Michaela Turcotte Mooney ’76 lands role as extra in HBO’s “Gilded Age”

Michaela Turcotte Mooney ’76

At one point, Michaela Turcotte Mooney ’76 thought she might cut her long flowing hair after she retired to make a statement about having a carefree life. But when she got ready to do it the COVID-19 pandemic hit, so appointments at salons were out of the question, and she found it just as easy to braid her hair or pin it up.

As luck would have it, she has those long tresses to thank for landing her a role as a paid extra in the second season of HBO’s wildly popular series “The Gilded Age,” which initially aired last fall.

Michaela Turcotte Mooney ’76 had to send the series crew photos of her long hair, which in the end got styled beneath a hat.

Mooney pursued being an extra in the series after seeing a casting call in The Providence Journal. “They were looking for women with long, untreated hair. … I had hair down to my waist,” she said.

According to HBO’s website, “‘The Gilded Age’ follows a young woman who moves in with her old-money aunts and quickly gets entangled in the social war between them and their new-money neighbors. In a world on the brink of the modern age, will she follow the rules of society or forge her own path?”

Mooney, who lives in South Kingston, R.I., was cast as an upper-class spectator from the 1880s at a tennis tournament in scenes filmed at the Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, R.I. She spent days moving her head from side to side while mouthing the words “peaches and cream” to appear to be chatting while watching a tennis match.

“This is something that I had really wanted to do because of my interest in film and theater. I enjoyed every aspect of the experience—from being fitted for the costume to meeting some really lovely people,” she said.

For several days during the shoot, she arrived at 3 a.m. at a Newport mansion where all of the prep work with more than 100 extras was being done—at least one of the days was 11 hours long. She had hairstylists and makeup artists to get her camera ready, and dressers helped her into a period-piece costume that required her to have a waistline of no more than 30 inches. (“Well, I did some hula hoops, a little juicing and some jumping jacks, and I got it down to 29 7/8 inches,” she said. “In the end, it didn’t matter because they put a corset on me so tight that I asked, ‘can I take this home?’ My posture’s never been so good.”)

Every detail of the dress was beautifully designed, she said. “I inquired about the clothing and was told my dress was made in Italy. Everything—from the earrings to the broach to the hat—was styled to complement the dress. It had so many layers. There were times—close calls—when I thought I’d knocked someone’s soft drink over because of the bustle.”

Mooney, who majored in English, retired in 2018 after spending 35 years working in higher education, including at Wheaton as assistant director of student life and at the University of Rhode Island for 31 years in various roles from admission to development.

While a student at Wheaton, she was a lead in “The Children’s Hour” and she did some acting after college. So, this opportunity appealed to her interests.

“It was fascinating. You have such a different perspective when you are seeing the people working behind the scenes, the coordination, all the moving parts, all coming together,” Mooney said.

When she watched the HBO series waiting to spot herself on television, she was pleasantly surprised to see that she had not ended up on the cutting room floor.

“I watched the first episode, and they had previews for upcoming episodes; all I had to do was look for the tennis scene.”

Look for her in the tennis scenes in season two, episode two. “Easy to spot me with the green parasol!” she said.