Back in the mid-80s, Foo Fighters guitarist Pat Smear’s music career was in danger of petering out. His band, influential LA punk crew Germs, had split up a few years before and, maybe because that’s what you do when you grow up in the shadow of the Hollywood sign, he decided to try his hand at acting instead.
Getting mostly bit parts or work as an extra, he had minor roles in Blade Runner, Howard The Duck, the cop show CHiPs, medical drama Quincy, M.E. and more. But the greatest moment of Pat Smear’s acting career that never was came in a music video, when the guitarist was hand-picked to be an extra in the video for Prince’s Raspberry Beret by the Purple One himself.
Speaking to Classic Rock’s Dave Everley in 2020, Smear recalled how he got pulled into the acting world. “It was an era where everybody wanted punk rockers in a crowd scene,” he said. “They would have their union actors and make them up with their fake punk look and it was just so stupid-looking. They wanted real punk rockers and we knew this lady, Janet Cunningham, who was an agent in Hollywood. She said, ‘I’m gonna represent the punk rock kids I know and I’m gonna be the punk-rock agent.’” Neither he or any of his friends actually wanted to be actors, Smear remembered, they just wanted to make some dough. “You got paid shit,” he continued, “but you got to hang out with your friends all day for 12 hours.”
It was Cunningham who put out the call for “weirdos” to appear in the Raspberry Beret video, for which Smear would be required to bust some moves. The problem, however, was that dancing wasn’t part of his repertoire. “They lined us up and they taught us a simple dance move they wanted us to do,” said Smear. “I couldn’t do it, I can’t dance for shit, so I was one of the people they kicked out, saying, ‘nah, we can’t use you.” As he was exiting the room, he recounted, he received a tap on the shoulder. “I turn around and I go, ‘yeah?’, and they turn around and go, ‘This one?’, and there’s Prince and he goes, ‘yeah, that one.”” Prince had decided there was something about Smear and wanted him to be in the clip, sitting him on a stage beside keyboard player Lisa Coleman in lieu of the dancing (you can see Smear clearly in the video – he’s the one with the long black hair).
Although there was no hangtime with Prince – come on, Prince was not the guy who was going to be getting down with the extras – Smear did to witness some pop superstar behaviour at close quarters. “I don’t know if he was really odd or if he was playing a role of being odd,” he stated. “As I’m sitting on the stage, he walks up to me, facing me at eye-level and he’s looking right at me and he says to Lisa whilst he’s looking at me, ‘Tell him to move a little to the left’. Lisa goes, ‘Move a little to the left.’ So I move. And he goes, ‘Tell him not so much.’ I’m like, ‘OK, you’re looking right at me and you’re talking to someone else and having them talk to me…’.”
It had been explained to the extras beforehand, Smear said, not to talk to Prince, or look at Prince, but to ignore Prince. “It’s funny, I read a story about somebody who worked with him,” said the Foo Fighters man, “who had been told all the same rules. This guy said Prince once confronted him, saying, ‘What’s the deal?’. ‘They told me I shouldn’t look at you or talk to you.’ ‘What the fuck?! I thought you didn’t like me.’ I don’t know if it was him or his people or what the deal was.”
Fast forward a few decades, and Smear’s own band are one of the biggest on the planet, big enough, surely, to request that no-one talks to them or casts a glance in their direction? “I guess it would be tempting to do it as a joke,” Smear laughed. “But I think one of our best qualities is that we are smart enough not to take ourselves too seriously, not to take ourselves seriously at all.”