“Hey, are you one of the extras?”
I had just tumbled out of a van and onto the set of UnREAL in Canada, with the task of interviewing the cast and crew. Instead, a scruffy looking guy had recognized my obvious TV potential and was going to make me a star.
He was clutching a walkie-talkie with a head-set jammed over his hair, so I knew he was legit when he siad “You need to get over to set, are you an extra?”
Listen to Laura spill all the behind the scenes goss this week on The Binge. (Post continues after audio.)
Now, I’d heard about people being discovered in unusual ways, but this had to be some kind of a record. I hadn’t even been on set long enough to get my phone confiscated.
But before I could sign on for my TV debut, a shrill voice cut across walkie-talkie man and put an end to our conversation.
Now, I don’t know this woman’s name, so for the purposes of this story I’m going to call her the same thing I call her in my head at night, when this story haunts my dreams so badly I cannot sleep – The One Who Crushed Laura’s Dreams (TOWCLD).
“She’s not an actor,” said TOWCLD. “She’s just a journalist on a set visit.”
And just like that my brief relationship with walkie-talkie guy came to an end, and I was introduced to the harsh reality of the world that is the basis of UnREAL. Unless you’re in charge of what’s on camera or in front of it, you don’t exist.
See the trailer for Season Two below. (Post continues after video.)
UnREAL made a resounding splash across the world when it dropped onto our TV screens last year, which is why shooting of the highly anticipated second season was now in over drive.
The show follows Rachel, a conflicted producer on a The Bachelor type show called Everlasting where she, along with show-runner Quinn, manipulate, traumatise and cajole a group of women and one suitor into making scandalous TV.
The real kicker of the series is that it was created by Sarah Sharpiro, who lost her soul working as a producer on the US series of The Bachelor and lived to tell the tale.
Not since Lauren Weisberger assassinated Anna Wintour's character in The Devil Wears Prada have we delved into a fictional story so fully because of the nugget of truth on which it is based.
So, since my dream of TV stardom had been burned to a crisp I decided to give the old journalism thing another try. I allowed myself to be ushered through the tiny TV production village that had sprung up on a blueberry farm on the outskirts of Vancouver and begin cast interviews.
I was led to dark, leaky equipment shed that was doubling as an interview space that day, and asked to sit on a questionable folding chair where I prayed my hands wouldn't shake so badly from the cold that I dropped my recording equipment.
Then, into the Shack of Hypothermia, stepped Constance Zimmer. A woman whose face I'd been starring at for years thanks to her stints on Entourage, Grey's Anatomy and House of Cards.
Her scene stealing role as Quinn on UnREAL, however, was the turn that had really brought viewers to their knees. She's formidable on screen, and I had heard she's quite the same in real life, so this interview had the potential to go downhill fast.
Except she launched happily into the shed with a warm, beaming smile that urged everyone to lean in just a little bit closer. A voluminous warm coat was wrapped around her, partially obscuring her fitted 'Quinn' costume and a pair of well-worn uggs were her feet.
Instantly, she wants to know everything about me, like we’re destined to be best friends and laugh about how we met in cold shed over a glass of red wine for years to come.
Where am I from? How long was I in the country for? What’s my favourite song, and why? “Actually no, not favourite song. Let’s do favourite movie, that’s easier isn’t it?” she says, waving her hands and grinning.
Actually, Constance, no it’s not.
My favourite song is Defying Gravity from Wicked and if you were really my best friend you would know that. So, I panic and say The Sound of Music, because I’d watched it with my sisters just days before boarding my flight and no one with a soul ever says a bad word against it. So it’s always a safe bet.
Sitting next to her, so quiet you could almost mistake him for an extension of the chair, sits Ioan Gruffudd. As John Booth, a new addition to the cast in season two, his relationship with Constance’s Quinn is going to be one of the big storylines of this year's show.
Sitting next to the overly animated Constance, it’s hard to remember that he made his name in big screen blockbusters, starring as Mr Fantastic in the Fantastic Four movies. But, as it turns out, his quiet and naïve nature is a constant source of amusement on set.
