Ornella Gunasekera describes her experience as a supporting artiste in Bridgerton Series 3

Jun 19 2024.

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Former Miss Sri Lanka, Ornella Gunasekera, recently caused a social media sensation when photos surfaced of her appearing as an extra in Season 3 of “Bridgerton.” Currently residing in the UK, Ornella continues her modelling career and has recently expanded her work to include roles as a supporting artiste in various commercials. Her appearance in the popular TV series “Bridgerton” marks her debut in a high-profile project. In an exclusive interview with DM Life, Ornella shares candid insights into her experience on the set of “Bridgerton.”

Q CAN YOU TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUND IN ACTING AND HOW YOU GOT INVOLVED WITH “BRIDGERTON”? First and foremost, I thank God, my family, and our Sri Lankan community for their support. I still find it hard to believe this opportunity came my way. In 2023, I took a short acting course in London, but I don’t have any formal training. My closest connection to acting is that my mother named me after the Italian actress Ornella Muti! It is important to distinguish between actors and Supporting Artistes (SA’s/extras) – an SA does not need prior acting experience, but being responsible, punctual, and patient is essential. I want to acknowledge and appreciate our Sri Lankan actors and actresses worldwide who have studied, trained and worked in TV, film, and Broadway. As for me, I currently work full-time as a corporate receptionist, but this experience as a Supporting Artiste has been an exciting addition to my journey. One of the best examples of a Supporting Artiste would be what Phoebe did in F.R.I.E.N.D.S. 

Q HOW DID YOU LAND THE ROLE OF AN EXTRA ON THE SHOW? Landing a role as an extra in London is quite competitive, but this city offers plenty of opportunities. There are always casting calls, auditions, agents seeking talent, theatre productions, and events looking for both experienced and inexperienced individuals with patience and discipline. I saw an open casting call online and attended the event to sign up, never imagining where it would lead! When I started working as a Supporting Artiste in 2023, I quickly realised how much patience and standby time is involved. Often, you find yourself waiting in full hair, makeup, and costume, ready to go at a moment’s notice in all sorts of weather conditions. It’s an eye-opening experience, but all part of the job in this dynamic industry. The jobs are spread out, so unless you have a secondary job, it can be tough to live in London. Last year, I worked at a hotel on a casual contract, which gave me the time and flexibility to commit to SA work, but I have since moved to a permanent role. I was also an extra in England’s national Christmas commercial for McDonald’s in 2023.

Q WHAT WAS A TYPICAL DAY ON SET LIKE FOR YOU? You never really know what to expect until you arrive on set. Before filming, there are usually fittings, which often take place outside of London. Filming can start as early as 3 am, and I’ve also experienced all-night shoots that begin in the afternoon and wrap up around 7 am the next day! Despite the long hours, I actually enjoy these extended shoots, though filming “summer scenes” in “summer clothes” during -5°C winter conditions can be challenging. The dynamics on set vary with each production; some days we might have up to 400 extras, while on others there might be 20 or fewer. I also learned new terms and phrases that the production crew use on set. 

Q CAN YOU DESCRIBE THE ATMOSPHERE ON SET? HOW DID THE CAST AND CREW INTERACT WITH EXTRAS? The atmosphere on set is professional and structured, with strict rules such as no phones allowed and no initiating contact with the main cast. This made it especially incredible when one morning, Jonathan Bailey (Anthony Bridgerton) said “Good Morning” on his way to get coffee. Star-struck, I shyly responded with a “good morning” back. Generally, extras are expected to stay put until called upon and follow instructions precisely. While the main cast rarely interacted with the extras, it was mesmerising to watch them fully immerse themselves in their roles, focusing intently on their lines and characters.

Q WERE THERE ANY PARTICULAR MOMENTS OR SCENES THAT STOOD OUT TO YOU DURING FILMING? Production companies gain access to spaces that are not usually accessible to the general public, this meant I was able to experience these places in a special way. Just being on a set of this calibre in any capacity was something of a marvel to me.

Q WHAT SPECIFIC SCENES OR EPISODES DID YOU APPEAR IN? Season 3, part two, episodes 6 and 7... The scenes shot at the Church and the wedding party following the wedding of Polin. If you pay close attention to the first 30 seconds of Season 3, Episode 6... You will see me from the back walking off to the right with my onscreen “husband,” at a marketplace.

Q DID YOU HAVE ANY SPECIFIC RESPONSIBILITIES OR ROLES DURING YOUR TIME AS AN EXTRA? Responsibilities are outlined and informed of before filming. During filming, we must follow directions from the assistant directors, maintain quietness on set, listen attentively to instructions, and show respect to everyone involved. Despite the long hours, I approached my role with dedication, honouring even the smallest part I played in the production process. 

