Exclusive: A day in the life of a background artist on ‘The Durrells’

As The Durrells returns to our screens for a third season, Nick Goodwin exclusively tells BritishPeriodDramas.com what a day’s work as a background artist on the show involves…

Today the Durrells are filming in the private village of Danilia on the magical Greek island of Corfu, and at 6am I clear security ready for a twelve-hour day.

First priority is to grab a coffee and go to costume and make-up, where they will transform me into my designated B/A character for the day’s shooting.  They do everything.  It could be country folk in traditional costume, policemen, fisherman, ladies in summer dresses, or men in suits of all types and ages.

My character had the unassuming title of ‘Posh Athens/Posh Corfu’ and my costume consisted of a wool three-piece brown suit, felt hat, all finished off with a salt and pepper moustache.  All this on a Corfu summer day promising to be over 40 degrees.  Transformation complete, it is outside for the line-up, the final costume checks for such non 1930’s items as glasses, watches, and sports socks, etc.

Then comes the most important task of the morning, breakfast, again with plenty of coffee – Corfu floats on fresh coffee!!!!  You won’t become a millionaire as a Durrells B/A, but the on-site catering facilities are first rate and the food is seriously delicious.  Breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea are provided, and everyone eats together as a family, from the highest to the lowest, no exceptions.

For an avid Durrells, fan mealtimes are surreal.   Sitting down with Sven, Spyros, Leslie, and Margo, discussing the normal things of life common to all of us, and nothing to do with the day’s work.

8.00 sharp and we are on the set being briefed by the Assistant Director on where our character will fit in to the action.  It could be a bustling market, women shopping or just two men meeting in the street.  We can do anything they wish, except speak or sing.

The production crew are setting up the various props, baskets, pots and boxes, moving the myriad of cables littering the set out of camera shot, and the animal handlers are trying to get a rather reluctant donkey to stop helping itself to the vegetables on a market stall.

“Camera rolling,” shouts the director, then either “Background action!” or “Pame!”, the Greek for go, which is the cue my character.

Once the shot is done he shouts “Cut!”, meaning finished, or “Reset!”, meaning start again.  As there is only one camera to film all the angles needed for the finished programme, I may have to repeat the same thing over and over again.  All this takes a great deal of time, and before you realise it we are off for lunch.

The day of a B/A can be so varied.  I could be someone walking down a village street, a customer in a café reading the morning paper, a passenger getting onto a ferry, or someone buying fish from a local seller.  The possibilities are endless in Durrellsland, and the day is over all too quickly.

Season 1 and Season 2 are available to buy on DVD now.

Season 3 begins at 8pm on Sunday 18 March on ITV in the UK. It will air in the US later this year on PBS.