I have spoken to a bunch of people, I have read the articles in the trades and I find the whole idea of "background" fraught with opinions. Some actors and experts say not to do it, some say they will not do it, others say go ahead and do it and still others suggest doing "some".
Personally, I am currently of the opinion, if the work is there, take it. I have recently decided to take background work for several reasons. One reason... I need to maintain my health insurance and pension fund. With this past years Affordable Care Act increases, it was apparent to me that the best and only choice I had for health insurance was through my union and this coverage was not just going to happen, I was going to need to maintain my salary minimums and contributions. As many of you know, this is easier in some years and more difficult in others.
So the choice to take on background opportunities was not a difficult one for me. It is work. Period. It can be tedious work at times and at times it can be exhilarating but when the call comes and I am available, my answer is yes. I enjoy the excitement of the unknown that comes with going to new locations...it appeals to me personally because discovering new places brings me joy and it appeals to me professionally as well.
I find the benefits of BG...being on set, watching and learning from the leads, meeting people, and giving subtlety to the vision of the director, all contribute to my tool box. I continue to develop my ability to "do nothing" while in shot, which, to me, means contributing to the shot honestly without calling attention to oneself and I am not going to lie, being told by a director that they love what I am doing has put a smile on my face! The most important thing a BG actor can remember is that you have been called to set to complete a visual picture, not to out act the leads.
I've been very fortunate to have worked on several shoots this summer as both BG and as Supporting and both experiences, while yes, very different, have proven invaluable in their own right. I had a funny background moment on one set. I was in position and I looked up to see one of the "stars" close by. He was not credited in the film at that time and I remember standing there looking at him for a moment and thinking..."God! Where do I know him from? Did we go to college together? Oh my, did I do a show with him?" (of course, this was all an internal dialog with myself) and then the clap of thunder hit and I realized who he was and NO! I did not know him in any way! I laughed to myself then and I realized the power of what we do. The intimacy that is created by television and film and that you can get that "so familiar" feeling from someone you've never met but seen...Seen and watched and taken an emotional journey with and never have even known them. That was a great moment! And I got that wonderful insight while doing background.