5/8/2013 – SEYMOUR JOHNSON AIR FORCE BASE, N.C. (AFNS) — Would it be the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat? This was the question on the minds of a select few members of the 916th Air Refueling Wing here as they waited in dark theaters this weekend to see if their faces graced the silver screen in “Iron Man 3,” predicted to have the second largest opening in movie history.
A little more than a year ago, the blockbuster film starring Robert Downey Jr. and Gwyneth Paltrow was filmed throughout North Carolina. The casting company made an extra effort to use members of the military.
Five members of the 916th ARW: executive officer Maj. Thaddeus Janicki; security forces member Master Sgt. William Lester; 567th Red Horse member Master Sgt. Williams Fields, and public affairs photojournalists Master Sgt. Wendy Lopedote and Staff Sgt. Mark Thompson, were selected as extras. Lopedote’s husband Ben, a retired chief master sergeant from the 916th ARW, was also cast.
Janicki was used in two different roles during a scene when Iron Man rescues people falling from Air Force One.
“At one point I was a bystander on the sidewalk who watched Iron Man save the people falling from the sky,” he said. “Later I was a scuba diver on a boat watching the same scene.”
Ben Lopedote and Fields were members of a military line formation saluting the president as he boarded Air Force One.
“My scene was outside,” Fields said. “The sun was out when the scene started shooting so every time a cloud came over, they cut the scene until the cloud cleared, then we did a retake.”
The actual set was a red carpet and air stairs put in front of a green screen. Air Force One was digitally added in post-production.
Wendy Lopedote was also in that scene, but in the background between two airplane hangars.
Lester was cast as a security guard during a shoot at the SAS campus in Cary, N.C., his civilian employer.
“We were told when shooting started that we wouldn’t see Robert Downey Jr. and we wouldn’t talk to the director, but both happened,” Lester said. “Robert Downey Jr. stopped by just to watch shooting and meet our company CEO.”
Thompson played a uniformed member of the Secret Service in a scene set in the vice president’s office. While only his first time working as an extra, he was excited to get an opportunity few extra actors ever get.
“The highlight of my time on set was being bumped from an extra to having a speaking part in the movie,” Thompson said. “Granted it was only a few seconds, but I got to interact with Don Cheadle.”
Thompson also spent a day working as a stand-in for the sherriff in a bar fight scene with Downey.
“It was a really interesting, long day,” Thompson said. “I worked with Robert Downey Jr.’s stand-in and we marked all the blocking, shots, and lighting. After we had it set, the actors came in and shot the scene. Much of that scene didn’t make it in the movie, but it was fascinating to see what they included and what they didn’t.”
While most of these newly-minted actors, none of whom had done extra work before, enjoyed the movie, only a few actually got screen time. You can see Fields and both Lopedotes during the Air Force One scene. All the other scenes featuring 916th ARW members, including the speaking role given to Thompson, ended up on the cutting room floor. There is, however, a chance that their scenes might be included in a future DVD release of the director’s cut.
“It’s a little disappointing, but it was still totally worth it,” Thompson said. “For me the experience was intoxicating. I think I was buzzing for a few days after the filming. When the buzz subsided, I knew I had found a new hobby.”
Thompson and Janicki have since worked as extras on other movies and TV series filmed in North Carolina.
“I had a wonderful experience working on the film,” Janicki said. “All in all, it certainly encouraged me to do more extra work in the future.”