PORTSMOUTH — Someone else had to tell Kim Kekligian Stamoulis that she was in a major Hollywood film.
A friend went on her Facebook page on Jan. 18: “Watching the movie ‘Patriots Day’ and Adam and I swear we saw you in it.”
Indeed, the Portsmouth resident plays an FBI agent in the new Mark Wahlberg movie about the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. She can be glimpsed in the scene depicting the raid on suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s dorm.
But Kim hadn’t mentioned the movie to many people and, at the time of her friend’s post, she hadn’t even seen it.
“A bunch of people started chiming in,” recalled Kim. “(Two friends) went and both texted me Sunday night, Monday morning saying, ‘Oh my God, we saw you.’ I don’t know how close up it is, how long I was on — probably a second, two seconds — but enough where people recognized me.”
That’s the life of an extra. Sometimes you have a few fleeting moments on screen, other times you’re relegated to the cutting room floor. For the “40-something” Portsmouth High School graduate who’s been working as a movie extra or stand-in for several years now, just being recognized is a triumph.
The other side of the coin is what happened to her minor role as a nurse in the critically acclaimed “Manchester by the Sea,” starring Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams.
“On ‘Manchester,’ I was a featured nurse, which means you’re a featured extra with only a few other extras on the scene,” she said. “I thought, this is going to be cool to be seen with Casey Affleck. It was a scene in the hospital and all I was doing was walking around the corner as he’s talking to the doctor.”
Unfortunately, the sequence that made the final cut didn’t show her best side.
“You see the back of my head going the other way,” she said with a laugh.
Kim doesn’t get upset about a lack of screen time, however, as the job’s rewards outweigh any disappointments.
“I’ve met Meryl Streep, Denzel Washington, Ellie Kemper — she’s the ‘Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.’ I’ve met a lot of interesting people doing this and I’ve met some terrific friends,” said Kim, who’s worked on more than 20 films at this point. Besides the two recent ones already mentioned, she’s also worked on “Hope Springs,” “The Equalizer,” “Polka King,” “Grown Ups 2” and “Joy.”
“There’s a couple of different types of background work. There’s the extra work on ‘Patriots’ Day,’ but there’s also stand-in work. That’s where they try to find a person who fits the description of the star. In ‘The Equalizer,’ I was Melissa Leo’s stand-in for three days,” she said of the actor who won an Oscar for best supporting actress for her role in “The Fighter.”
That Kim doesn’t actually resemble the much-older Ms. Leo didn’t hurt her chances. “They kind of go for hair color, and my hair color at the time matched hers, and I was her same height,” she said.
Generous with their time
For the most part, the actors she’s worked with — even those who have been honored at the Academy Awards — have been anything but snooty toward her.
“Melissa Leo was wonderful,” she said. “You’re not supposed to talk to the actors unless they speak to you first. But one night, I asked her, ‘Do you mind if I stay and watch?’ It was a small scene, with no extras. She said, ‘Yes, please do.’”
Not only that, Ms. Leo took the time to share some acting tips with Kim afterwards. “She came over to me and said, ‘Did you see how slowly I went down when I sat in the chair?’ She was very generous.”
Kim said she’s never been starstruck — except for one time. “Only one time did I feel I was in the presence of greatness and that was Meryl Streep,” Kim said of her time working on “Hope Springs,” the 2012 romantic comedy that also starred Tommy Lee Jones and Steve Carell. During a break, Ms. Streep “started chitchatting” with her and others.
“She was really friendly. It was amazing to watch her; it’s not even acting,” she said.
Kim was hired to be a stand-in in that film for Elisabeth Shue, but ended up being an extra as a bartender. “I can see me in the movie because I know where to look, but nobody else can,” she said.
In the Jack Black comedy, “The Polka King,” Kim was featured in a scene where she sits closely to the “School of Rock” star, whom she said had a down-to-earth personality. “Jack Black seemed like a really fun guy just to have around,” she said.
Kim isn’t looking to win any Oscars, saying she’s just happy to finally have a chance to pursue her dream of being on the big screen. She taught history and math at Portsmouth High School from 1993 to 2002, but never stopped thinking about a serious career in acting.
“I did theater when I was growing up, but I didn’t have the opportunity to do this because I was working, or I had these crazy kids,” added the single mom of three. (Peter, 17, attends PHS; Sam, 13, goes to the middle school; and Kathryn, 12, is at St. Philomena School.)
After deciding the kids were old enough for her to step out more, Kim became a member of the Screen Actors Guild and started pursuing work through casting companies such as Slate Casting, Boston Casting and CP Casting, all in Boston; as well as LDI Casting in Rhode Island.
She started small to get her foot in the door. “You learn your way around, you learn the etiquette, and then they get to know you — ‘Hey, she’s punctual,’ ’She always signs up.’ Then they might, like they did in my case, invite you to a national open call for a Dunkin’ Donuts commercial,” she said.
Transitioning from theater to the big screen was a challenge, she said, noting that stage actors must project their voice more and exaggerate their expressions to “reach the back audience.”
“I’m very animated on the stage and very animated in real life. I’ve really had to work on bringing everything down (for the screen),” she said.
She’s glad to have done so much theater, however, because it helped prepare her for the often-stressful world of auditioning.
“Auditioning in itself is a skill and I do like it, especially if you have a character and you can build something. But I do get nervous and that’s the one thing can kill an audition,” she said. “When I auditioned for ‘Chappaquiddick,’ I got the script right there, the minute before I went on. You don’t have a lot of time.” (The drama about the fatal 1969 car accident that derailed Ted Kennedy’s political career is expected to be released this year.)
Besides taking acting classes in Boston — she hopes to do the same in New York City soon — Kim plans on taking “that next step” and get more serious about auditioning. She also plans on getting some scripts together and pursue student films, which could lead to other things.
And, she’d love to get her first speaking role.
“I just want a commercial, or a line or two in a movie. I had to wait a little bit for my kids to get older. It’s hard to juggle,” said Kim.
“I just really would like my children to be proud — for them to see that it’s never too late to go about pursuing your dreams.”