On Thursday, July 28, 2022, I woke up early and headed to the Royal York Hotel in downtown Toronto for an elaborate b’nai mitzvah party. I was fed multiple meals, snacks were always on offer, I made some new friends and, best of all, I got paid for the privilege. I stayed there for over 14 hours, and then the next day I did it all over again.
No, it wasn’t because the b’nai mitzvah kept screwing up their haftarah. I, along with what seems to be half of Toronto’s Jewish community, was an extra in Adam Sandler’s new movie, You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah, which was released Aug. 25 on Netflix. That’s why I’m only writing this 13 months later, by the way—there was a publication ban until the movie came out.
I’m not sure if this is surprising, but being an extra is pretty boring. My experience consisted mostly of sitting in one of two rooms. On set in the ballroom, I would be in the movie but wasn’t allowed to use my phone and had to carry on conversation in snatches of whispers between takes. Upstairs in the holding room, I could move around, chat, eat, read, use my phone, and make friends, but I wouldn’t be in the movie.
I started that first day super gung-ho, all set to be in the movie as much as possible. But it turns out that sitting around in silence and being forced to repeat your actions every two or three minutes for hours on end is pretty draining. By the second day, I stayed in the holding room as often as I could, hanging out with similarly unenthused extras.
I remember one man who came into the holding room near the end of the second day, having spent the previous 10 hours trying to get on camera as much as possible, and wondering why we hadn’t all done the same. At the time, I was happy with my choices. A year later though, having only made it into two blurry frames of the movie, I feel a bit of regret that I hadn’t been more of a ham.
The pay was a bit over $400 per day, but union members made more, and a lot more for each hour of overtime. They also had special privileges, most notably getting to eat first at all the meals because their collective bargaining agreement said they had to eat by a certain time.
Also, to the question you’re all wondering about, the answer is yes—I did speak to Adam Sandler. It was a pretty innocuous exchange. Back in Grade 8 at United Synagogue Day School, there was a rumour that our science teacher, who hailed from New York, had taught Adam Sandler. And not only taught, but actually inspired one of his famous early sketches in which he crank calls his math teacher.
I was standing on the dance floor between takes when Sandler walked by, so I knew I had to seize my chance. I quickly caught his attention and asked him if he’d ever had a teacher named Mr. Szpindel. He said no, but told me that he did have family members with that last name, and wondered if that’s what I was thinking of. It was a brief interaction, but even so he seemed patient and kind during it.
I wasn’t the only person to speak to him. One woman that I sat next to for multiple scenes noticed that all the signs and posters on set were advertising “Devin’s B’nai Mitzvah.” In the Hebrew, B’nai is the plural for multiple bar or bat mitzvahs, so it doesn’t make sense when referring to a singular event (some of you may have noticed that apparent mistake in the opening sentence of this column).
When the woman sitting next to me noticed it, she decided to mention it to Sandler, who said he appreciated the note. However, when she shared it with me, I pointed out that they may have called it a b’nai mitzvah because they didn’t want to gender it, the same way some people choose to use the pronoun “they” instead of “he” or “she”.
The woman went back to check with Sandler, and he confirmed that was in fact the case. She apologized for trying to correct him, but he brushed it off by saying something like, “don’t worry, I can’t keep up with this stuff either.” Again, a minor interaction, but he seemed to be gracious throughout.
On my last stint on set at the end of the second day, I made friends with a producer about my age. She was an American Jew, I think from California, and we spent the last few hours chatting between takes. I learned a lot about how the film industry works, but I hardly remember anything that she told me.
There is one thing I do remember, though. Sandler’s Netflix movie Hustle had premiered about two months before filming, and it starred Spanish NBA player Juancho Hernangomez as undiscovered basketball prospect Bo Cruz.
On the first day of filming, July 28, Hernangomez signed with the Toronto Raptors, and everyone on social media and in the city was referring to him as Bo Cruz. My producer friend told me that had made Sandler very happy.
Looking back, it was a fun and educational experience, although perhaps a little more tiresome than I expected, and for that reason not something I’m looking to repeat. But I got to point to my blurry self in a frozen frame on Netflix and retell the story of my single exchange with Adam Sandler over a dozen times now, so it was definitely worth trying once.