Devon Elora arrives to every set with a grab bag of items: a few wigs, a handful of shoes, with heels of varying heights.
As an actor’s stand-in, Elora’s never entirely sure what the part will require. Her function is to set up camera shots before her actor arrives. If she’s done it well, she’s watched her actor closely, hit every mark and ensured that production moved swiftly. Of course, sets are prone to last-minute shifts, and a model stand-in is prepared for whatever is thrown at her.
When, in a pinch, Westworld’s assistant director found he needed a stand-in for a 6-foot-5 Native American actor, that bag of props came in handy. Though much of her work on the HBO series had been for star Evan Rachel Wood, Elora — with the aid of an apple box, 4-inch heels and a long black wig at the bottom of her purse — was able to step in. “The job,” she explains, “is to make everyone else’s on set easier.”
Unlike body body doubles, who appear on camera (often from the back, from the side or at a distance), stand-ins are never seen onscreen and thus aren’t required to look like carbon copies of their actor. “When we cast, we look at things like height, skin tone and hair color,” says Central Casting’s Elana Staehli, who then hands over options to a project’s director of photography to make the final call.
Some DPs prioritize looks (a simple Google search of Reese Witherspoon and her go-to stand-in reveal what appear to be identical twins); others lean on experience and relationships. Frequent stand-in Ben Hauck still remembers his first gig as Jason Bateman’s stand-in on the 2010 film The Switch, a process that began with Hauck and a group of other pseudo-Bateman look-alikes standing beside the actor as a DP sized them up. Hauck continued on as Bateman’s stand-in on other projects, as is often the case with successful pairings.
For many, however, the gig’s designed to be a stepping-stone to a career as an actor — though for every Samuel L. Jackson, who did early stand-in work for Bill Cosby on The Cosby Show, there are scores of stand-ins who never move beyond the “second team.” Some, like Elora, proudly splash their stand-in work across their IMDb profiles; others leave it off entirely, holding out for full-fledged acting gigs to line their résumés.
Rebecca “Reb” Bujko, who’s worked with actresses like Scarlett Johansson and Amy Adams, found her way to standing in because, she believed, it offered a hands-on crash course that an acting class could not — all while earning her a consistent, livable paycheck. Per SAG-AFTRA requirements, stand-ins make a base rate of $199 for an eight-hour day. (Anything more is considered overtime, which amounts to time and a half for two additional hours and double time after that.)
“You can learn how to act in an acting class, but you don’t necessarily learn how to be an actress there,” says Bujko, who likens the classroom experience to gaining book smarts versus the street smarts that the on-set experience provides. “That’s where you learn about delivering dialogue, hitting your mark or even wearing an uncomfortable microphone under your clothes.”
Not as willingly discussed in these circles is the treatment (or periodic mistreatment) of stand-ins. It was Adams, not Bujko, who recounted her experience of being mistaken for her stand-in on the Sharp Objects set. “Because we looked so much alike, at one point somebody grabbed me really hard and pulled me,” Adams told THR. “I went, ‘What’s going on?’ And they’re like, ‘(Gasp) You’re not Reb!’ I went into producer mode and I was like, ‘You will not handle her like that.’” For Bujko’s part, she insists they never did.
In truth, none of those surveyed cop to being poorly treated or harassed on set (SAG-AFTRA’s recently launched “Four Pillars of Change” initiative and code of conduct applies to stand-ins as well), which is not to say they haven’t had their fill of uncomfortable work.
Take sex scenes, which the 2003 hit rom-com Love Actually famously depicted. “They can be very awkward,” says Bujko, who laughs nervously as she recounts a run on Starz’s racy period drama Magic City: “I mean, sometimes it’s like, ‘Hi, nice to meet you.’ ‘OK, are you comfortable with this?’ ‘Great, I’ll just climb on top of you now.’ “
This story first appeared in the Feb. 20 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.