As a background actor, I’ve been trying to get work on the CBS show Blue Bloods for many years now. The show stars Tom Selleck and Donnie Wahlberg as members of a family of cops living a cop’s life in New York City. After submitting for roles on that show for the past several years to no avail, I finally got my big break portraying a cadaver in a medical examiner’s room. But this was not an ordinary dead guy casting call: they wanted experience. Oh boy, did I have experience playing dead! Several years ago, I played the featured dead body on an episode of Law & Order: SVU. You can read all about it here. When the casting agent from Central Casting called me, he told me that a lot of other actors they hired in the past didn’t know how to play dead people well. I explained to him how effectively I played a dead guy before and he was impressed with my mad death skilz. I was hired!
The required wardrobe I needed to bring for this role was a bathrobe and a pair of warm-up pants. This was in preparation for playing a cadaver who was pretty much lying naked on top of a medical examiner’s table. Another actress and I were both to play dead and we were brought outside the studio to an awaiting makeup truck. The truck was a large 18-wheeler, but designed inside with a fully-functional makeup room. It took about an hour for the makeup people to apply the “Cadaver Grey” and “Dead Flesh” colors (you won’t find those in a box of Crayolas) to the upper half of my body as well as to my legs and feet. I wasn’t going to be completely naked in the scene; this was network TV after all. My nether-region would be covered with a sheet because dead people on these shows are never completely naked. Underneath, I was actually wearing my warm-up pants. The transformation from living to dead was unsettling even to me, especially once I closed my eyes to take a dead guy selfie before I was escorted off to set.
Once on set, I hopped up on the stainless steel medical examiner’s table and was told by a crew member to lie down while they adjusted various items that would support my comfort during the scene. They expected me to be lying half-naked on that table for the next few hours, so my comfort was their top priority.
After lying down for awhile, a very pretty-looking actress who was to portray the chief medical examiner approached me. We shook eachother’s hands to introduce ourselves and then engaged in some small talk. Another beautiful woman came by and stood next to her. That woman was a real medical examiner. Her job was to show the actress how to make the role look real. One of the actions was for the actress was to lift up my limp arm, study it, then drop it back down. During rehearsal, she man-handled it like it was a piece of dead meat. The real M.E. showed her how to study it more thoughtfully and with more care. Lying there with two hot women playing with my right arm is a memory that I will always keep.
Once all the actors were in their first positions, rehearsal of the scene began. Actor Steve Shirripa of Sopranos fame portrays a police officer coming into the medical examiner’s room with his partner. They’re discussing a woman’s death. As they are approaching the M.E. to talk to her about it, she’s in the middle of examining a cadaver and that would be me. In the scene, my body is awkwardly turned on it’s side while the M.E. is examining my back. After she says a few lines to the other actors who approach her, she topples my lifeless body back onto the table with a thud. Being the consummate actor that I am, I just let gravity take it’s course and let it fall onto the table. She then picks up my right arm, carefully examines it, gets irritated due to the topic of the conversation, then drops it down onto the table.
During the entire scene which lasted for about three to four minutes, I had several challenges to contend with. One was not moving, breathing, or even letting my chest move up and down. As you can imagine, playing a dead person is not an easy thing to do. As the camera began rolling during each take, I inhaled a bunch of breaths and then held my breath during the entirety of the scene. Once the camera moved away from me did I catch my breath again. Another challenge was to let the actress treat my body like a limp piece of dead meat. I had to let my body flop down with a thud after she examined my back, then let my right arm flop down as well. Running hard for seven miles a few hours before this gig helped to put me in a physically tired state which made my deadness look more believable.
In between takes, the site of me looking dead to the cast and crew was the butt of many jokes. One of the crew members shouted out, “Is he really dead?!”. Even Steve Shirripa made a comment about me. From his angle, he saw the M.E. with her hands behind my back, but couldn’t see exactly what she was doing with those hands. He said, “It really looks like she’s giving him a proctology exam”. I cracked up which made everyone else crack up seeing the dead guy in stitches.
I worked this gig for about four hours. When the scene was over, the crew began to break everything down to call it a day. A toe tag was removed from my big toe. I kept it as a souvenir. According to the tag, my name was Tony Hernandez.
The money I made from this cadaver role will help to pay for my daughter’s college tuition. I hope that she knows how much her daddy has to kill himself for her education.