MOVIE URBAN LEGEND: A woman accidentally landed a speaking part in “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.”
The world of film extras is a fascinating one. They mostly serve to fill up the background of crowd scenes, but in a many cases, extras are actors who just haven’t hit it big yet. A number of famous actors got their start working as extra, like Clint Eastwood, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon. In a previous Movie Legends Revealed, I even discussed how Joss Whedon cast one of the extras from “The Avengers” as a lead in his next movie.
However, while most extras would love to get speaking roles in films, some are just there to make a little quick cash. This, then, makes the story of Layla Sarakalo so interesting. Read on to learn about the woman who accidentally got a speaking part in “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.”
In 1986's “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home,” the officers of the U.S.S. Enterprise finds themselves trapped in 1980s San Francisco. There’s a terrible threat to Earth in their time, and the only thing that can save the planet are humpback whales, which are extinct in the future. So the Enterprise travels into the past to locate some, but doesn’t have the ability to get home. The crew splits up to find a.) humpback whales they can bring back to the future; b.) a way to store the whales on their stolen Klingon ship; and c.) a means to power their ship for a return trip through time.
Chekov and Uhura are tasked with finding a nuclear reactor, because nuclear energy could possibly power their ship, but the only nuclear reactors in the area are aboard Naval vessels. Their only problem is they don't know WHERE the nuclear vessels are. That leads to a comedic scene in which Chekov, whose thick Russian accent makes "vessels" sound like "wessels," asks people on the street where to find Alameda, where the nuclear submarines are kept. One woman tells them she’s unsure, but she thinks they are in Alameda, which is, of course, exactly what they are asking.
It is a funny scene, but it was also ad-libbed. Notice how everyone else ignores them? The woman who answered them was also supposed to ignore them. The comedy was supposed to derive from the fact that they couldn't get an answer (and, yes, from the way Chekov says "vessels").
The woman in question was San Francisco resident Layla Sarakalo, who woke up one day to discover her car had been towed. She had missed the notices that “Star Trek” was filming on her street, and her car was in the way. She decided that one way to get the money to pay for the towing was to get a job as an extra on the set.
In an article about Sarakalo published 10 years ago, StarTrek.com detailed what she did next:
After deciding what she would do, Layla changed into a suitable outfit, grabbed her whippet Anubis (her dog) and headed down the street to where the action was taking place. After speaking with the assistant director on whether she could get a day's work, she was told she could and was instructed to stand with the group of extras already hired for the day.
Layla said to the others that she had never engaged in this acting thing before and asked what she should do. They told her to act naturally. With the cameras rolling, Layla walked down the street into shot and soon came to the spot where Uhura and Chekov were unsuccessfully trying to find out from passing pedestrians where the nuclear wessels [sic] were. Most of the extras who were asked this question looked at the two like they were from another planet and carried on. Layla, however, answered them. Naturally.
The problem was, she wasn't supposed to say anything. But, because she did, the filmmakers decided that this was good, spontaneous stuff and that they should use it! A bit of rancor by fellow extras aside, Layla's star was now lit and hanging in the firmament.
After some retakes, they finally broke for lunch. When production personnel approached her, they asked if she was in the union (Screen Actors Guild). "No," she replied with a smile, "I'm in the neighborhood."
So they had her sign up for the Screen Actors Guild (everyone who has a line in a film has to be a member). But she didn't think anything of it, as she didn't think it would actually MAKE the movie. But after the film came out, people occasionally recognized her, so she went to go see it.
For years, she was unknown, just a "mystery woman" in the film, but she eventually came forward. As of 2005, she was working in Paris, running a small fashion house.
The legend is...
Thanks so much to reader Peter D. for suggesting this one!
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is email@example.com.