I have a confession to make.
Guilty of a terrible error of omission.
(Along with a lot of other things that we won’t go into right now.)
Yes, it’s true.
In my last blog extolling the junk food glories of Kong: Skull Island, I neglected to mention the remarkable performance of Brie Larson as Mason Weaver, a photojournalist who has covered wars all over this conflicted globe of ours.
Like most war photographers, she is beautiful, sexy (in her case, clothes, skimpy as they may be, do indeed make the woman), possessed of a wonderful freshness, altruism and sensitivity, a sensitivity reflected in her appreciation of nature and her feelings for that lovable old ape named Kong.
In fact, Larson’s portrait of Weaver is, quite possibly, the most convincing portrait of a professional woman to hit the big screen since Denise Richards’ Dr. Christmas Jones.
As I’m sure you recall, Christmas…
No one among you remembers Christmas?
Surely you’ve not forgotten the late, great James Bond thriller, The World Is Not Enough.
Now we’re getting somewhere.
Do you also remember a tank top, a bare midriff, and a pair of impossibly tight short shorts?
Of course you do!
Well…that, my friends, was the official uniform of Dr. Christmas Jones, the lab coat she donned when working to dismantle nuclear warheads in Kazihkstan.
Ably played by the brainy Richards who swayed with a wiggle when she walked, Dr. Christmas Jones was a nuclear scientist like no other.
Oppenheimer may have fathered the atomic bomb. He may, as he himself acknowledged, “have become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” But Christmas, by helping Bond foil the plot of a nuclear terrorist, was the savior of our world.
And she was amply rewarded for her efforts…by a tryst with the sexy superspy at the end of the film, a tryst that concluded with his romantic observation that he’d always thought Christmas came only once a year.
It should, I suppose, be no surprise that Larson’s Weaver equals or, quite possibly, surpasses Richards’ Jones.
It was, after all, Larson who triumphed over such notables as Cate Blanchett, Jennifer Lawrence, Charlotte Rampling and Saoirse Ronan in last year’s Academy Awards, taking home the Best Actress trophy for her compelling turn as Ma, the abused mother in Room.
Think of it!
From Ma to Mason.
From one of the most complex and layered performances of the decade to
a dazzling turn as obligatory sex object.
Now that’s what I call an actress!
Some of you might be tempted to use another word, but you would be wrong.
Every working actor, regardless of his or her place on the Hollywood pyramid, knows an acting career is a very slippery slope.
They know that regardless of what they’ve achieved, it can all go away in an instant.
The fame, the glamour, the wealth can disappear overnight.
You can be sexy, smoldering Veronica Lake—the star of This Gun for Hire, I Married a Witch and Sullivan’s Travels—once minute, and the next, a waitress in a cocktail bar.
And so the working actor…works.
Oh, all of them want the complex, layered, challenging roles that will cast a long shadow in the annals of film, but at the most basic level, they simply want to…work.
To put food on the table, a roof over their head, and if they get very, very lucky, an occasional Louis Vuitton on their shoulders.
As a result, they often end up accepting roles that, in an ideal world, they could contemptuously reject.
What does this get them?
Some degree of financial security.
I would, for example, bet big money that Larson’s fee for Kong was substantially higher than it was for Room.
And it gets them opportunity, the opportunity to do the sorts of roles they’d prefer because they’re perceived as bankable.
Agents and producers and execs saying, ”Her last film went through the roof.”
And so it is that a Brie Larson goes from Room to Kong…or an Eddie Redmayne moves from The Theory of Everything and The Danish Girl to Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them.
They follow the example of Irving Thalberg, who was convinced that he had to make three big commercial successes in order to earn the right to make a little film he really cared about.
Actors do it.
Writers do it.
Directors do it.
They take on potentially popular schlock to earn the right to make movies that matter.
My dear friend and colleague, director William A. Graham, had a strong grasp of this Hollywood reality.
Billy directed countless series episodes, eight or ten features, and literally dozens of television movies.
He never stopped working.
He told his wife Janet that he had to do three projects a year—one for expenses, one for retirement, and one for their boat, which he had sailed around Cape Horn.
Many of them were straight-forward programmers, but Billy’s motto was “Quality…whether they want it or not,” and his obsessive work ethic brought him the opportunity to do the occasional classic—like The Amazing Howard Hughes, Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones, The Man Who Captured Eichmann, and of course, the unforgettable Death of a Cheerleader.
It’s easy to condemn this approach to a career in Hollywood—to chant with Terence Howard, in that Academy Award winning song, “It’s hard out there for a pimp/When you gotta get the money for the rent.”
It is hard out there.
But it’s not pimping when you choose to do the work that comes your way.