I was an extra in Sex Education
Does seeing behind the scenes of your favourite show ruin the magic?
September 25, 2023
When I got the opportunity to be an extra in the fourth and final season of my favourite TV show, I jumped at the chance.
This week the show finally aired on Netflix, and watching it is such a different experience now that I've peaked behind the curtain…
How did this happen?
As you might imagine, it was a long process. Mad Dog Casting (a casting agency for supporting artists) first posted on their Insta recruiting extras for Sex Education back in July 2022. They were calling primarily for people aged 18-25, but as a 26-year-old, I thought I'd throw my name (or face, rather) into the ring. I emailed them and was invited to attend a casting day in Cardiff.
The casting day ended up being one of the hottest days of the year, and I spent a long time waiting with other potential extras to have my picture taken and availability noted down. When it was eventually my turn, I sat down with the Assistant Director (AD) and had a brief chat. He asked about my phone case (a pastel version of the 6-stripe pride flag), and I told him I was queer, and he said "great, because we're especially looking for LGBTQ+ extras". It was a lovely chat, after which I went home, not really getting my hopes up.
I eventually received an email inviting me to an in-person line-reading with the AD in Cardiff, which I attended and read some short lines for a few of the student characters. I also recorded several at-home tapes for these lines, which nothing ever came of (there were so many talented supporting artists who do professional extra work all the time, whereas I've not acted for years, so this didn't surprise or disappoint me). It's strange, however, watching the show now and hearing lines that I've read in my bedroom — lines recorded on my phone long before they went to air. One of the (amazing) lines that I remember reading was "I queefed during sex one time, and now my boyfriend calls me Queen Laqueefa."
I got a few emails asking if I was available for certain dates, and I responded that I was, but I never got called in to shoot. Until eventually, in winter last year, I got the email saying I was needed on set.
On a very frosty December morning, I drove to the set in Newport with no idea what to expect. After going through the hair, makeup and costume process, we ended up sitting around for about five hours, doing nothing (but still getting paid!). Eventually, we were called to set. Seeing Cavendish College for the first time was magical. The atrium was stunning, and knowing that I was getting a glimpse of it before the general public was undeniably cool. The temptation to use the slide was particularly strong!
My first act on set was to walk across the atrium, holding a tote bag and a water bottle, while Mr. Groff had his phone knocked out of his hand by a student coming down the slide. Having watched the episode where this happens, you don't even see me, but I was there. Then, slightly later on in the day, we filmed with Asa Butterfield (Otis) and Mimi Keene (Ruby), and honestly, something about seeing Asa in person wearing his famous "Otis" puffer coat was surreal.
I ended up working around 6 or 7 days on set, spread over December and January. Some days were super busy, and I left feeling exhausted; others were hours and hours of sitting around reading my book and occasionally napping in my chair. The one downside of the whole experience was the temperature… sitting around all day in a warehouse in the middle of winter is truly freezing. We had some space heaters, but with anywhere from 50-100 extras, it was a fight to get to them before anyone else did. I resorted to bringing in my Oodie and slippers and wearing them over my costumes between scenes to stop the shivering!
One of the most fun (but also most exhausting) scenes to film was the big 80s party that features in the final episode. This took two days to shoot, and not only was it a lot of standing around in heels, but also take after take of very high-energy dancing. My feet were definitely sore, and my dress was starting to rub my shoulders in a very uncomfortable way, but keeping the energy up was a must.
With scenes like these, the music is overlayed later, so while filming we would be blasted with a song for a few seconds so that we could establish a beat to dance to before the song would stop, "action" would be called, and we'd just have to keep dancing and try to stay in rhythm!
Meeting New People
I got to meet so many amazing people, both fellow extras and the main cast, and the days were so much fun. While some of the supporting artists were professional extras, others had day jobs, and telling people I was a sex educator while filming a show about sex education was especially weird. People would meet me and say, "are you the real sex educator?" which always made me laugh.
For the most part, I didn't speak with the main cast (the unspoken rule was "you don't speak to them unless they speak to you"), but sometimes I would be positioned near a cast member and we'd naturally chat between takes. Highlights include congratulating Ncuti Gatwa on Doctor Who, and him responding, “oh, thank you so much, pearl!” (he called a lot of us “pearl” which was really cute), and singing with a group of extras and Aimee Lou Wood.
Watching the Show
So, as a fan of the show, has it affected the way I watch the fourth season? Definitely, but only for the better. The bits of the show that I had no part in feel the same as normal, and the parts where I did have involvement feel extra special. It's exciting to experience storylines play out that I knew of months ago, seeing the set where I spent so much time, hearing lines spoken that I listened to over and over, take after take.
Also, seeing my face pop up in the final episode where there was no guarantee I would even be seen was such a bonus. I feel very grateful.
Being an extra has given me an extra appreciation for all of the effort that goes into making a show like Sex Education — it's not taken away any magic, only added to it.