The curious habit that celebrities have of utterly hating the very thing that has made them rich and famous.
There’s a good chance that you hate your job. Perhaps you don’t – plenty of people define their entire existence by their career, and as I found when daring to suggest that working at home was necessarily not a bad thing, lots of eccentrics actually seem to relish the office commute and spending most of their waking hours away from their home, family and personal interests, surrounded by colleagues and making money for someone else. Each to their own, I guess. But for most people, a job is, ultimately, the thing they do to put food on the table, and if they won the lottery, they’d be out of there in a flash (other weirdos: multi-million lottery winners who say “it won’t change us” and announce plans to carry on in their dead-end job).
It’s reassuring – or possibly very, very depressing – to know that even the rich and famous sometimes absolutely despise what they do for a living. Look at all the actors who positively hate the roles that have given them the cushy lives that everyone else envies. And I don’t mean the ones who look back on past work and sneer at it as either beneath them or see it through the revisionist lens of box office and critical flops. No, I’m talking about the performers who make no secret of the fact that they have nothing but contempt for the work that they are doing right now.
I’ve been watching Starsky and Hutch re-runs on TV from time to time lately, and have been astonished at how the show went on such a rapid decline over the seasons. The official word on this – as I recall from when the show was first aired – was that it was simply too violent, and so had to be toned down to appease the US TV censors. Well, there’s some truth in that. But it seems the real culprit was Starsky himself – Paul Michael Glaser, who after the first season decided that the gritty, violent cop show that he’d signed up for was too gritty and violent, and demanded changes, or he would walk. Glaser would be continually pandered to over the years, as the show was increasingly emasculated and made as bland as possible – and he still wasn’t happy, constantly threatening to leave unless more changes were made, more money went into his pocket and he was given directorial slots. Things were so bad that the producers thought up various ways to write him out, but each time bottled out. But how demoralising it must have been for everyone else to not only see the show decline but also to see the man mostly responsible for that decline still complaining.
Glaser was a rank amateur in the art of complaining and undermining production when compared with Christopher Lee though. Lee gave so few fucks that he would trash a film during the pre-production press conference (“I’m doing it under protest… I think it is fatuous. I can think of twenty adjectives – fatuous, pointless, absurd. I don’t see the point” was his unique way of selling The Satanic Rites of Dracula to the press), send out withering dismissals of movies that he was currently working on to his fan club and make it clear to all and sundry that he was only making these films under duress. The main target of his scorn were the Hammer Dracula films, which he was roundly and publicly dismissive of from 1968’s Dracula Has Risen From The Grave onwards, dropping even the slightest bit of restraint once Hammer moved Dracula into contemporary settings for Dracula A.D. 1972 and The Satanic Rites of Dracula. In subsequent years, Lee would make all manner of unsubstantiated – indeed, easily disproven – claims about the Dracula series (such as refusing to speak the non-existent dialogue in Dracula – Prince of Darkness, being pressured by Hammer to make later films with emotional blackmail about cast and crew losing their jobs if he didn’t). The rather more prosaic truth is that Lee simply wasn’t being offered anything better at the time – the moment his mainstream career launched with The Man with the Golden Gun, he was off without a thought to the starving Hammer production crews.
You can only guess what effect Lee’s vocal and public dismissal of the work that they were about to start must have had on the other cast and crew – it could hardly have been morale boosting to see the lead actor tell the press that the film is utter rubbish before a frame had been shot. Hammer, like the Starsky and Hutch producers, were desperate to replace Lee – grooming Ralph Bates as a possible Dracula replacement at one point – but ultimately didn’t want to take risks. If Lee was still willing to play the part – and clearly, his own financial needs meant that he would – then they would carry on casting him despite his undermining of the production, a mutual dependency that ultimately helped no one.
