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The SPECTRE Day of the Dead filming in Mexico City

By: Erik Olsson
Published:
2016-08-26
A Sweltering Swede Melts in Mexico as A Supporting Artiste in SPECTRE

"3-2-1… ACTION!!!" The elevator started to move which was my cue for me and my beautiful Mexican co-star to move, to saunter down a corridor towards the hotel room. I too was made-up and costumed to look like a deadly-carnival celebrating tourist. The interior of the magnificent, Zapata-era El Gran Hotel in Mexico City was alive with the similarly dead. We walked up to the railing just outside where we talked to each other while I in the periphery saw an ornately-famous elevator sigh up and stop. Out came a masked Mexican beauty and walking skeleton. Followed by a man with a Steadicam harnessed to his body. This was March 2015. Come the end of the year, the world would recognise the woman as Estrella and the man as Bond, James Bond. At that very moment, I was fulfilling a lifelong ambition: this sweltering Swede, melting in Mexico, was on the set of the latest 007 film.

SPECTRE Day of the Dead Mexico
For most fans, to be part of the incredible world of 007 would be too good of an opportunity not to miss. Even if just for a second’s glimpse at a café or in a group of tourists, a double-taking pigeon or as a “consumptive [Swede]”. And if you read on, you’ll see how remarkably easy it was and how being on set allows you to see sequences that never make it to the final film.

After a couple of failed attempts with the casting people in both London and Rome, I lept upon the Facebook call for extras in Mexico. My dear friend Anders Frejdh also informed me from being an extra in Quantum of Solace. Ian Fleming once said “Never say ‘no’ to adventures” so I measured the expense against the experience and went for it. Everything was done online in Spanish and I was asked to go to Mexico to try out clothes for my role as an extra – sorry, supporting artiste – as civilian tourist. So it was that in February 2015, I flew out to Mexico City. I was told to be at the prestigious Churubusco Studios where many Hollywood and Latin American movies has been filmed, and even so License to Kill. The casting was quick. A few papers to read and sign, trying-out of clothes for the role, and after a couple of photos I took off back to Sweden.

By the end of March, I came back to Mexico City. Early one Monday morning I had to be at a fair building in perhaps not the safest part of town. The queue was long and many tired faces lit up in the darkness. After half an hour we were let in and checked in one by one. I greeted my new friends at the casting agency and all of us were gathered for breakfast buffet of typical Mexican dishes. We were a few hundred extras so we went in groups down to the dressing rooms where we all changed to our outfits. Many also went into the makeup to paint their faces and some even their bodies, especially the amazing skeletons. Each extra had a unique look with an incredible detail. Some extras also had props such as coffins, skulls, and photos of dead loved ones as part of their outfit. When one was done you went into one of the buses and took off with police escort to the filming location.

SPECTRE Day of the Dead Mexico
And that was how I found myself with Bond (played by Daniel Craig) and Estrella (played by Stephanie Sigman at the finest hotel of Mexico, El Gran Hotel. The location and its lifts had previously also been used in Licence to Kill shot in the city during 1988 and doubling the fictional Isthmus City. The shooting day was long and, for us, unplanned. First we had to sit still inside a café and then we were lined up to be placed in different parts of the hotel. Each extra had a place and certain movements to do at a particular timing. We probably did 20-30 shots. For a Bond fan on a Bond set, even the waiting was exciting. When we were done with all the shots late that afternoon, we went out of the hotel where lots of people stood and took photos with their mobile phones until we got into the buses. We went back to the morning's meeting point, changed clothes, and said goodbye for the day.

SPECTRE Day of the Dead Mexico
It was the same procedure throughout the whole week we were filming. We started usually at 4 am and were finished around 5 in the afternoon. It became routine, just like coming to work every day. It was amazing. We were naturally not allowed to bring our mobile phones on set, but, check out the official video from the filming. On the Tuesday we civilians were not supposed to film but we ended up waiting inside of one of the cities lovely museums without doing anything. They used the day for retakes of scenes filmed over the weekend with the other extras. This was when 007 jumps out of the hotel window to walk over the roof.

