I was in Los Angeles last week while I was on vacation – a mix of professional development, visiting friends, chilling out (literally!) on the beach at Malibu and indulging my lifelong love of the Disney theme parks. I spent a great deal of time with my friend Bert, a working actor, a born showman and the only human I know who can put away three entrees, two appetizers and a dessert in one sitting and still be in amazing shape. Naturally, while you’re in the heart of Hollywood at the beginning of awards season it’s only natural to find the conversation moving towards the weird nature of celebrity in the 21st century. At a time when someone can become one of the world’s biggest music acts by uploading a video to YouTube, it’s interesting to observe just why some people become big names and others – who may outclass everybody with their talent – fall by the wayside.
“It’s like the story of how Keanu Reeves got cast in Dangerous Liasons1 ,” Bert told me. “He goes in and gives his audition, and he’s Keanu Reeves, he’s got his surfer boy accent and his reading’s flat. And he says ‘I could do that better.’ So they give him another chance, and it’s just as bad. So he doesn’t get the role. But nobody else really fits. So as they’re making the next round of casting, the casting director put the picture of Keanu up and said ‘Hey, how about him?’ And everybody said ‘Are you crazy, he was awful! No.’ But then they said ‘Ok, fine, bring him in again.’ And once again, he’s just awful. So they send him away. And they still haven’t cast the part. So the casting director pulls out the 8×10 of Keanu and said ‘So why don’t we bring this guy back in again?’ And then everybody says ‘You’ve lost your goddamn monkey mind! He’s the worst actor we’ve seen yet! But fine, whatever, let’s bring him back again.’ And Keanu comes and auditions one more time and he’s not any better than he was before. And the casting director looks at the producers and says ‘What do you think?’ And they say ‘What do we think? We think he’s godawful. He’s wrong for the part and we don’t think he can handle the material.’ ”
“‘Yes,’ said the casting director. ‘But you were willing to see him four times.”
“Keanu got the part.”
Keanu, y’see, may not be the greatest actor in the world, but he had “It”. He has that mysterious X-factor that makes people like him. It’s that je ne se quois – the mysterious factor that makes one person stand out and seem more attractive or even desirable that nobody can really put their finger on.
This, naturally, lead to a discussion over which actors had talent and which had “It” and which had both.
The amazing thing about “It” though, is that it’s really not that mysterious. In fact, you can learn to have that “It” factor that people love.
- The story is rather apocryphal. Also by this point I’d had several whiskeys [↩]