From Iceland — Side Hustle Of The Issue: The Background Actor

Side Hustle Of The Issue: The Background Actor

Published September 22, 2023

Side Hustle Of The Issue: The Background Actor
Photo by
Art Bicnick

Do extras make the ‘credit’ roll call?

A party guest, a pedestrian with a dog, or a hospital patient? If you’re an extra, you never know what your next acting gig will be. Background actor Eyþór Eysteinsson says it’s a lot of fun, but be prepared for long hours, often spent patiently waiting.

Eyþór Eysteinsson, 24, a student and lifeguard

During the summer, I work as a lifeguard at the Sundhöllin swimming pool or at the beach in Nauthólsvík. In wintertime, I study anthropology and also work a bit at the pool. My side hustle is being a background actor or an extra for movies or TV shows.

I first learned about this side hustle through a colleague who does modelling gigs. I thought, maybe I could do that too; it would be fun to try. I came across a casting agency asking people to create a profile with them. That’s what I did. At first, I thought it was a modelling agency, but it turned out it was a background actor agency. I started applying to try it out and that’s how things started rolling.

Gig chronicles

I was a background actor in Afturelding, an Icelandic TV show on RÚV, and another TV series coming out soon. One of the first gigs I did was a funeral scene. It was all quiet and you had to be grieving. One thing about background acting is that many older people are doing the job. I think that’s one of the few ways they can earn some extra money. I noticed that at the very first gig I did. So, everything had to be really quiet in that funeral scene, with an accordion playing in the background. But all the elders had so much fun. They started to sing and play the accordion. I thought, “Wow. How are these people having this much fun at 7:00 in the morning?”

Sometimes, I have to say no to acting jobs. Once, I was offered a job – they needed someone like me, with fairly long red hair and a red beard. They were offering to pay extra. But the thing was, I shaved my head just the day before. I was completely bald. One missed opportunity. 

The waiting game

This side hustle is practical for me because, when you’re a background actor, you’re usually just waiting to get the call. That’s really nice for me because I can study while I’m waiting. It’s also fun to look at everything through the lens of anthropology. You’re always like a fly on the wall – learning how different actors or directors work is intriguing. 

Photo by Art Bicnick

Because it’s not an exact science, things get delayed or moved – when something is supposed to be done on Wednesday and it’s postponed until next week. That’s the downside of the work.

Sometimes, when you’re an extra, your only job is just to be there. To be a part of some atmosphere the crew is trying to create so that the real actors can feel like somebody’s watching, or they can act to, but you’re not going to be on screen alone or sometimes even at all.

Lights, camera, landing a job

Around the same time I started to do these kinds of jobs, I started to take improv classes. Now I’m in Improv Ísland, an improv show at Þjóðleikhúsið Kjallarinn. I’m in the B team of that group. We have around three shows a month. Improv has been going well for me – my confidence in performing has definitely gone up.

There are many Facebook groups where casting agencies, independent filmmakers and students of Kvikmyndaskóli are looking for people for projects. There are a lot of opportunities in these groups. I didn’t know about them at first; I learned about them just by talking with other background actors and extras, but at least for me, that’s where the ball really started rolling.

Want to share how you’re making ends meet? Email us at with the subject line “Side Hustle.” We’ll happily keep your identity anonymous.

Follow along with the Side Hustle series right here.

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