Gurpreet Gill, deli owner from Lady Bird

PHOTO by Jason Smith

You might recognize Gurpreet Gill as the guy who sells you cigarettes, beer and wine at the American Market & Deli (2331 N Street). Most days, you’ll find either Gill or his father manning the front counter of the store, which his family owns and operates and can be easily spotted thanks to its distinct vintage appearance and the mural on the side of the building.

But that’s just Gurpreet’s day job. When Greta Gerwig and company stormed through Sacramento looking for buildings that best represented the spirit of the city, they chose American Market & Deli as one their locations. As if that weren’t surprising enough for the small market, Gurpreet was asked to play the role of the clerk in Lady Bird, stamping “actor” onto a resume he’s since begun considering exploring further.

How did the involvement with your store in the film come about?

Last October, Greta’s parents came to the store. They said their daughter was directing her first movie and they were wondering if they could use this spot to film. They were looking for something with an older, local feel, and they liked the mural outside and thought our store would work. I didn’t know it was going to be such a big deal, or who Greta was at the time, so I said, “Yeah, sure,” without thinking about it too much.

Did you have any sense, when your family agreed to let them shoot at the store, of just how big a deal this movie could be to the people of Sacramento?

No, not at all. I just thought it was somebody working on, like, a small local project, or maybe even a school project or something.

What went through your head when they asked you to play the cashier in the movie?

Initially, I didn’t know anything about the movie. It was her parents who asked if I’d be interested. So I went home and I started doing some research on the film, and began following where they were in the filming schedule, and began reading more in what the movie was about, and who some of the lead actors and actresses were. So when it was my time to shoot, I got really excited.

That’s when you knew it was more than a school project.

Right, but I still had no idea it was going to be as big as it is today.

What surprised you most about the moviemaking process?

How big of a crew they had, even for just a small scene like mine. I think my scene in the movie lasts about 10 to 15 seconds, and there must’ve been 40 or 50 people there, just for that little part of the movie. They shot for two or three hours just for those few seconds of film.

Since Lady Bird was released, do you get recognized by people around town? Or by people who come into the store?

Yeah, a lot of locals, the regulars who come into the store, will come in and say they saw me in the movie. Or sometimes there are people who have only seen the movie, who’ve never been to the store, and are out visiting different places they saw onscreen. When they see that I’m working, and they recognize me as the same guy working at the store in the movie, they get excited because they got to meet someone who was actually in the film.

In a surreal way, I imagine it might feel to them like they’ve walked into the movie.

Totally. They don’t come to see me, or the store. They come so they can experience part of what Greta created.

Do you and your family feel connected to the Sacramento community now in ways that either didn’t exist before the movie, or if they did exist, went unnoticed?

Yes, absolutely. Especially because it’s such a recognizable store in the movie. People in the community have embraced the store and my family in ways we didn’t feel until now. It feels really great. Now, a lot of locals know me that didn’t know me before. They see me and know who I am and where I work. I’ll be out getting lunch and people will stop and want to say hello. Strangers ask me if I’m the guy from Lady Bird. It’s crazy.

Did you catch the acting bug?

Oh yeah, I did. Definitely. But not in the typical sense where I want to go out immediately and be an actor. It sparked an interest in me, to wonder about what I could do with my life, or who I could be, or what kind of potential opportunities might be out there for someone like me to grab.

So you’d be interested in other acting opportunities if given the chance?

Oh yes, definitely, but I don’t have any idea how to even go about that.

It almost sounds like you need someone from the community who is more familiar with that world to come in and offer a little guidance and mentor you a bit.

Yeah, that’d be amazing.

Hey Greta’s parents—you hear that?

What?! No, no. I didn’t say that.

I did. Finally, what’s the one lasting takeaway from the entire experience that you’ll carry with you regardless of where life takes you from here?

The entire experience taught me that achieving a dream is not as impossible as it might seem sometimes, and is more realistic than you’d think. And you just never know where those dreams will come from or what they’ll look like. Somebody came up to me and offered me a part in a small, local movie, and now that movie is generating Oscar buzz, do you know what I mean? It wasn’t a big budget movie or anything, and it just goes to show that anybody can do it, no matter where they’re from. Look at what Greta did.