“My favourite thing to do during a table read is look over at Ioan and watch his face,” says Constance in mischievous glee.
“Because he’s so shocked all the time at what’s happening to the characters. I already know what’s happening and so I look over at his face and wait for it. And he goes red and starts mouthing “Oh my God!” and “I don’t believe this!” He’s completely shocked by the script and that’s so funny to watch."
"It's as if I've won a competition," Ioan says. "To go onto the set of my favorite show, so it's kind of a surreal experience.
We chat for almost an hour and by the end of it my hands have slowly frozen around my voice recorder, and they will now forever be joined as one. But it was all worth it, because judging by what these two had to say, the next season of UnREAL is going to break the barriers of what's normally accepted on free to air TV.
"On the first season you had drug abuse, alcoholism, cheating, nudity, suicide, psychological abuse and racism. What's left for season two if you're so intent on making it darker?" I ask.
"Oh, it gets so much worse than that," Constance says. "In the first season we had to tread really carefully because we didn't want to upset anyone. This season we don't care. It's exciting. And dangerous."
Outside the freezing shed and away from my new best friend Constance, it's time to find my way down to the very back paddocks of the farm where the day's filming is taking place.
Because UnREAL is a show about the makings of a TV show, it's incredibly easy to mix up the crew and general bystanders with the actual paid actors.... a pain I know all too well.
People casually lounging about in non-descript clothes, holding equipment are suddenly descended on by a hair and make-team, primped and then pushed in front of the camera.
I almost miss Shiri Appleby, who plays the lead character of Rachel, because she is lost in a crowd of fake cameraman men being shot by real cameramen.
It's the first episode of TV that Shiri is directing, and the deep-seated need to prove herself is rolling off her in waves.
It's so intense that every time she rushes back into the little tent of cameras where some of the crew and I are sitting, I find myself cowering back against the wall in order to give her more space to intensely stare at the monitors and watch herself on camera.
Geez, it looks tough being the one who has to carry the scenes as lead actress while also being the person who has to yell "cut!"
After the day's shooting, in which she directed, acted, filmed interviews for Entertainment Tonight and manged to spend some time with her two small children on set, Shiri seems equally as excited about the steaming cup of green tea she's handed as she is about talking to me.
"This season it's almost like Rachel is a teenager, she's regressing and pushing back against Quinn and saying "I don't need you", which is very different to last season," Shirri says.
"I like that we never see Rachel as the victim. People try and paint her as the victim this season and she just goes 'no, no. I am a survivor'. We have three cameras going on set, so every element is captured and we've created this environment that's very free and lose so we can improv. So I take liberties with that.
"I don't watch that much television. But I just know on our show we're telling a story about two women who go after what they want and are very unapologetic about it. And that's not very common on television. I know that only having been an actress my whole life and reading scripts, these parts just are not out there.
"Look, I've been in this business a long time and I've met real Quinns and real Rachels. In fact, much worse.
"I can absolutely relate to the cut-throat world we're portraying from my own experiences. You have to be so strong and so driven and people are just going to knock you down left and right. It happens every day in this environment, because people's hopes and dreams are attached to it. There's a lot of fame, money and power involved and people act crazy."
The money and power she speaks of are even more evident back in the heart of Vancouver, where the UnREAL studio and sets are housed. Here, the mansion that was used in the first season has been completely recreated inside a studio.
As I walk through the opulent rooms and sets that will house most of the drama on the next season of UnReal, the glossy setup is somewhat overshadowed by the stark, and uninviting warehouse surrounds that we don't see on TV.
There are some cute little piglets stuck to the wall of the set dressing rooms, an inside joke from the crew that the characters will find love on Everlasting 'when pigs fly'.
It's also a nice reminder that everything we see on reality TV is an illusion, and that's just the message UnREAL is trying to send.
Listen to the full episode of The Binge below, where Laura and Rosie chat about why Outlander has the best sex on television, what we can expect from the season four of Orange Is The New Black and why Melissa McCarthy finally agreed to appear on the Gilmore Girls reboot.
UnREAL season two is screening now on Stan.
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