Jesse Heiman is “that guy.” Go ahead, Google him. You’ve seen him before. His IMDb page lists him as appearing in 86 TV shows and movies, though Heiman says it’s probably closer to 110. He has made a lengthy career as being the go-to guy for extra work, with Michael Bay even seeking him out for a Transformers movie. He’s been interviewed by Time magazine, the Today show, Jimmy Kimmel Live!, and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, to name a few. He made out with supermodel Bar Refaeli for a GoDaddy commercial, and a YouTube video highlighting all his roles has received over 4 million views. He’s living our dream, so we got Heiman to take a break from filming to chat with us about what it’s like being “The World’s Greatest Extra” and offer a few tips on how to break into the business (and maybe even kiss Bar Refaeli).
Cigars & Leisure: How did you become The World’s Greatest Extra?
Heiman: When I first came to Los Angeles back in 2000, I wanted to be a writer. But it turns out you need money to survive in LA. Within a month of living here I signed up to be an extra at Central Casting; they’re the hub of the extra casting world. I ended up working nonstop as soon as I joined. Career-wise, it was like a match made in heaven.
How long have you been doing this?
I’ve been working steadily for 17 years. I started when I was only 22, and what’s funny is I can still play roles younger than 22.
Do you have a favorite movie you’ve worked on?
Old School is one of my favorites because I got to work for six weeks with Will Ferrell, Vince Vaughn, Jeremy Piven, and Todd Phillips. It was a lot of fun just being part of an ensemble cast, learning the business, and working every day with them. That’s the coolest part of my job is I get to work with such talented people. Another favorite is the original Spider-Man because it was the first time where people from my hometown [Boston] noticed me. I’d been telling friends for months that I was going to be in a film, and they finally got to see me.
I’m pretty sure I can speak for others and say you have our dream job.
Yeah, it is a dream job. It’s my every-day job now, but I still get star-struck when I go on some sets.
Who has made you the most star-struck?
I would say Tom Hanks and Paul Newman. I worked on Road to Perdition, and being on set with them was insane. When they would pass by I would freeze up. I couldn’t even say a word to them. Oh, and I worked with Steven Spielberg in Catch Me If You Can; that was a dream come true. Spielberg inspired me to become part of the entertainment industry.
Do you get recognized on the street often?
Fairly often. If I’m going to a shopping mall or a touristy place then it’s pretty likely. That’s just so cool to me. I don’t make millions of dollars, I’m not a superstar, but I get recognition, and that’s the perk of my career. I love that. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I wish I was doing big films and making millions of dollars, but I’m just happy to be part of things.
Do you have any fan encounters that stick out to you, good or bad?
I don’t really have any bad encounters, but I was in a pretty big Super Bowl commercial [where Bar Refaeli kissed him], and since then I’ve had complete strangers ask for a kiss on the cheek.
Do you have any advice for people looking to do what you do?
Extra work is the easiest part of the industry to break into. All you have to be is yourself. If you’re a lawyer, you can be cast as a lawyer. If you’re a teacher or a student, they’ll cast you as a teacher or a student. I got to work for five seasons on Chuck as a guy working at a place like Best Buy.
Are there any movies that you would absolutely love to be in?
I would love to continue to work with Judd Apatow; he’s hilarious. I would also love to work on a Seth MacFarlane comedy, a superhero movie, or some franchise film. All those people who are in the Pirates of the Caribbean films have been pirates for all five films; that’s a pretty good gig to get. That’s always what you hope for as an actor, to be in something that isn’t just one and done, but multiple.
Has there ever been a time, like a particularly long day on set, where you just don’t want to be an extra anymore?
I’ve never grown tired of it; it’s just so fun. I’ve gotten to work in other states and other countries, as well. Sure, the days can be long, but it’s a lot of fun just doing what I love to do.
For more information on Heiman, visit jesseheiman.net, or follow him on social media.
Want to learn how to be an extra, too? Check out our guide!
Can you find him in these flicks and shows?
The Social Network
The Big Bang Theory
How I Met Your Mother