Extra! Extra!: Cliff Redding’s Life After Journalism

As he makes his way in Hollywood, the former newsman says, "Stay tuned — and don’t blink.”

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Chances are you have seen me — and didn’t know it.

That FBI agent in “Scandal”? Or that surgeon in “Grey’s Anatomy”? Or that cross-dresser in “Transparent?” Or maybe even that cafe patron in “This Is Us”? Yes. That’s me.

In movies, TV shows, commercials and music videos, I am what some would call “an extra” – though we “extras” actually prefer the term “background actor” since we are vital to a scene and not “extra.”

We make the scene come to life. We keep it real. Imagine watching a television show like “Scandal” and the scene is at a bus station, and you only see Kerry Washington talking to another actor. It would not look real with just the two of them there. Or if Denzel Washington is in a restaurant, but there is no one else in the place. No patrons. No wait staff. Nothing.

I am a background actor now, but I was a journalist in another life — a life that changed drastically on July 5, 2011.

Hanging with Anthony Anderson of “Blackish”

I had been a copy editor and page designer since 1991 at newspapers across the country: Newsday, Baltimore Sun, New York Daily News, Virginian-Pilot, Santa Barbara News-Press, Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Daily News. It was a good run, but on that day after Independence Day, it was ending. A couple of hours after the editor of the Los Angeles Daily News had given me my pink slip, I was back in my Sherman Oaks, Calif., apartment trying to figure out my next move. I was lost. I was depressed. I was almost rudderless.

Being on the wrong side of a downsizing is no joke.

I went on unemployment for the first time in my life, and I ended up working as a freelance journalist for a couple of websites, writing and editing stories for the internet; but that was nothing like the days when I was in somebody’s newsroom just about every day. About a year after I was laid off from the Los Angeles Daily News I ran into someone who told me, “You have an ‘interesting’ look.” They did not say “handsome”; they said “interesting.” Then they told me, “You should register with Central Casting and work as an actor.”

So a week or so later, I registered with Central Casting in Burbank; and a couple of days after that, I found myself at Warner Bros. working as a background performer on the CBS sitcom “Two Broke Girls.” I played a homeless man in a soup kitchen on that show – and I had no idea what I was getting into. I prepared for the job by sleeping in the most “homeless-looking” clothes I could find in my closet. I slept in them for two days. I didn’t shower. I didn’t shave. When I got to set, I quickly learned that I didn’t need to prepare the way I did. I also began to see the difference between “real” and “reel.” That was almost five years ago.

Since that first day at Warner Bros., I have appeared on scores of TV shows, in several movies and commercials, and in a handful of music videos. That includes: “Scandal,” “How To Get Away With Murder,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “The People v OJ Simpson: American Crime Story,” “Black-ish,” “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” “Criminal Minds,” “NCIS,” “NCIS: LA,” “Training Day,” “Lethal Weapon,” “Rosewood,” “Code Black,” “Mom,” “Last Man Standing,” “True Blood,” “Law and Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders,” “American Crime Story: Versace,” “Santa Clarita Diet,” “Straight Outta Compton,” “American Sniper,” “Gone Girl,” “This Is Us,” and “Young Sheldon.” It’s been quite a ride and one that I enjoy.

I have written and co-produced a web series, and I’m working on a book, both of which are about some of my adventures in the entertainment business. I even have an IMDB (Internet Movie Database) page: www.imdb.me/cliffredding, where you can see some of the things I’ve worked on. By the end of the year, I should obtain my SAG-AFTRA actors union card, and the roles I’ll play will hopefully be more substantial with higher stakes.

Reinventing oneself takes time. And patience.

Remembering “Benson” (Robert Guillaume) at ABC Studios in Hollywood

From time to time, especially when a breaking news story is unfolding, I find myself missing the excitement of the newsroom. I helped cover some of the most intense stories of the last quarter century, including 9/11, the election of President Barack Obama, O. J. Simpson, Rodney King, the slaying of Amadou Diallo by police in New York City and the Long Island Rail Road massacre. I will always have the utmost respect for the men and women of journalism, some of whom have put themselves in harm’s way and given their lives in order to uncover and report the news. I still write and edit on a freelance basis, but that is nothing like the daily grind of meeting nightly deadlines so the newspaper is ready for that morning commute or cup of coffee — or even the (virtual) shout of, “Extra! Extra!”


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