When life hands you Lemmon
When Daniel Island’s Derrick Lemmon sits down to enjoy the latest Netflix drama, HBO series or other big name production filmed in the Charleston area, he can feel the anticipation building. But it’s not just the plotline or the familiar Lowcountry scenery that he’s excited about, it’s knowing he played a role in the action.
Lemmon, who has a full-time career in sales, began working on local movie and TV show sets about two years ago. First as an extra or background actor and later as a stand-in for seasoned actors such as Brendan Gleeson, John Goodman and Charles Esten. Last year, he was given his first speaking role.
“The only way I can explain being on set is it’s like somebody going to Disney for the first time,” said Lemmon. “It’s absolutely electric. Everybody is moving, there is no standing still. To watch that magic go on behind the scenes is just incredible.”
It all began in 2017, when he learned that a local production company, Rough House Pictures, was going to be developing a new version of the movie “Halloween” in Charleston, along with Blumhouse Productions. Even though he had no previous acting experience or training, Lemmon knew he had to be involved.
“Me being a big original ‘Halloween’ fan, I said, I’ve got to figure out how I can be an extra in this!”
Lemmon’s wife, Michele, had a colleague who put him in touch with the casting company. He signed up as an extra and got the casting call in January 2018. Lemmon showed up at Johnson Hagood Stadium downtown on a Friday night to wait out his scene, which would take place in a nearby neighborhood.
“They called us to set about 4 a.m.,” he recalled. “We filmed our scene, which in the movie takes place on the front porch of a neighbor’s house, and we’re actually comforting the actress Andi Matichak, because someone is chasing her.”
Lemmon called the experience “exhilarating” and still remembers the ride home from the set that morning.
“I was driving over the Ravenel Bridge and the sun was coming up and I just thought to myself, what a neat experience!”
From that point on, he was hooked. Next he did some commercial work with actor Danny McBride, co-founder of Rough House Pictures. Also in 2018, he signed on to be an extra in another Charleston drama — “Mr. Mercedes” — which is based on a Stephen King trilogy and produced by AT&T Audience Network. He played a detective and on one occasion, toward the end of Season 2, was asked to stand in for main character Bill Hodges, played by Brendan Gleeson, whose screen credits include the Harry Potter films, “Mission Impossible II,” and “Braveheart.”
Stand-ins do just that – stand in for main actors so that lighting and camera angles can be adjusted prior to the shooting of the scene.
“A stand-in is probably the highest or the most respected role that’s non-union,” explained Lemmon. “We work for the director of photography and the director.”
His next project was the HBO comedy “The Righteous Gemstones,” which was filmed in the area and the first season debuted in August 2019. Lemmon was a stand-in for actor John Goodman, but also had another memorable experience when he was asked to read lines with Goodman’s co-star Walt Goggins.
“He improvised a lot … and I was trying to go off the script!” said Lemmon. “I think the world of Walt Goggins. I think he’s one of the best actors out there today.”
That same year, Lemmon returned to “Mr. Mercedes,” where he was a stand-in for actor Gabriel Ebert during Season 3. But one week, when Ebert wasn’t on set, Lemmon was tapped to serve as an extra during a scene shooting at Burton’s Grill in Mount Pleasant. But after he arrived, director Jack Bender’s daughter, Hannah, who worked in wardrobe for the production, shared some exciting news.
“She said, ‘You’re gonna do good tonight,’” he recalled with a grin. “‘We’re gonna upgrade you to a speaking role!’”
Lemmon ended up playing the role of a bartender and had to converse with both Gleeson and actor Glynn Turman for the scene. He credits director Jack Bender for believing in him and giving him the opportunity.
“He thought enough of me to throw me out there and see what I could do!” said Lemmon. “… It was a great experience. I did not sleep that night! I was very excited about it.”
He was at the location for a total of eight hours that day — and the bar scene was only on screen for a total of 3 minutes and 38 seconds in the actual episode. But many in the film industry know there is a tremendous amount of prep time and waiting on set.
“When you’re on set, your minimum day is 12 hours,” added Lemmon. “I’ve been on set for 18 hours before in one day … I don’t think people realize how much work goes into a production.”
Lemmon is a firm believer in exhibiting proper set etiquette at all times. For him, that means being polite, respectful, and early. Nicknamed “Never Late Lemmon,” he always arrives an hour and 15 minutes before his call time.
“You have to remember, each time that clock is running on a production set, that’s somebody’s money,” he said.
Lemmon also worked on the Netflix teen coming-of-age drama “Outer Banks” last summer, serving as a stand-in for main character Ward Cameron, played by Charles Esten. He was also an extra during some of the law enforcement scenes. The show debuted in April of this year and hit No. 1 in the U.S. the next month.
Lemmon was asked to be part of another big project last fall starring actor Russell Crowe, but the scene he was set to film was scrapped due to Crowe’s need to return to his native Australia during the wildfire crisis. Although heartbroken at the missed opportunity, Lemmon does have a new production in the works — one he calls his “biggest speaking role” yet. He can’t disclose the specifics, but said it’s a short film by a “big name horror writer.”
With all that’s happened in the last two years, Lemmon sometimes can’t believe the trajectory his life has taken. As for where it all goes from here, the best advice he’s been given came from award-winning actor Kevin Bacon, whom he met last July.
“I asked Kevin, ‘When did you know you made it?’” said Lemmon. “He said … ‘I just don’t feel like I made it because the next great opportunity is right around the corner.’”
“I think, especially right now, the best is yet to come.”
But even if it all ended today, Lemmon wouldn’t have any regrets.
“If it stopped tomorrow, I’ve got my journal that I kept, I’ve got my memories, and hey, I can turn on the TV sometimes and see myself … I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I’m the luckiest guy in the world.”