By Emma Carroll (nee Solly) and Natalie and Justin Roberts

We started to receive callbacks asking for our availability for filming (always at short notice), and thus began the start of our experience as TV extras. 

Who would have thought that four months into living in Penang we would have the opportunity to be part of a TV production being filmed entirely in our new home! When the casting call came out in an ARC community email we were quick to make the call, and found ourselves at the production office being measured and photographed to be fitted for 1930s British attire. We started to receive callbacks asking for our availability for filming (always at short notice), and thus began the start of our experience as TV extras.

Justin was the first to score screen time in April when the production was filming on Armenian Street. It was a very long, hot day that gave a better appreciation of what goes into making a TV series.

And then, a star was born! Emma’s son Edward (then approx nine months old) was unexpectedly cast as Baby Percy, the child of one of the main actors. Emma and Edward got to experience the true life of a TV star – whenever Edward was required for filming, a driver was sent to collect them and take them to set. The star treatment continued with such luxuries as a personal wardrobe assistant, access to the green room and a man holding an umbrella to keep the sun off whenever required. Disappointingly, his first day in May was spent waiting in the jungle near Ayer Itam Dam. They returned the following day when he gained his first piece of acting experience, riding in a horse-drawn (ute-drawn) carriage with his screen mum and other cast members. Meanwhile, the extras including Justin spent 12 hours on set for only five minutes worth of filming. Edward also took part in filming at Woodside Bungalow on Penang Hill (beautifully restored in 1930s character from a state of dilapidation) and the Botanical Gardens in June and July.

Not to be outdone by his brother, Emma’s other son William was required for three days of filming in early July at the Crag Hotel on Penang Hill (also restored for this production), as was his mum Emma. Justin also returned with Natalie, Nathaniel and Noah. And what a loooong three days on Penang Hill they were!

Emma and Nat took longer in hair and makeup due to the fitting of wigs, and it was nice to sit in front of a lit mirror having your makeup done. And then we waited…Once we were called on set, filming involved a lot of resetting back to the start, again and again. Rolling…and action! Cut! Back to one! While the children behaved, the weather did not as the fog and rain rolled in. The second day was stinking hot, and the last day ended with a bang when the bench that Nat, Justin and two other extras were sitting on for a dinner scene collapsed underneath them. We’ll be looking for that in the outtakes!

Unfortunately we were not always able to say yes due to other commitments, but we returned for another two days the following week. Sadly, Edward has outgrown his role and has been replaced by a younger baby, so for now his TV career is on hold.

We have enjoyed developing great camaraderie with other expat extras, and seeing how it is all done. Nat’s highlight was singing about Antonio and his ice cream cart with Julie Walters, who she loved in Mamma Mia.

Indian Summers is an original 10-part TV drama series about the final years of British colonial rule in India. It is a coproduction between UK Channel 4 and PBS in the US. It has been pitched as a Downton Abbey-style drama in which Channel 4 says “the stories of promises, secrets, politics, power, sex and love play out”. Indian Summers starts on Australia’s ABC TV this Saturday night.

Edward Carroll (nine months) and his screen mum, Jemima West, who plays the character Alice Whelan on set.
Edward Carroll (nine months) and his screen mum, Jemima West, who plays the character Alice Whelan on set.