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Friday, December 3, 2010

"Haggling over the price"

Churchill (drunk) to Socialite: "Madam, would you sleep with me for a million pounds?"

Socialite to Churchill: (thinks a moment) "Why of course, Winston."

Churchill to Socialite: "Madam, would you sleep with me for 10 pounds?"

Socialite (outraged): "Of course not! What do you think I am?"

Churchill: "We've established what you are; now we're simply haggling over the price."

The story may be apocryphal, but it sure sounds like him.

As I write this, Derek Jacobi, one of the greatest classical actors of his generation, is featured in a series of UK TV ads wherein he plays Ebenezer Scrooge in order to shill Sony electronic products for Christmas gifts. This, while he prepares form a national tour of King Lear.

Why oh why did he not choose a dignified retirement?

Also during the silly season, Dame Helen Mirren cheerfully spruiks Wii Fit for Nintendo. Apparently it keeps her the fit GILF she is widely reputed to be. And she never needs to leave the house to do anything so common as join a gym.

What next, the Ab-swing?

John Malkovich features along with Clooney in an ad for Nescafe instant coffee. They both look a litle embarassed.

One imagines their lives are actually a lot like this.

These are a just a few examples. The list goes on.

All actors do ads. But you'd think you'd get to a certain level of success, or wealth, or notoriety, or at least self-respect to be able to turn demeaning dreck like this down.

I have a pretty good idea of what they'd say to this carping--"Oh yeah? Do you have any idea how much they're PAYING me to do this? I'd have to run Lear for ten years before I made this kind of money. You, son, are just jealous no one wants to give YOU a millions quid for an ad. Or for anything. Grow up."

The depressing thing is that there just no longer seems to be an answer to this sort of logic anymore. Ads pay well; money's what it's about. Too much of it is never enough. There's always another chalet, another island, another private jet to buy, or whatever. A buck's a buck.

 I mean, I know if you do a film, you're essentially fattening up the bottom line for some multi-national conglomerate, that's just part of the game. But getting in front of a camera, and charming poor in-debt slobs out there in a major recession to buy more junk they don't need with money they ain't got? And doing it only because it makes you more stratospherically rich than they? Is that what you spent years honing your talent, developing your career, giving up the easy blandishments of a normal life for? Is this finally, what you've come to?

Have you, finally, no sense of shame?

I've been trying to think of great actors that never sold anything, never became a corporate shill, not once, not ever. I'm struggling...Any suggestions?

I've done ads, but had no noteworthy and respected career to foresake or to cheapen by doing so. Yes, they paid insanely well, totally disproportionate to any "acting" involved. I once made 12 grand over two years just for showing up on a given day, eating french fries, and doing one smirk to the camera. I do the smirk at parties now. I call it "my 12 grand look". There were many others, some better paid, and none of them worth the money I was getting. This is where the real dough is in the acting game.

Mamet called acting "A whore's profession", and this sort of thing makes it easy to see why. I used to get the standard question from casting agents: "Is there anything you wouldn't advertise?" 

"I draw the line at land mines," I used to joke.

But I think we both knew that if the check were big enough, that qualm might be sorely tested. Toward the end, I refused anything connected with drink or gambling or the financial sector--in Australia, this represents quite a lot of commerce. And if you're going to have scruples that discount advertising obvious social ills, you might as well quit. Which I did.

I don't claim moral credit for this, and the Catholic in me suspects that the stains on my conscience will not wash off as easily as the make-up did. Once you take money for something you know to be disgraceful, your soul dies a litte bit, and like brain cells, the bit that dies never comes back.

For, once upon a time, and not that long ago, I looked squarely into my soul, and saw that if the money was right, I'd have f***ed Churchill too.

The horror. The horror.


  1. beautiful, rob:)
    reminds me of the time my friend pointed to a little pile of dog s**t and said "would you eat that for $200k? my morgage flashed before my eyes and i blurted out "yes" almost immediately. i then asked my friend "is that what separates people like me from the very rich? they would never stoop to such a level? his response was "rich people have to eat s**t too...and what they eat is probably a lot more foul than that" (pointing to little mound of doggie poo.)

  2. David, that's so darkly true, from my limited experience of hob-nobbing with the very wealthy. However, I'm told vintage Krug champagne is effective in rinsing the taste from your mouth...