By Stephanie Butzer
Neither Helen Peterson, 83, nor Harry Carlson, 88, had acting experience when they were accepted as extras for the movie “Nevermore.”
“Isn’t that something — to be movie stars with our age?” Peterson said. “That’s so amusing to me.”
Peterson grew up outside of Hollywood, Calif., and as time passed, she grew more interested in films.
“I would go to movies and watch them very closely,” Peterson said. “Even as the years went by, I would think, ‘I think I could do that.’ ”
Peterson experienced her first taste of acting when her oldest son, Kyle, was chosen for multiple commercials. Peterson said it was as exciting for her as it was for her young son.
Years later, Peterson’s son-in-law called to tell her he had seen an article calling for volunteer extras for a movie being filmed in Graham. Peterson said she teased her head with the idea of acting in a movie.
After much deliberation, she called Dan Kelly, the casting director for “Nevermore.” She described her physical appearance to him and he invited her to come to the set the next day.
Peterson said she was so excited, she didn’t think she could drive the eight miles to Graham so she called her friend, Carlson, who lived down the block from her.
“She’s a good friend and I wanted to help her out,” Carlson said, even though he had no initial interest of being an extra. “I could see she was very much interested.”
After they drove to the set and waited for hours, Carlson and Peterson were told the set had closed for the day. The extras could go home. Slightly disappointed, they returned home and Peterson said she started to forget about the opportunity.
Two weeks later, Kelly called Peterson to ask her to come to Graham again and dress in clothing from the 1970s. Peterson and Carlson followed his instructions and drove to the set that morning.
When they were called from a waiting room to the set, Peterson and Carlson were instructed to drive an old Ford at 10 mph down a street, look sideways at a young boy walking on the sidewalk, and do a double-take and “crash” the car.
Peterson said the car looked like it had been in a few legitimate wrecks before it was even brought on set.
“It was just a mess,” she said. “It was down to the metal.”
Carlson said driving the car was the hardest part of the experience. It reminded him of his first days as a teenager behind the wheel.
This scene took three hours to shoot. After it was completed and the cast and crew had stopped for lunch, Carlson and Peterson went to the makeup set.
They were painted to look like they had suffered an intense crash. Peterson said it took at least an hour for the makeup artists to make their faces look bloody.
“The makeup was exposed so much with the colors — gashes and blood on our faces,” she said. “I hadn’t seen what I looked like.”
When Peterson was asked if she would like to look in a mirror, she wasn’t sure she wanted to see how grotesque her “injuries” were. Eventually, she gave in.
“It was ghastly,” Peterson said. “It was terrible. It was scary to see these gashes on my lower face. Same with Harry — he was really looking bad.”
When the couple went back to shoot the aftermath of the crash, Peterson and Carlson were told to lie very still and act dead.
“They brought the cameras close to the car at one point,” Peterson said. “They had a camera on the hood of the car. Then, the next thing you knew, they came right up to our faces to get a close-up of us.”
After that shot was completed, Peterson and Carlson were sent back to the makeup set to have their “wounds” removed.
When they went home, Carlson said he was so excited about the whole adventure; he recorded the experience as a short story to share with friends and family. Peterson was asked, twice, for her autograph.
“It was like a dream come true for me,” Peterson said. “To think after all these years — my boy had made a commercial when he was little and here I was, his mom, making a movie at my age with my neighbor.”