Underbelly: articles

Melbourne gangsters sizzle for the screen

Leering at cleavage and lunching on snags is all in a day's work for an extra, John Elder finds.

I'M AT a family barbecue with Carl Williams and Tony Mokbel. The most unsettling thing isn't the talk of murder, but why a couple of millionaire drug lords put on such a cheap lunch. No steak or chops but plenty of those pink-yellow sausages sold at fetes and sports days.

Not that I complain. In fact, I don't get to talk to Carl or Tony at all. I'm stuck at the table with the extras: the corn chips, donuts and salad. I'm an extra too.

When the Channel Nine mini-series Underbelly comes to the screen, you might see me peering drunkenly into the cleavage of Williams' wife Roberta. On the other hand, you may not see me at all. That's how it goes for extras. They get rubbed out faster and with less fuss than the Moran family. And I won't feel a thing, just like taking a bullet to the head.

My companion in the scene — also listed on the call sheet as a "family friend" — is a professional extra by the name of John Klotz. He's been rubbed out many times and keeps coming back for more. Extras get paid the same as check-out chicks, $17 to $20 an hour. And they probably get discovered for serious stardom at about the same rate too.

"I've had some promising moments," Klotz says. There was the IKEA commercial that paid well. And in the fourth series of The Secret Life of Us, John got to say three words: "We're not nerds." (The actor hired for the job failed to show.)

Of course, John's hoping to get more speaking parts. Who knows, perhaps the world will one day see the star-worthiness of the name Klotz.

I'd like to talk more about this with John.

We're meant to be talking and drinking beer while Carl and Fat Tony cook the sausages. The problem is, John and I only pretend to talk. That's how extras communicate. John has a neat way of laughing and shrugging and wiggling his head while I prattle on noiselessly.

All of which brings me to Roberta's cleavage. In the scene we're shooting, Roberta turns to grab a wine cooler for Carl. (No wonder the guy is crazy — that stuff rots the mind faster than syphilis.)

Roberta has fabulously plumped boobs. So does Fat Tony's girlfriend Danielle Maguire and his lawyer friend Zara Garde-Wilson. They all have much bigger hooters in TV-land than they do in real life. I talk about this to John.

After a while, with Roberta turning and bending forward — again and again — I start to think what would Marlon Brando do if he was playing an over-heated speed-freak.

He'd cheerfully leer at those boobs that just happen to land under his gaze like a plate of mangos. And that's what I do. Because that's what acting is all about, my friends: doing the obvious thing.

Underbelly is based on books by The Age's John Silvester and Sunday Age deputy editor Andrew Rule.

By John Elder
October 14, 2007
The Age