Q HOW MUCH DIRECTION DID YOU RECEIVE FROM THE DIRECTORS OR ASSISTANT DIRECTORS? Everything is on a need-to-know basis and you are shared only what is expected of you. Most of it involves quietly miming or mouthing words and looking lively in the background unless asked otherwise.

Q WHAT WAS THE PROCESS LIKE FOR COSTUMES AND MAKEUP? I could not believe my eyes when I first saw the exceptional detail, energy, and effort taken for each piece and ensemble. Meticulous. Some may even say... flawless. Absolutely beautiful pieces from the costumes to the bags, gloves, accessories, jewellery...

Q HOW LONG DID IT TAKE TO GET READY EACH DAY? It takes several hours with great attention to detail. This process also happens many times throughout the day.

Q WHAT WERE SOME OF THE CHALLENGES YOU FACED WHILE WORKING AS AN EXTRA? One of the main challenges of working as an extra is the significant amount of sitting and waiting around. While I’m accustomed to this from my work as a model, my past spinal fusion surgeries to correct spondylolisthesis, challenge me. I’ve lost the natural ‘S’ curve of my spine, leading to postural stress when I sit for long periods. This can be quite painful and exhausts me much quicker than standing all day would. 

Q WHAT DID YOU LEARN FROM YOUR EXPERIENCE ON SET? I learned the importance of keeping an open heart, mind, and vision because you never know what opportunities might come your way. Additionally, I gained a new appreciation for the work of extras and the meticulous attention to detail in TV and movie productions. These small details truly elevate a production from ordinary to extraordinary. I was also reminded of how wonderfully Sri Lankans love to celebrate the success of their countrymen and really encourage this positive, healthy culture across all industries. I also gained a greater appreciation for the imaginative and talented writers who create shows like this. I’d love to see the historical story of “Mount Lavinia” brought to life by a Sri Lankan production company.

Q DID YOU HAVE ANY INTERACTIONS WITH THE MAIN CAST MEMBERS? We are not allowed to interact with the main cast, but if they engage, we may respond. I’ve shared some moments throughout this interview. Lady Danbury (Adjoa Andoh) smiled with me on one of the days – this was magical because I really admire her character in the show.

Q WERE THERE OPPORTUNITIES FOR NETWORKING WITH OTHER ACTORS OR INDUSTRY PROFESSIONALS? It is two different worlds – Actors/ Actresses and Supporting Artistes. In fact, I was advised that serious actors/ actresses don’t take up any SA work. Since SA work was a hobby for me, I was just happy to even be considered. I would proudly hold a cardboard cutout of a tree just for the experience.

Q HOW HAS APPEARING IN THE SHOW IMPACTED YOUR CAREER OR OPENED UP NEW OPPORTUNITIES? The episodes I appeared in were released just a few days ago, so it’s still early to gauge the full impact. However, I’m grateful for the overwhelming warmth and joy that Sri Lanka has shown in response. I’d love to work with a Sri Lankan team someday.

Q WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO OTHER ACTORS LOOKING TO GET INVOLVED IN HIGH-PROFILE PRODUCTIONS LIKE THIS? I have always trained my mind to never expect anything in life but to appreciate whatever happens and allow life to surprise you. Life can change in an instant. Keep your head down, do your best, set your ego aside, and be punctual, responsible, accountable, and teachable; these traits will make you memorable.

Q CAN YOU SHARE ANY INTERESTING OR FUNNY BEHIND-THE-SCENES STORIES? Embarrassing moments find me daily, and one of the most memorable happened on set. I have IBS, which means my stomach can be quite vocal at the most inconvenient times – whether well-fed, half-fed, or empty. It is the worst when I have consumed something I cannot digest or intolerant to... During a scene alongside Kate Sharma and Anthony at the wedding party, my stomach decided to perform a symphony of embarrassing sounds. To make matters worse, the microphone was positioned right above us. The director had to pause filming as Anthony (Jonathan Bailey) burst into laughter, prompting everyone to follow suit. It was an absolutely mortifying moment, but at least it brought some unexpected humour to the set!

Q WAS THERE ANYTHING THAT SURPRISED YOU ABOUT HOW THE SHOW WAS MADE? The absolute extravagance and attention to detail were sublime. Many hands and much preparation go into a production but the commitment of something of this calibre was truly exceptional.

Stills courtesy of Ornella

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tina Edward Gunawardhana

Tina Edward Gunawardhana is a journalist specialising in travel, fashion, lifestyle, cuisine and personalities. She is also the Deputy Editor for Hi!! Magazine. An intrepid traveller, she likes to show readers the world through her eyes and experiences. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram - tinajourno [email protected]

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