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Behind the camera on 'A Personal History of David Copperfield'

Mike Dean, Chair of Bury St Edmunds Tour Guides shares his experience of being an extra on 'A Personal History of David Copperfield'...

With 'A Personal History of David Copperfield' premiering at the BFI London Film Festival, we spoke to Chairman of Bury St Edmunds Tour Guides and film extra Mike Dean about his experience behind the camera...

How did you end up as an extra in The Personal History of David Copperfield? 

I heard of the opportunity via the Theatre Royal, where I'm a guide, as the venue was going to be used for location shots. My appetite was whetted so I went for it and jumped through all the qualification hoops!

What was it like putting on your costume for the first time? 

It was a very special feeling indeed. I had to travel all the way down to Warner Brothers studios at Leavesden, where Harry Potter was filmed, on the longest day of 2018. So the location gave an additional frisson, which added to the impact of seeing myself in a full length mirror for the first time. My family consider, now, that I was born in the wrong century.

Did you get to meet any of the cast?

I could say yes and blag it, but in reality no, as the filming schedule is quite frenetic and time constrained. That said, I passed the lead Dev Patel on one of his breaks at the theatre and said hello to him; he responded hoping I was bearing up in the heat, so I sort of met him.

What was your best moment on set?

Sitting in the second row at the theatre, dressed in the finery of the epoch, watching the intricacies of the technology and hearing, quite clearly, the verbal direction from the Director himself, Armando Lannucci. He came over as very human and approachable.

Are you looking forward to seeing yourself on screen?

Indeed I am as are all the rest of the family. Whether it actually comes to pass and for how long is difficult to ascertain as there were nearly 100 extras taking part. Who knows, I may be in full shot or may, at this very moment, be on Cutting Room floor.

Have you ever been an extra before?

No (unless by accident) – even at my advanced age this has been my first (and a most enjoyable) experience.

As Chairman of Bury St Edmunds Tour Guides will you be incorporating your experience in your tours?

I already have, especially as my role as a guide at the Theatre Royal which is such a gem anyway. I also explain to visitors on town tours, when we are on Angel Hill, how the whole area was literally transformed to the 1860's and how the back drops of The Angel Hotel,The Athenaeum and Chequer Square were used in the filming of the location shots.

What was the most surprising aspect of your time as an extra?

The amount of staff and extras involved and appreciation of the complexity, detailed planning and delivery operation of all of the shoots, many of them completely out of chronological order, How the actors cope with this hard to fathom. The days were very long and tiring as well, at the peak of last year's heatwave.

Was there a magic ‘movie moment’ where you went wow I’m in a movie?

There wasn't just one, but many. How everything came to vivid life on the clarion call of 'Action!', whether it was the filthy back streets of London or the Victorian splendour of the Theatre Royal and a one man reading by Charles Dickens himself.

'A Personal History of David Copperfield' premieres at the BFI London Film Festival on 2 October 2019 and is set for release on 10 January 2020.

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