Cape Elizabeth native Kendall Cooper has been building a career as a casting director, working behind the scenes to find extras to fill the scenes of TV shows and films, including Showtime’s ‘Homeland.’

There are days when Kendall Cooper’s primary task is to find 100 people who look good in uniform.

As the extras casting director on the Showtime spy thriller series “Homeland,” Cooper has to pore over photographs of people who look like cops or soldiers, sometimes for scenes where dozens of uniformed extras will serve as background for the main action. If it’s a military awards ceremony, she needs people who are the right age and look for a certain rank, say a captain or a general. If she can find ex-military people who know how to salute and stand properly, that would be ideal.

Claire Danes as Carrie Mathison and Mandy Patinkin as Saul Berenson in the Showtime series “Homeland.” Kendall Cooper is in charge of casting extras for the series, and cast her parents for a scene in Sunday’s season finale. Photo by Antony Platt/Courtesy of Showtime

“It’s creatively satisfying to find out what the director is looking for and make it all come together,” said Cooper, 27, who grew up in Cape Elizabeth. “If it’s a 100-person military day, I’ll go to set and see the filming, because weeks of work has gone into it. When I hear the director is happy, I go back to my computer and start all over again.”

Cooper’s work casting extras is a seldom-publicized but crucial component of film and TV production. She started a few years ago as a casting assistant, helping to find people who looked like Civil War-era nurses, soldiers or bystanders for the PBS drama “Mercy Street.” She worked as extras casting director for the 2016 film “Loving,” set largely in the 1960s, and was extras casting director for the AMC series “Turn: Washington’s Spies,” about Revolutionary War espionage.

She’s been working on “Homeland,” the critically acclaimed series dealing with terrorist threats, this year as it films on location in Richmond, Virginia, a less-crowded stand-in for Washington, D.C. Like most people, Cooper’s parents have little idea about all that goes into casting background players for a major film or TV show. So Cooper decided earlier this year to use them – Jennifer and Craig Cooper of Cape Elizabeth – in an episode. That episode is the season finale, airing at 9 p.m. Sunday. Cooper’s parents play “political types” standing in a government corridor as principle actors stroll by.

Matthew Servitto as Agent Maslin and Mandy Patinkin as Saul Berenson in the Showtime series “Homeland.” Cape Elizabeth native Kendall Cooper is in charge of casting extras for the series. Photo by Antony Platt/Showtime

“I was completely amazed at the amount of detail they put into it. They put a little flag pin on Craig’s lapel, and I doubt if anyone would be able to see that,” said Jennifer Cooper, who runs The Yoga Center on Forest Avenue in Portland. “We were there for five hours for a scene that maybe lasts three to five seconds. So much goes into it.”

A DESIRE TO ACT

Cooper decided as a teenager at Cape Elizabeth High School that she wanted to act. She credits longtime theater director Richard Mullen with helping her discover her passion for acting. She was in a production of “Almost Maine” by Maine playwright and actor John Cariani, who saw the production, and Cooper’s performance, and said he liked it.

“That made me realize it was more than a high school hobby for me,” said Cooper.

She went to Syracuse University to study acting. As part of her course there, she spent a semester in New York City, studying with agents, casting directors and others in the entertainment industry. She felt that learning about all that goes into a film or theater production, besides what an actor brings, would give her a leg up.

But then she graduated and moved to New York City. She worked in restaurants while going to countless auditions. She learned that, though New York City always seemed like a romantic place to her, a place that actors went to, she really didn’t love the traffic, crowds and other big-city headaches.

“I had waited my whole life to be in New York City. Then I started to realize that path was not for me, and that was hard,” said Cooper. “I wasn’t willing to spend 10 years being unhappy before getting my first job, which happens to people in acting.”

So she traveled the country and found work helping to put on festivals, including music festivals in California and Colorado. She found that she liked the logistics of putting a festival on, of doing all the little behind-the-scenes things that help the performers sound great and the crowd have a good time.

Working at festivals also helped her discover that she still wanted to be in entertainment, just not as an actor.

