There was this weird six months a whole bunch of years ago when I did background acting and stand-in work on television shows, which is where I super-briefly met Harold Ramis of Ghostbusters (and a whole bunch of other stuff) fame. As it turns out, that was enough time to be incredibly sorry that he’s gone.
A pause in our story: There are a lot of not-normal things about that first paragraph. For one, background acting is a strange job that doesn’t exist in most parts of the country. Those are the people in a scene who don’t say lines. They’re the barista, the window washer, the other office worker in the elevator, etc. (Rant: Don’t call us “extras.” We aren’t “extra.” We are necessary. If we weren’t, we wouldn’t be paid, unionized workers.) Being a stand-in isn’t any less weird. This is an off-camera job where you act out the scene without dialogue in place of the star so the camera and lighting guys can do their thing without bothering anybody famous. Like almost all the odd and/or vaguely dangerous things I have done in my life, I did it because I thought it could be useful for a book some day.
So this is how it came to be that Harold Ramis and I were on the same set of The Office. He was directing. I was dressed in head-to-toe pink and pretending to be a neonatal nurse. I could not have been less important to his day. As long as I did not fall down or vomit and otherwise managed to vaguely follow instructions, I should have been invisible. He didn’t have to be nice to me, but he was. He was really, really nice to me and everyone else. He showed around pictures of his family between takes. He made you glad he was in the room. He made the day happier.
You have to understand, nice didn’t happen a lot in that work. From my little vantage point, taking notes, filing it all away for future use, I saw a lot of really crap behavior. Being a jerk or just downright crazy was often rewarded. It was normal. Being ignored was generally the best thing that could happen to you as lowly background.
But this guy? This guy was great. Everyone loved him. It made me appreciate all of his other work – Stripes, Ghostbusters, Groundhog Day, Analyze This, National Lampoon’s Animal House, Caddyshack – that much more. And even though all of this was years ago, I still remember how nice he was to me. And I’m really sorry he’s gone.