Robert Carley once viewed Hollywood from the seat in a movie theater.
Now, after years of working in the corporate world at U.S. Smokeless Tobacco, the longtime Darien resident has left that life behind to be on set with some of Hollywood's biggest names.
All it took was an answer to an email and Carley found himself on the set with Tommy Lee Jones and Meryl Streep in "Great Hope Springs," in what he described as "three beautiful days" of work as a background actor. On set he spoke with others and, to his surprise, found that people made a living doing this sort of work.
A connection to New York Casting led to more jobs, like the "Good Wife," which led to more conversations and more connections with more casting companies.
Eventually, what was at first a way to make some money after leaving a long-running corporate career turned into a full-time job working alongside major names like Jennifer Aniston, Tom Cruise, Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin.
"I've been in a marathon; I've been running all over the place," Carley said.
He portrayed roles that come naturally to him: A school administrator, a businessman, a photographer.
He was cast as a school administrator for a scene that was filmed at Manhattanville College, where years ago he actually was a school administrator.
The scene was shot on the same floor where he worked.
Carley's newfound passion has led to a change in the way he watches movies.
"Now when I watch a movie, I look at the background people," Carley said. "I look at the choreography; nothing is done by chance."
Acting is not new to Carley, however. In college, he and some friends played Harvard students in the movie "A Small Circle of Friends."
"I wish I had kept doing it," Carley said. "I wish I had kept up with it. But I'm a Christian, so I believe everything is done in God's timing."
Art is all about expression, a way to release emotions through other available mediums such as photography, drawing and acting, all of which Carley does.
"I love drawing; it's very therapeutic," Carley said. "I love to express myself. When you're pushing papers in a company, you really have that creative outburst on the weekend. I look forward to and just can't wait to draw."
Carley also draws caricatures of celebrities and includes some of their one-liners and gives them as gifts.
What some may consider to be an interesting life is not out of the norm for Carley's family; he comes from a line of diplomats and accomplished writers.
"I have a very interesting family background and I want to live up to that, I guess, subconsciously," Carley said.
For now, Carley will continue working on the sets as a background actor, hoping to move up through the ranks to achieve a speaking role.
Competition for roles can be fierce, and he's not the only one who had the idea to get into acting after leaving corporate life.
"Right now, with the economy, there are more people like me getting into this who can't get jobs and who end up doing the background actor to make some money," Carley said, adding that the business is more competitive, considering unemployment rates and the fight for roles against other actors.
"I'm pinching myself," he said. "How did I end up here?"