The Dark Knight Rises.” “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.” “Jack Reacher.” “Concussion.” “Southpaw.” “Inspector Gadget.” “Hoffa.”
These are just a handful of the films Plum resident Phil Nardozzi has made appearances in bit parts or as a background actor in. Though he is not always credited for his appearances, Mr. Nardozzi has had roles in 93 films according to IMDb, all of which have been filmed in the Pittsburgh area, in addition to appearances in many commercials.
He got started in 1992 while waiting for a friend in the lobby of what was then called the William Penn Hotel, Downtown, where he was approached by someone in casting to be an extra for “Innocent Blood.” He agreed to appear and after his first film, Mr. Nardozzi began signing up for more, or being asked to do more in general, as casting agencies began contacting him for local projects.
“At first, there weren’t as many people that did it, because it wasn’t as common, so you got to work a lot, but now Pittsburgh is sort of like the mecca,” he said. “Now you have a long list of people that are interested in doing it.”
Now in his 27th year as a background actor, Mr. Nardozzi said that he continues acting because it’s fun for him, though it is not for everyone. It requires a lot of patience waiting around quite a bit. He recalled his wife’s only outing as a background actor, when the pair worked on “Unsolved Mysteries” here together.
“My wife did it one time,” he said. “She says never again. She says, ‘I give everybody a lot of credit for doing that, but you’ll never see me here ever again.’ …You have to be a certain type of person.”
His favorite appearance was in the 2012 movie “Won’t Back Down,” where he appeared as a teacher and got to sit near Viola Davis and Rosie Perez in the teachers’ lounge and dance with them later in the film. He also enjoyed being swung around and kissed by Chris Kattan in 2008 in a dream sequence in “Hollywood and Wine.”
He said that off camera, his favorite memory came while acting in the 1992 thriller “Hoffa.” “I was supposed to be just a newspaper reporter, so I’m there with a camera,” Mr. Nardozzi said. “Danny DeVito, who was actor and director, he saw me and he saw that I’m sort of his height, so he came over and got me and pulled me out and hugged me and said, ‘You’re going to be me for the rest of the day.’ So I was his stand-in for the day.”
Mr. DeVito, in an email exchange, said he didn’t remember the encounter, but said he was pleased to learn Mr. Nardozzi had a pleasant experience. He said background actors and stand ins do a lot of standing and are important members of the final product.
“It certainly helps the DP (director of photography) with lighting and camera moves, if the stand-in is relatively the same size and skin color as the principal actor,” Mr. DeVito said. “It takes patience and team spirit to be a good stand-in.”
Aside from the encounter with Mr. DeVito on “Hoffa,” Mr. Nardozzi said that Joanne Woodward (who was in the 1994 movie “Breathing Lessons”) was very friendly. “She’ll sit down and talk with you and while she’s talking to you her hand would be on your hand.” He also recalled Jerry Orbach coming over to him and saying, “Here, it looks like you could use a cup of coffee,” handing him the beverage and sitting to talk.
Mr. Nardozzi said that a lot of times, people can work only weekends or they end up calling off work to appear in films. Because a job as an extra doesn’t usually pay the bills, he is a full-time real estate agent, which allows him to shift his schedule if need be. “Selling real estate is flexible,” he said. “So if somebody needed me to be in a film, I could work around it. That’s considered basically self-employed anyway. So you make your own hours.”
Having a flexible schedule is conducive to being a background actor because hours, locations and call times are typically not released until the night before shooting to prevent fans from showing up to the set.
He said that cameras used to be confiscated on set prior to the invention of smartphones. Now, phones must be left in holding areas and extras must sign disclosure statements so the public doesn’t learn details about the film ahead of time.
Another fun part of the job for Mr. Nardozzi is having the opportunity to meet other Pittsburghers with the same interest. He said that after a while, he started to see the same people at different shoots and the community has gotten to know each other. Although his colleagues often travel to Philadelphia, Baltimore or other cities in the Northeast for films, he prefers to stay in Pittsburgh and doesn’t need to go anywhere else.
“It’s interesting that so much is being done in Pittsburgh,” he said. “It’s just nice that so many things are being filmed here.”
Adam Duke: [email protected] or (412) 263-3772