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Gangster Movie Pretty Criminals
Twenty years, one month and twelve days before being stabbed while acting on the set of a vampire movie, Terrance, 24, walked into the theater where his Thursday night acting class was held. As he walked in the door, he accidentally bumped into another actor, actually a young man who Terrance had been meaning to ask something for the last few weeks. “Hey, I’ve been wondering something,” Terrance said, “Have you been in a beer commercial?”
The young man, about Terrance’s age and just as good looking, took off his sunglasses and spoke in a tone of voice that seemed to imply that he was in point of fact, cooler than cool, “Yeah. I’ve been in a beer commercial.”
“The one where you’re on the beach, with the girl and the dog? It was Bud Light, right?”
The cool guy fixed Terrance with an incredulous look, “Bud Light? Are you kidding me? Bud Light? It was Coors Light.”
“Oh, right. Sorry,” said Terrance, “You know I’ve been thinking a lot about commercials too. All the acting books talk about it. How did you get into it?”
“Oh, screw commercials, man. That’s not the way to go.”
“Hell no. Features. Features are cool. Do commercials and you find yourself being Mr. Whomple for 30 years.”
“You know, the dude who’s always squeezing the toilet paper?”
“I don’t think it’s Whomple…”
“You don’t want to do commercials, man. They suck.”
“Okay. Got it,” said Terrance, while attempting to come off as cool as this cool guy, “But… I thought they paid pretty well.”
“Well yeah, they pay. But they suck. You want to do features, man. That’s what I’m all about. That’s what I’m actually doing next week.”
Terrance smiled and nodded. “No kidding? That’s great.”
“Yeah. It’s pretty cool.”
“So, what’s this feature film about? What do you play?” Terrance asked.
“Well I’m the lead. It’s this independent film…” At the words ‘independent film’ the cool guy fixed Terrance with a serious look and said, “But it’s a cool independent film. All right? It’s not like those stupid ones where they sit around and talk about philosophy or where some guy realizes he’s gay or some shit like that. This one’s gonna be cool.”
“Okay,” said Terrance.
“The director describes it as a modern-day take on The Godfather.”
“Oh that does sound cool.”
“Yeah. It does sound cool. So, I’m like the leader of the gang. All these criminal types. It’s gonna be cool, man. Better than any damned beer commercial, I’ll tell you that.”
“That’s great. I’d kill for something like that”
The cool guy looked Terrance over and said, “You know, the script says I am supposed to have a gang. Kinda like an entourage type of deal, a bunch of dudes following me around all the time. No lines for them but the script says that it makes me look more powerful to have dudes hanging on my words. The director told me I could put a few friends in there.”
The cool guy looked Terrance up and down then asked. “You want to be one of my gang?”
“Really? Hell yeah I would, I’d…”
“Then convince me,” said the cool guy with a smirk.
“Convince you? Convince you how?”
“I don’t know. Convince me.”
Terrance thought for a moment, “Should I do a scene for you? An audition piece?”
“No, I’ve got it,” said the cool guy as a smile crossed his face, “Can you bark like a dog?”
“Can. You. Bark. Like. A. Dog?”
“I suppose so.”
“Bark like a dog and I’ll let you tag along.”
Terrance looked at the cool guy. It was obvious that he was completely serious. The cool guy said, “You’ll hang around the set a few days. Maybe the director will throw you a few lines. Maybe you’ll make some connections. All you’ve gotta do is bark like a dog, man. Is that so hard?”
Terrance took a deep breath.
He barked like a dog.
This was pretty thrilling. Though Terrance didn’t have any lines (yet) and though he’d had to bark to get a simple extra role in a small film, he was excited to be on an actual set. He was dressed in his ‘costume’: a pair of jeans and a tank top, which apparently was what tough criminals wore in their down time. He walked up to where two crew members were setting up some lights: one man atop a ladder and the other steadying the ladder for him. The men hadn’t seen him approach and just as Terrance was about to offer to help them, the man atop the ladder said to the man holding the ladder, ”This is like a deja vu thing.”
