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Hard-Working Hollywood Extra Hopes For Bigger Roles

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Each week, Weekend Edition Sunday host Rachel Martin brings listeners an unexpected side of the news by talking with someone personally affected by the stories making headlines.

By his own account, Jesse Heiman is one of the hardest working actors in Hollywood. It's easy to believe he might be right, as Heiman has appeared as an extra in more than 100 films and television shows, including The Social Network and Knocked Up. But his big break came during Super Bowl XLVII, when he starred in a racy commercial for domain name registry GoDaddy.

Heiman moved to Hollywood in the early 2000s with high hopes of becoming a star. "I had the dreams of being like Michael J. Fox in Back to the Future, or Indiana Jones. I really wanted to work with Steven Spielberg," Heiman tells NPR's Rachel Martin. "I thought he would be my key to everything."

Sure enough, within just a few months of living in Los Angeles, Heiman was an extra on the film Catch Me If You Can. "Spielberg himself actually came up and gave me some direction," telling Heiman to stick his face further into a book. Sure, it meant he wanted less of Heiman in the shot, but, says Heiman, "he must've found me, and that's great. From then on, I feel like my career just took off."

Being on-set on big movies with big stars "is just another job," says Heiman, though he acknowledges that may sound funny to people who don't work in Hollywood. "For every leading actor and actress there's 100 to thousands of extras behind them in every scene. We're more part of the film than the main actors sometimes."

The GoDaddy commercial, in which Heiman plays a nerd opposite supermodel Bar Rafaeli, was a turning point for him. "I went for a normal casting for this ... and there was someone that kissed all the guys that day," he remembers. "I was lucky enough to be the first one in. I think that was the key because she remembered me better than she remembered all the others' kissing, and said I was the best kisser."

There was some backlash to the ad, but Heiman has no regrets. "I just like to be the guy that's the geek that got the girl that year," he says. "I like to think everybody has a chance if you just have the confidence to go for it."

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