Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 29, 2012

By Katie Scarvey
It wasn’t Rick Anderson McCombs’ idea to send his photo off to the casting director of “Homeland,” a Showtime series filming in Charlotte. The owner of Sidewalk Deli, Rick wasn’t particularly interested.
“I’m not gonna do that,” he told his friend. “I’m too busy.”
But when the show called wanting to hire him as an extra, he found he couldn’t say no. And he also couldn’t say no later when he got a call asking if he’d be in “The Hunger Games.”
He’d only heard of the Suzanne Collins books when he signed on to be an extra. “I read ‘Entertainment Weekly’ so I don’t have to read books or watch TV,” he joked.
Rick spent a weekend last summer filming at the old Philip Morris plant in Concord, with only about a six-hour break Friday night to sleep.
It was a grueling few days. “We were supposed to look tired and malnourished, and after that filming schedule, we all did,” Rick says, laughing.
Although Gary Ross directed “The Hunger Games,” Steven Soderbergh shot the scenes Rick was in.
Soderbergh — who directed “Ocean’s Eleven” — has explained that he owed a favor to Ross, who has likewise helped Soderbergh out on occasion.
Cast as one of the villagers in District 11, Rick got to react to Rue’s name being selected in the reaping. He also got to react to the television footage beamed back to District 11 that showed Katniss and Peeta in the forest during the games getting a drop shipment of soup for winning a challenge.
Soderbergh did 17 takes of that scene, Rick says.
The other scene involved District 11’s uprising. “The four of us (extras) got put in behind the stunt guys,” Rick says. The stunt people were being shot with water cannons and blasted with wind machines to simulate a hovercraft landing, Rick said.
The whole experience, he said, was “truly great fun.
“I wasn’t expecting to have so much fun or to make friends,” he said.
He got to see Woody Harrelson, who has a major role in the film, along with Harrelson’s high-profile bus, which features rainbows and unicorns and is fitted with solar panels, Rick said.
Security was very high. When it was discovered that one extra in Rick’s group had sent a Tweet about the shoot, in violation of the rules that had been laid out, she was told to leave immediately.
When Rick got home, the first thing he did was buy the “Hunger Games” books.
He read the first book in the trilogy that Monday, in about four hours — which helped him put his scenes in context.
And now, Rick has a truly epic souvenir of “The Hunger Games,” thanks to his friend Jason Williams.
Jason was driving near Pfeiffer University one day and noticed a huge stone bench sitting outside of Lloyd’s Antiques.
He stopped and asked the owner about it and was told that it had been flown in from California to be used on the set of “The Hunger Games.” He called Rick and sent him a photo of the bench on his phone.
After being in the movie, Rick knew he simply had to have it, so he gave Jason his credit card number and Jason bought the 3,000-pound bench for him. It came in pieces.
“It took three guys and a stonemason to put it together in my backyard,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
When he bought it, Rick had no idea if it would be visible in the film. But now he knows that his bench didn’t land on the cutting room floor. In a trailer for the movie, there are images of President Snow (Donald Sutherland) and Seneca Crane (Wes Bentley) sitting on the bench and talking about the dangers of hope: on the bench.
Rick says he might be more excited about seeing his bench in the movie than seeing himself.