SPECTRE Day of the Dead Mexico
On the Wednesday we were back at the museum. At some point, we were called and there was a rush of extras straining to get a good position. My new friends and I gathered up on a plateau. Suddenly, I could hear cheering. James Bond 007 was among us. Daniel Craig was shooting the scene when Bond starts chasing the villain Sciarra by foot. They ran through the alley and we stood on the side. There were lots of shots with the actors and stuntmen who ran – it was filmed from the front and rear and side, so it took several hours to film those few seconds in the film. In the afternoon, I stood next to and watched the filming of the continued pursuit over a little square called Plaza Manuel Tolsa.

SPECTRE Day of the Dead Mexico
The Thursday began with four extras and I were taken into a dark room where we were photographed 360 degrees to fill up a digital library of extras that could be used to afterwards to multiply the crowd. After that we went in buses to Zócalo Square. This day we shot the scene on the street with the dancing women. I was placed on the street where Bond walks past a few centimetres in front of me to then stop a few meters later and watch Sciarra who walked on the other side of the street. This was my best scene throughout the week but the part where I stood was sadly cut out in the final version of the film, despite several cameras aimed at Bond with us in the background. One picture here made it however to the official deck of playing cards by Cartamundi – the Eight of Hearts. We stood still basically all day in the hot intense sun. One did not want to drink so much to avoid running to the restroom and then losing one’s position. My face was burnt slightly but we were constantly given sunscreen. Daniel was supposed to run in the street scene but he hurt his knee before so they changed the script a bit and improvised to fit the situation. We were placed around at different places and it was on this day that we saw the helicopter for the first time. In moments shoot but not in the final film, the helicopter flew down over the street in between the houses and above the parade where we stood. We were about 1,500 extras in total and much had to run smoothly. The Mexico shoot had taken 6 months to prepare.

SPECTRE Day of the Dead Mexico
On the Friday and Saturday, we shot the scenes at the square and the scene where the helicopter would land to pick up Sciarra. Alessandro Cremona who played Sciarra did almost all his stunts by himself. He ran into my back many times. There were also multiple shots of the helicopter when it lands and takes off, where we extras were on the ground right next to it. There was a pretty big security operation so that no one would get harmed. Chuck Aaron’s incredible precision piloting was amazing to watch. Saturday, was spent filming Sciarra getting to the helicopter, falling and Bond entering the helicopter. It was the last day Daniel Craig filmed the scenes in Mexico. It was fun to stand right next to Bond again as well as Sam Mendes, Barbara Broccoli, and Michael G. Wilson. I spoke briefly with Gary Powell, Hoyte van Hoytema, and a few others from the English team.

Even Bond fans have to rest so Sunday was free but that Monday, we were back on set to film the final scenes. This is where Bond and Sciarra were fighting outside the helicopter that spun crazily around about 10-15 meters above us in the square. It was exciting to watch the two stuntmen work and there were many shots even with us extras that did not make it to the movie. At one point, the helicopter was hovering a few hundred meters up and then dived down towards the square maybe 2 meters from the ground, and then turned abruptly up. For safety reasons, they shot 2 takes: something like this had never been filmed before. The rest of the helicopter stunts were filmed outside of Mexico City because they were too risky in the city. We were supposed to film on the Tuesday as well but Monday was the last day since the team got everything they wanted done.

SPECTRE Day of the Dead Mexico
Everyone was happy and satisfied but sad that the adventure was over. Extras cried – these days in a strange way welded us together as a small family. The result in the movie for myself became a blurry scene outside the elevator in the hotel and some way too short clips from the streets. My mission in Mexico was an adventure and memory for life that gave me many new experiences and friends. I wish Bond himself knew about it. If you get the opportunity, apply next time for "Bond 25". And perhaps, like James Bond, I might also return.

Written by Erik Olsson. Copyright © 2016 From Sweden with Love

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