I've just finished reading the "Lord of Racism" article on the TheOneRing.net site. Interesting stuff. I was lucky enough to work as an extra (attached to Unit 2A) for Three Foot Six. I started off an as Uruk Hai, but most of the work I did was as an Easterling. Were most of the Easterling extras "non-Europeans?" Yes - almost without exception, except for guys who had to "loiter" in the back of shot was taking place. Were we ever told that we, as Easterlings, were the "evil" bad guys? No.
Here's a bit of background guff on my experience as an Easterling:
I went to the last open casting call for extras held at the NZ School of Dance in Wellington after an injury brought my Rugby season to a premature end (my Mum spotted the ad in "The Evening Post", a local newspaper and basically told me to go). I queued up, signed the forms, had my measurements and photos taken, and was then taken an office to meet the extras casting director who then asked me if I could work the next day. I was surprised, because I had no experience and didn't expect to be offered anything at all, after seeing a whole lot of other potential extras with all kinds of previous experience being turned away.
Anyway, I got to know a few of the Assistant Directors (ADs) well enough to ask them a few questions about what would be happening, as far as film extra work went, with the film, so I could organise time off work, etc. During one of these conversations, I learnt a bit about what kind of things the ADs would be looking for in an Easterling.
Easterling extras needed to be tall (180cm+) with an athletic-to-large (not overweight) build. They absolutely needed to have brown eyes of a certain shape - somewhere in between round and slanted (when I first saw the costume, I realised why). Easterling extras also needed a darkish skin complexion, similar to a deep tan - but not dark brown or black. Based on these requirements, I immediately thought "most of these guys are going to be either Maori or Polynesian". Months later, my initial thought on the ethnic background of the Easterling extras was to be proved correct, although there were also Asians (mostly Thai/Cambodians or lighter skinned Indian/Pakistani/Sri Lankans) and the odd darker skinned European (a good friend of mine, originally from Southern Italy, played an Easterling). Towards the end, there were a few fair skinned Easterlings, but they tended to be hidden at the back of the shot.
On set, the ADs tried to help us (extras) get into character by explaining what the Easterlings were and why we (as Easterlings) were involved. Regardless of which AD was giving "the speech", they all seemed to focus on the same themes, which were:
- "...the Easterlings are proud, noble warriors."
- "...when you move, move smoothly, move as if you own the ground you stand on."
- "...feel the pride of the Easterling people, you are their finest soldiers."
Basically, they wanted us to look smooth, controlled and intimidating, but they didn't want us to look like a bunch of thugs stomping down Courtenay Place, looking for a couple of pints and a whole lot of trouble :^) One AD commented that she liked working with the Easterlings because there were so many beautiful men (ha ha, *grin*). Most of the guys really got into the role, even though we were only extras. We were never given explicit instructions to be "evil" - mostly we were told that we were proud warriors.
The Easterling costume was one of the more comfortable costumes I wore, apart from the "Mk. 1" breastplates which had a sharp point at the end which could be hazardous if you sat down too quickly. "Mk. 2" breastplates changed this so that the sharp point was "hinged" on a piece of leather. The costume was loose and layered, so it kept you cool when it was hot and warm when it was cold. The helmet provided good visibility, and was much better than the Uruk Hai mask/helmet setup, which was terrible - you could only see directly in front of you as an Uruk Hai. The armour moved freely and provided good protection (getting hit with prop weapons hurts :^P). It was also very easy to eat in (or go to the toilet in). This was very important - as far as extras were concerned :^D (The food was always excellent and the toilets were always cramped.)
In the scene where the Easterlings march through the Black Gate (which was shot at Dry Creek Quarry) you may have noticed that some of the Easterlings appear to be "goose stepping" towards the end of the scene. There were a lot of large rocks lying on the ground in that scene and we had to step over them to avoid tripping over :^D I appear earlier in that scene in a close-up shot of the front ranks. I am second from the front, closest to the camera. I've seen the movie twice and in that scene my eyes flick down to the ground briefly. I laughed when I saw this, because I was looking out for rocks to step over during filming.
Working as an extra on LotR was one of the coolest things I've ever done and if it wasn't for an untimely Rugby injury, it would never have happened.