She started thinking about jobs she might apply for and heard about a new PBS drama series, “Mercy Street,” produced by Cape Elizabeth filmmaker Lisa Wolfinger.

Cooper knew Wolfinger’s children from school and decided to send her a resume. When she first applied, there were no openings. But she kept in touch with the production and eventually heard there was a job as an extras casting assistant, basically helping the person in charge of casting extras.

“Mercy Street” was a medical drama set during the Civil War and focused on volunteer nurses from both sides working at a hospital in Alexandria, Virginia. It debuted in January 2016, in the vaunted Sunday night slot on PBS, and ran for two seasons.

The series was filmed in Richmond, Virginia, so Cooper moved there for her job. On “Mercy Street,” she learned the importance of finding people to fit costumes. Often the size of Confederate or Union uniforms available dictated who could be hired.

“We had to pay attention to facial hair and hair length too,” Cooper said.

While learning about casting on “Mercy Street,” she also did a lot of paperwork, helping the extras get paid, for instance.

Being in Richmond turned out to be lucky for Cooper, as the city has become a popular filming location. The film “Loving” came to town, as did “Turn: Washington’s Spies.” And Cooper got jobs casting extras with both.

Sometimes she’d be tasked with finding people to play small roles, even with a few lines. “Loving” was based on a real-life couple whose challenge of Virginia’s law against interracial marriage reached the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1960s. Part of Cooper’s job was to find people who sort of matched people seen in pictures or old video of Mildred and Richard Loving and their family.

Mandy Patinkin as Saul Berenson in the Showtime series “Homeland.” Photo by Antony Platt/Showtime

When the popular Showtime series “Homeland” began filming in Richmond last year, the production team hired Cooper to cast extras.

“Homeland” is a spy thriller, with lots of action involving government agents, soldiers and law enforcement. Basically, you can see Cooper’s work in any scene where lots of folks are standing or running around – cops, soldiers, the CIA – but none of them speak.

The show focuses on Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes), a CIA officer with bipolar disorder. It is in it’s seventh season.

SEEING HOW MUCH GOES ON

Because hundreds of extras are used in “Homeland,” Cooper doesn’t have time to see all interested parties in person. She puts out calls for extras online and in local newspapers, looks at a lot of pictures, and emails them for measurements or with other questions.

She has to consider things like the fact that people in the Navy have different haircuts than people in the Marines. She casts people who look like they could be senators or high-tech experts or police. If an extra has experience holding a gun, that’s a plus.

For the season finale of “Homeland,” Cooper’s parents got to play political big shots standing in a government hallway.

They had to stand at their posts for five hours while different camera angles were considered and the scene was rehearsed many times, with stand-ins filling in for the principal actors.

Being from Maine, Cooper’s parents pretended they were Maine’s senators, Angus King and Susan Collins.

Jennifer Cooper said she walked past a bin full of hundreds of pairs of black shoes worn by people who played Secret Service members. She was also surprised by how many crew members are just out of camera range, maybe a couple dozen or more, when a scene is being shot.

Craig Cooper, who is a builder and owns Rainbow Construction, noticed that what appeared to be woodwork in the hallway where they were filming was actually contact paper. Also, outside were giant spotlights aimed into the windows so that the scene would look like it was taking place during the day, even though it was filmed at night.

“I was surprised by all of it. Frankly, I had no idea what went on behind the scenes,” Craig Cooper said of his time as an extra. “Now I have a new appreciation for the end credits, when you see all the names of everyone that worked on it.” Cooper said she loves what she’s doing, especially working with directors and producers and helping them achieve their overall vision for a show or film. She recently worked on the film “Krystal,’ which was directed by actor William H. Macy.

“He was awesome to work with, so funny and sweet,” said Cooper of Macy. “He plays his ukulele on set.”

Cooper will continue to look for casting director jobs, but wouldn’t mind working in other facets of production some day.

She said she was happy her parents enjoyed their time as extras. She really wanted them to see what she does, up close.

“My parents have been so supportive of everything I’ve done, so I was thrilled that they got the chance to be part of it,” she said.

Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

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Twitter: @RayRouthier

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