21 years ago I sat down with Tony Curtis at the Beverly Glen shopping center, just south of Mulholland Drive. I waved to him above the heads of several customers sitting outside a popular, packed delicatessen. Curtis waved me over and led me to the inside of a less-crowded Starbucks — fewer people, fewer stares.
When he ordered coffee for both of us, the woman at the counter insisted on a freebie. “Really?” he said to her. “Well, thank you so much!”
We talked about everything — politics, drug-dependency (Curtis had difficulties in this area during the ’80s), Burt Lancaster, old Hollywood, his website (tonycurtis.com, a venue for selling his paintings), women, new technologies, etc.
At midpoint I handed Curtis a list of his 120 films and asked him to check those he’s genuinely proud of. He checked a total of 18. He checked Sweet Smell of Success (naturally) but not The Vikings. Some Like It Hot (of course!) but not The Outsider. He checked Houdini. Every film he made after Spartacus in 1960 up until 1968’s The Boston Strangler, he didn’t check. He checked his role as a pair of mafiosos — Louis ‘Lepke’ Buchalter in 1975’s Lepke and Sam Giancana in the 1986 TV movie Mafia Princess.
Among his notable TV guest appearances, Curtis checked only one — the voice role of ‘Stony Curtis’ in a 1965 episode of The Flintstones.
Imagine my sitting down with Dwayne Johnson under similar circumstances. Imagine my handing Johnson a list of the nearly 40 films he’s starred or played a strong co-lead in over the last 20 years, and asking him to check those he’s genuinely “proud of”.
Dwayne’s answer would have to be “well, if you’re asking me that in the same way you asked Tony Curtis the same question, my answer would have to be zip. Because I’m not genuinely proud of any of my films. I’m glad a lot of them were popular and made money, and I’m certainly glad that I’ve become a hugely successful brand and all. But I’m not a Tony Curtis-level actor, and I never will be.”
Imagine my sitting down with Chris Pratt under similar circumstances. Imagine my handing him a list of the 14 or 15 films he’s starred or played a strong co-lead in over the last, say, 10 years, and asking him to check those he’s genuinely “proud of”.
Pratt’s answer would have to be “well, if you’re asking me that in the same spirit that you asked Tony Curtis and Dwayne Johnson, my answer would have to be that among the films I’ve starred in, I am genuinely proud of nothing. I’m ‘proud’ a lot of my films made money, and I’m certainly glad that I’ve become a hugely successful, bulky-bod, conservative-minded actor with big money and big homes.
“I’m genuinely proud of three films that I played a supporting role in between 2011 and 2013 — Bennett Miller‘s Moneyball, Kathy Bigelow‘s Zero Dark Thirty and Spike Jonze‘s Her — but that’s another subject. The bottom line is that as a movie star I make commercial fast-food movies and that’s all. If I’m the star, you know it’s going to be a throw-away, more or less. You know it, I know it. I’m really sorry I did Passengers, which everyone hated, but the money was good so I took it and ran like a thief.
“But I’m not a Tony Curtis-level actor, and I never will be.”
Which contemporary big-name actors can point to a dozen films that he/she is genuinely proud of? Because good, worthwhile films today are fewer and farther between than they’ve ever been before. So much is shit these days.
Will Smith could point to Six Degrees of Separation, Enemy of the State, Ali, Concussion and King Richard — five films out of the last 26 or 27 years.