Hammer should have done what the James Bond producers did, and moved on with a new actor. Though even they only did so when Sean Connery’s contempt for the role that made him famous became such that he quit – unlike Lee, he had a lucrative Hollywood career in front of him. As Michael Caine once said, “you didn’t the raise the subject of Bond” around Connery, and after You Only Live Twice, he resigned his commission – only to be tempted back for Diamonds Are Forever with a massive pay cheque and a contract for two films of his own choosing (one would be the utterly grim The Offence, which you can’t imagine having studio backing otherwise). Money would again pull him back to the role in 1983, but his opinion of Bond had not changed.
Of course, more recently, new Bond Daniel Craig has vocally discussed his dislike of the film series that he was contracted to. In 2012, while ‘promoting’ Skyfall, he told journalists “I’ve been trying to get out of this from the very moment I got into it but they won’t let me go, and I’ve agreed to do a couple more.” Of course, these days, it’s hard to separate truth from hype – Craig, like everyone else, probably knows just how much publicity comes from speculation about the next Bond, and it wouldn’t come as a surprise to find that he’d been encouraged to express dissatisfaction with the role as part of a publicity stunt.
For Lee and Connery, there was some resentment for the roles that made them famous – both actors clearly expected to move on and put such things behind them. A modern equivalent might be Robert Pattinson, contractually tied to the Twilight films that probably seemed a good idea when he was an unknown, less so once he became famous – though of course, without those films, his career might still be a series of small parts and deleted scenes.
It’s the actors who think that they are better than the work who prove most problematic. Martin Shaw famously loathed The Professionals while he was making it – like Glaser and his show, he felt it to be too violent, too one-dimensional and too horribly populist. Once the show finished, Shaw quashed plans for re-runs for years – yet it’s unquestionably his best work and will be watched and loved long after the likes of Inspector George Gently are forgotten.
Diana Rigg too clearly felt herself above the role that made her famous. Here was a classical, theatrical actress who remains best known for her role in The Avengers, something that clearly irritated her both at the time and later, when she would be reluctant to even talk about the part. Such snobbery. Emma Peel was, of course, a more interesting, rounded and worthwhile part than anything she would’ve played on stage, but there is a curious arrogance amongst stage actors in particular about appearing in such populist rubbish as film and television, and to have that role then dominate what everyone remembers you for must be massively irritating.
Other actors grow to hate their roles for more unusual reasons. Take Angus T. Jones, for instance, who had some fame as the ‘half’ in Two and a Half Men, but found the adult themes of the show increasingly difficult as his character became a pot-smoking, sexually active adult and he became a Seventh Day Adventist. At one point, he described the show that he was still a cast member of as “filth”, which was probably not what the producers – still reeling from the whole Charlie Sheen meltdown – needed.
And then there are the poor buggers who sign up for TV shows that become huge hits and see their future careers going down the pan as they find themselves either typecast or associated with a single role so closely that no one is going to think about them any other way, or contractually obligated to a series that they have long since lost interest in. I’m sure many a TV star has learned to loathe the character that they are famous for – I can’t imagine that Pierce Brosnan’s enthusiasm for Remington Steele was boosted when his contract with the show stopped him becoming James Bond after Roger Moore quit. Leonard Nimoy certainly suffered from that with Star Trek, though the original show didn’t really last long enough for him to realise it at the time; by the point when the feature films were launched, however, he certainly had a ‘difficult’ relationship with Spock. But he is perhaps an example for others, growing to accept, embrace and protect his character and understanding that it’s not necessarily a bad thing to have a strong connection to a popular role – and that if you are not happy about how that role is being portrayed, you should seize the means of production rather than simply whine and moan about it.
After all, in the grand scheme of things, being paid a lot of money for very little work and having the adulation of millions does not seem such an ordeal – certainly not if we compare it with the shitty jobs that the people who make these actors into well-paid celebrities have to endure. If it is so hard to endure, they could always quit acting and take up, say, a job in crime scene clean up or waste disposal – for all their moaning, no one is forcing them to be actors. A bit of gratitude for the characters, films and TV shows that put them in the position where they could complain in the first place would not go amiss, quite frankly.
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