Tales from the Movie Set: Background Actors Get Their Close-Up

Middletown resident Susan Kyrillos plays the role of a jury forewoman in the film “Miran- da’s Victim,” a Navesink River Productions being filmed in the Two River area.
Middletown resident Susan Kyrillos plays the role of a jury forewoman in the film “Miranda’s Victim,” a Navesink River Productions being filmed in the Two River area. Courtesy George Kolber

By Judy O’Gorman Alvarez

MIDDLETOWN – Susan Kyrillos has played many roles in her life, including principal of her business development and public affairs consulting firm, counselor to the president of Monmouth University, board member and trustee of various nonprofits, mother of two and wife of former senator Joe Kyrillos. But a film extra – or “BG” for background, as she recently learned the lingo – on a movie set was a new one for her.

“It was really an honor to be included,” she said of the chance to play the jury forewoman on the film “Miranda’s Victim,” the Navesink River Productions project currently being filmed in the Two River area.

“I didn’t know the background of the story,” she said, but credits producer George Kolber, his family and the team at Navesink River Productions for bringing the story to the public’s attention through film.

“I think it’s important to understand about Trish Weir and the story. Usually the laws are named after the victims, such as Megan’s Law,” she noted, not after the perpetrator.

But the now ubiquitous Miranda Warning, which gives those arrested the right to remain silent and have an attorney, was named after convicted rapist Ernesto Miranda who, in 1963, kidnapped and raped Weir. “Miranda rights have been the law of the land since 1967, which is a good law. And it makes sense, but you never really thought about who Miranda was until now,” Kyrillos said. The film, written by Kolber and J. Craig Stiles, tells the story of Weir and the legal system she became embroiled in.

“I think this is going to be interesting to see how the public reacts to the film,” Kyrillos said.

“Miranda’s Victim” has been filming in the Two River area since May. Kyrillos was impressed by the detail and professionalism of everyone she came in contact with – the crew, the cast and everyone involved.

“I think it is really wonderful to see how they pay attention and, in a very real way, make sure all the details on the set are the same as it was the day before,” she said.

Happy times at the jail as local faces appear as extras during the filming of “Miranda’s Victim.”
Happy times at the jail as local faces appear as extras during the filming of “Miranda’s Victim.” Courtesy George Kolber

The basement of St. Mary’s Church on Cherry Tree Farm Road in the New Monmouth section of Middletown was the headquarters for hair and makeup – “HMU” as Kyrillos learned. The hairstylist did her hair four times to get the era-appropriate bouffant.

To dress the part of a woman in the 1960s, Kyrillos was given two outfits options and chose a brown dress. Then the wardrobe person told her: “You need to have a sweater. The dress would be great, but it was the 1960s.” So a cardigan completed the ensemble. “And, of course, they found a hat for me.”

Fully dressed, extras were shuttled over to Middletown’s municipal complex on Kings Highway for shooting.

Kyrillos’ acting career –so far– consisted of two days, both of them spent filming in the courtroom at Middletown’s former municipal building. The old building, replaced by new construction, fit the bill for a ’60s-style courtroom. It was officially closed last month when employees moved next door into the new building. After filming is complete, the older building is slated to be demolished.

“I’ve never been on a movie set and so to see how they bring reality into that room, and made it feel real, that was really powerful,” she said.

At one point she heard the camera operators filming from behind her discussing how they wanted to include her shoulder in the shot. She appreciated the chance to see the world through a camera operator’s eyes.

Kyrillos said she also enjoyed getting to know the other extras, including a gentleman from Union Beach whose second career is as an extra – or “BG” for background actor – in films.

“He taught me all these words that are used in the business,” she said.

“There are quite a few professionals right in that jury box. And so it was interesting for me to be able to talk to them and see what their life is like.” She met a woman who was once a stand-in for Bernadette Peters, and others who are the same build as an actor on this film. The stand-in’s job is to literally stand where the actor will during a scene so the camera operator can set up the shot with appropriate lighting and other details.

Susan and Joe Kyrillos in Hair and Makeup preparing for their scenes in the film.
Susan and Joe Kyrillos in Hair and Makeup preparing for their scenes in the film. Courtesy George Kolber

Although Kyrillos says she was not starstruck working in the same room with celebrities like Luke Wilson, who plays the prosecuting attorney, and Andy Garcia, who plays the defense attorney, she was impressed with the professionalism of all the actors and team members on set, including the interactions between actors, like when Garcia and Wilson worked together with the director Michelle Danner to tweak a scene.

“It was nice to see them working together.”

The presiding judge was played by veteran actor and Two River-area familiar face Michael Mulheren, who has appeared in film, TV and theater, including in “Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark” on Broadway and as a judge many times on “Law and Order.” Mulheren is a longtime friend of Kyrillos and her husband and teased her before her time on set. “When I had to walk out the verdict, he said ‘don’t trip.’ ”

Everyone from the big name actors to the crew were wonderful to work with, Kyrillos said. “They were very focused on what they were trying to do, (but) there were moments of humor, of course.”

“I think we get to go to the theater and enjoy a movie or watch a movie at home, but never realize the hard work that goes into it,” Kyrillos said. “I was astounded by the seriousness of the actors to portray what they’re trying to portray. They’re really working hard at their craft. They are trying to make sure that it works and that they’re not wasting anybody’s time.”

Kyrillos also said she likes what movie production brings to the Two River area and what this movie in particular will bring to audiences.

“I love what George is doing for our area and what he’s doing, I think, with this movie. He’s telling the story from the victim’s perspective. I think that’s really powerful and interesting.”

This article originally appeared in the June 16 – 22, 2022 print edition of The Two River Times.