I’ve been fond of Adam Sandler ever since I was a kid. It started with his 2008 film, Bedtime Stories, a feel–good movie featuring a hotel repairman who tells his niece and nephew bedtime stories that spontaneously come true. His works aren’t masterpieces, and his sense of humor can be grating at times, but his genuine nature makes me root for him and his characters. So, when whispers spread that Sandler was shooting a Netflix sports drama called Hustle at the Palestra, I was determined to meet him.
After hearing that a friend was booked as an extra, I figured I’d give it a shot. I’m a theater kid who's acted on stage a few times, but I'm definitely not lead material. The application took 20 minutes, and a few hours later, I’d booked my first extra job as a pedestrian. After a COVID–19 test in a parking lot near the Wissahickon and a negative result, I was ready to go.
Call time was Monday at 6 a.m. I was up before sunrise, bopping to Big Time Rush as I made my way there in the predawn darkness. As I walked, I worried that this wouldn’t be as glamorous as I’d initially thought—who knew if I would even talk to Sandler, let alone see him? However, positivity reigned.
The wardrobe location was a grimy, abandoned store in the Italian Market. Everything seemed run down and dingy—certainly not the Hollywood glamour I’d expected. I made my way up rickety, uneven stairs and changed into a navy polyester sweater and simple blue jeans in a bathroom laden with rat traps.
I was with a group of 15 extras, who were mostly young people with extra time and an urge to make a movie cameo. After waiting 30 minutes, a production assistant (PA) announced horrible news: Sandler was on the main unit and we were on the second unit, so we wouldn’t meet him. The PA tried to cheer us up by suggesting that the longer we worked, the greater the likelihood that we’d meet Sandler. According to the PA, acting was a “no pain no game” business after all, and only the most dedicated met Sandler. I was devastated, but I couldn’t back out without losing payment and possibly being blacklisted by the Hollywood powers that be, so I stuck it out.
After waiting for an hour, I was chosen for a bar scene. The crew jokingly said it was because I seemed like a "lush," which is apparently slang for a heavy drinker. My task was to mime as a college student studying at a bar with a friend. I was paired with a girl named Brooke. We became fast friends as we pretended to fawn over videos of the movie’s rising basketball star.
We were staring at a blue screen that would be edited in post, so the two of us invented the character profile for the star. We decided that he was 11 feet tall and illiterate. Our jesting laughs turned into real giggles as we started fantasizing about Philadelphia 76ers rookie Matisse Thybulle. Even though I was laughing, I was slightly unsettled by the camera that was within two feet of my face taking footage for a movie that millions would watch. But good spirits prevailed, and we giggled our way through the scene.
I couldn’t help but think that I wasn’t built to be an actress. My dark circles were alarmingly visible, and the only makeup I had on was lip gloss that had probably smudged. This was exactly what I signed up for, and yet I was not prepared for the reality.
The next day, I received a text from the casting company asking if I wanted to be an extra for a scene involving an indie film crew. I said yes. I was determined to meet Sandler no matter what.
The second location was alarmingly different. We extras floated around a clean community center for seniors, and we had actual changing rooms. The PA told us that we were going to hop in a sleek black van to get to the main unit at Philadelphia's Magic Gardens, and that no pictures were allowed. I was buzzing with excitement at the prospect of meeting Sandler and redeeming the multiple days of early wakeups.
As I prepared to start my scene as a hairstylist on the fake indie crew, the extras gossiped about our closeness to the director Jeremiah Zagar and his Philly–famous parents, Julia and Isaiah Zagar. I learned that Isaiah created Philadelphia's Magic Gardens, an indoor–outdoor gallery labyrinth made of mosaics.
While waiting, we learned that a main cast member was going to be in the scene with us—Jordan Hull. She looked like the rest of us, but with more makeup and a stronger rapport with the director. Hull’s part wasn’t made known to extras, but we suspected she played the daughter of Sandler and Queen Latifah’s characters.
The last scene I featured in was in a graveyard. It was chilly outside, and I wasn’t allowed to change. Still, I snuck in snacks and a jacket. I don’t think wardrobe was too offended by my flagrant disregard of the rules.
I was minding my business, shivering and attempting to hide the snack logos from cameras, when a car rolled up beside the graveyard.
Suddenly, Sandler poked his head out of the window and waved.
But my opportunity to meet him disappeared as quickly as it arrived as he drove off. He was in work mode and had to do scene prep. I took a disappointingly grainy picture of him with my phone.
Word spread that he would be shooting until at least 3 a.m. At that moment, I had to make a choice. I’d already spent hours of my time attempting to meet Sandler. I had homework to do and Friday night plans—dinner and painting with friends and possibly frat hopping. Above all, I was tired, cold, and wanted to leave. When the PAs asked who wanted to stay, I didn’t raise my hand.
I didn’t achieve my goal, but I did make new friends and sort of meet some celebrities. I don’t know if I’ll ever be in a Sandler movie again, or even be a movie extra again. But if anyone's looking for adventure, I recommend finding it on a movie set.