stephen Spielberg, had been working to make his country a destination for international filmmakers.
The Liman film, "Fair Game," tells the story of the former CIA agent Valerie Plame (played by Naomi Watts) who was outed by the Bush administration. An ambitious project, Liman even traveled to Iraq to collect footage for the film, though most of the movie’s “Iraq” scenes were, in fact, shot in Jordan neighborhoods doctored to look like Baghdad.
Sadly for me, I found out about the movie too late to nab the role I coveted: a U.S. soldier at a checkpoint when it is attacked by insurgents. As a reporter, I’ve spent a significant amount of time embedded with U.S. forces in Iraq, so I'd have been eager to see Hollywood recreate an American patrol coming under fire. I’ll also admit that I thought it would be pretty cool to be on set with pyrotechnics going off.
Instead, I got the airport scene. Not exactly exciting, but as I was later told by one of the film’s producers, it was the first time a film crew in Jordan had been given that level of access to the airport. So while I’d be more or less re-enacting a normal day in my life, I was at least participating in a red-letter day for Jordanian filmmakers.
In the airport parking lot on the morning of the shoot, extras indulged in the time-honored tradition of pilfering the food table as we waited to report to our positions on set.
A costume designer surveyed us. She came to my friend, a former Peace Corps volunteer in Jordan who had been told to dress like, well, a Peace Corps volunteer in Jordan. The night before she’d been ordered to wear something colorful, maybe a flowing skirt, but in the morning she was deemed to not be Peace Corps enough, so had to change into a form-fitting shirt and skirt that she says would have caused scandal in her old Peace Corps village.
My plaid shirt was also apparently too bland. I was ordered to change into a Hawaiian shirt that I would have been embarrassed to wear on any other occasion. In Iraq it would have made me stand out so much so that I would have considered it a safety hazard. But I was no longer going to Iraq. I was headed to the tropics. A sign that they had recognized me as being above typecasting, I thought to myself.