“A few months ago I worked on a commercial for Calvin Klein underwear. For two friggin’ days I was surrounded by these idiotic chiseled pretty boys. And that’s what this feels like.”
The man holding the ladder began to laugh and said, “Well maybe the director has an eye for eye candy.”
“Yeah, obviously,” said the man atop the ladder, “But this is supposed to be a tough crime film, you know? These characters are supposed to be criminals. You don’t hire pretty boys to play criminals. That’s like Casting 101. You hire dangerous-looking guys. You know, Robert DeNiro types or Lee Van Cleef types. Guys who look at you and you know that they wouldn’t hesitate to kill you.”
“You don’t believe these guys could kill you?” asked the man who was holding the ladder.
“They might powder puff me to death. But no, not one of them looks dangerous. And I’ll bet you that most of them are terrible actors. I’d bet money on it.”
“Wait a minute,” said the man holding the ladder, “How do you know they can’t act? Just because they look good? I mean, look at someone like Paul Newman. My wife thinks that Paul Newman is the most handsome man on the planet. If Paul Newman asked her to run away with him I wouldn’t stand a chance. And Paul Newman is a great actor.”
“Oh I’m not saying that good-looking people automatically can’t act. There are some good-looking people who are great actors. Like Paul Newman. What I’m saying is that if you’re good-looking enough you can get cast even if you can’t act. That’s what I’m saying. And I know that this movie is just some tiny low-budget thing that no one will ever see, but the problem here is the problem all the way to the top. This is exactly what’s wrong with this business. Right here.”
The man atop the ladder made a few more adjustments to the light. After a few moments of this, he carried on with his conversation, “Okay, let me put it another way: Basketball. Say you’re watching Lakers and Celtics, do you ever see a player — even one player — who just flat-out can’t play? No. You don’t. It’s the big leagues. Fierce competition. Years of hard work just to get on that team. Someone who plays ball at a little-league level does not end up on that court. Hell, even the guys on the bench are 100 times better at basketball than you and me.”
“Then doesn’t is seem weird when you’re watching a big-budget movie or a network TV show and among that cast there’s someone who can’t act for shit? To me that seems as wrong as if you saw a pro ball player who played like a 9-year-old. Don’t you wonder how that happens? This is an incredibly competitive business but somehow someone who is worse at acting than I am has made it through those layers and layers of competition and is there doing lousy line readings in big budget Hollywood. And it happens all the time. How?”
And at that, the man atop the ladder looked out to the set and the gathering of attractive young men all dressed in jeans and tank tops. He pointed in their direction and said, “There it is. Right there. That’s how.”
And it was then that the man atop the ladder looked down and noticed Terrance, a good-looking young man dressed in jeans and a tank top, standing next to the ladder.
There was a long, long pause.
Finally Terrance said, “Hi.” The man atop the ladder said, “Hi.”
And after another long pause, Terrance walked out onto the set.
Good-looking actors make lousy gangsters
Do you have to be good looking to be an actor?
This chapter of the novel non-Hollywood takes a look at the question of looks in Hollywood. It is something that goes all the way back to the beginnings of the film industry: actors and actresses are expected to be attractive human beings. Hollywood beauty is even something of a cliche. But why? And is this a good thing?
As is discussed by a few film crew members who are used to seeing a parade of beautiful people pass them by as they work, there are certain disadvantages to this insistence on beauty. Obviously, those who are not considered conventionally good looking will have a difficult, if not an impossible time of it in Hollywood. But it also leads to a situation wherein looks often win out over talent.
Sure there a many actors who are at once good actors and also good-looking human beings. It makes sense that those individuals would make it in Hollywood, but it also leads to a situation where a person's beauty can provide an "in" that they perhaps don't deserve.
The parallel offered by the crew member in this chapter is that of the professional basketball player. Much like the world of acting, the world of professional sports is incredibly competitive. But in the world of professional sports there is no way to circumvent talent. You do not see a professional ball player who has no talent at basketball. It doesn't happen.
Yet a similar situation happens in Hollywood all the time?
Why? Because good looks provide the shortcut.
And as these crewmembers point out within earshot of Terrance, oftentimes that shortcut is all that is needed.