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War of the Welles: Seven Actors Who’ve Played Orson

War of the Welles: Seven Actors Who’ve Played Orson (photo)

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Vincent D’Onofrio and Maurice LaMarche in “Ed Wood” (1994)

Directed by Tim Burton

The Film is… a biopic about the life of Edward D. Wood Jr., the so-called “worst director of all-time.” Frustrated by his financiers’ efforts to control his film “Plan 9 From Outer Space,” Wood (Johnny Depp) storms off the set and heads to the nearest bar where, by chance, Orson Welles sits alone, looking over his notes for his production of “Don Quixote.” Welles invites Wood to join him at his table and the two strike up a conversation about filmmaking.

Orson Welles is portrayed as… Ed Wood with talent. As Wood and Welles chat, they realize they have a lot in common: both men struggle to maintain their artistic vision in the face of domineering moneymen and producers who think they’re directors and try to recut their pictures. Welles eventually gives Wood the encouragement he needs to complete “Plan 9.” “Ed,” he tells him, “visions are worth fighting for. Why spend your life making someone else’s dreams?”

D’Onofrio and LaMarche are… a good combination, with D’Onofrio as the face and LaMarche as the voice of Welles. D’Onofrio definitely looks like him, though maybe a bit too much like the boy genius of “Citizen Kane” and not enough like the heavyset has-been who made “Touch of Evil” around the time of this imagined conversation. And LaMarche has made a cottage industry of his uncanny aural resemblance to Welles, even using the voice as the basis of the character The Brain from the cartoon series “Animaniacs” — there’s an entire episode where The Brain throws a recording studio hissy fit nearly identical to Welles’ famous “Frozen Peas” tirade. If you’re curious to hear why director Tim Burton chose to dub in LaMarche’s voice for D’Onofrio’s, just watch D’Onofrio’s “Five Minutes, Mr. Welles,” a short film about the actor’s preparations for his famous supporting role in Carol Reed’s “The Third Man.” Five minutes of D’Onofrio’s Mr. Welles and his unconvincing upper-class accent is more than enough to convince you that Burton made the right call.

Liev Schreiber in “RKO 281″ (1999)

Directed by Benjamin Ross

The Film is… a fictionalized account of the controversy surrounding the production of “Citizen Kane.” Welles and co-screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz (John Malkovich) produce their version of newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst’s life, and then Hearst (James Cromwell) uses all of his considerable power and influence to try and destroy the finished film before it’s released to theaters.

Orson Welles is portrayed as… a glory-hogging freedom fighter. On the one hand, Schreiber’s Welles will not compromise his vision or cede the spotlight for anyone, forcing Mankiewicz to change the lead character’s name at one point, and then taking Mank’s name off the screenplay entirely at another. On the other, Welles’ stubborn attitude comes in handy when RKO Pictures begins to buckle under the pressure and Welles is summoned before the board of directors to make his case, which he does, couching the entire debate as a freedom of speech matter. Mostly, this Welles is a relentless, driven egomaniac, though during a rare conciliatory moment with Mankiewicz, he reveals the well of self-doubt he hides from everyone else with his boundless cockiness. Despite his success, his fame, his talent, Welles feels alone. Or as he puts it to Mankiewicz, “I’m just a fraud who couldn’t care less about anyone except himself.” Welles, in other words, isn’t just telling Hearst’s story with “Kane”; he’s also telling his own.

Liev Schreiber is… charismatic, but a bit of a lightweight. He does a fine job capturing the young Welles’ swagger. Hard to blame RKO head George Schaefer (Roy Scheider) for giving this Welles final cut on “Kane”; he’s just so damn charming. Early scenes hum with Welles’ exuberance about his opportunity to make a great film. But Schreiber, and the film as a whole, suffers during the film’s heavier moments: he never carries the sort of raw emotion Welles brought to similar performances. Put it this way: despite the numerous scenes recreating the “Kane” production, I have a hard time believing the guy in “RKO” is the same guy who destroyed Susan Alexander’s bedroom, or who delivered the campaign rally speech, or who screamed at Boss Jim Gettys from across an apartment building stairwell. He just doesn’t have that fire in him.

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Angus Macfadyen in “Cradle Will Rock” (1999)

Directed by Tim Robbins

The Film is… an Altman-esque ensemble piece about the relationship of art and capitalism set during the Great Depression. In one major thread, Orson Welles and the Federal Theater Project’s production of the pro-union musical “The Cradle Will Rock” is threatened when the FTP comes under assault from anti-Communist elements within the U.S. Government. In the other, Nelson Rockefeller (John Cusack) hires Diego Rivera (Rubén Blades) to paint a mural for the lobby of the Rockefeller Center, but is disgusted by the finished product’s favorable depiction of Communist leaders like Lenin.

Orson Welles is portrayed as… a drunken buffoon. Robbins told Interview at the time of “Cradle Will Rock”‘s release that he found the myth of the young, brilliant Orson Welles to be “overly romantic.” In Robbins’ interpretation, Welles is less the creator of his history than a well-lubricated witness to it. Though Robbins praised Welles in the same interview as “brilliant” with a “wonderful punk personality,” that’s not really the guy we see in Robbins’ film. The guy we see rails against the eight-hour workday and mandatory breaks for union employees, drinks like a fish, and doesn’t take a steady step in the entire picture. Robbins is far more flattering to “The Cradle Will Rock” writer Marc Blitzstein (Hank Azaria), producer John Houseman (Cary Elwes) and to Hallie Flanagan (Cherry Jones), their benefactor at the Federal Theater Project, who are all regarded as passionate believers in the transcendent power of art. Welles, in contrast, is a guy who passes out during cast auditions and who dines, like William Randolph Hearst, at the 21 Club, hobnobbing with other elites while his workers scrounge for every dollar.

Angus Macfadyen is… not Orson Welles, at least not any Welles I recognize, except perhaps in those Paul Masson Wine commercial outtakes. Scottish by birth, Macfayden rarely sounds like he’s American, let alone like Orson Welles. (Imagine Gerard Butler doing “Citizen Kane” with that strange not-quite-American accent from “The Ugly Truth” and you have a decent approximation.) It’s hard to imagine this Welles making any money in radio; he’s so swamped with alcohol that he slurs every syllable he utters. Macfadyen’s Welles is like something out of one of the period’s screwball comedies: boisterous, rowdy, quick-witted, and frequently tipsy. It’s a fun performance, but it doesn’t exactly scream Orson Welles (at least not the Welles of this particular period) to the point where you wonder, given Robbins’ willingness to fictionalize other parts of the story (John Turturro’s character, for instance, is a fabrication), why he didn’t just change the character’s name from Welles and let Macfadyen go really crazy.

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Christian McKay in “Me and Orson Welles” (2009)

Directed by Richard Linklater

The Film is… a coming-of-age story about a high-school-aged theater enthusiast named Richard Samuels (Zac Efron) who stumbles into a small role in the Mercury Theatre’s 1937 production of “Julius Caesar.”

Orson Welles is portrayed as… a brilliant scoundrel. As described by one of his employees (Claire Danes), Welles is “very competitive, very self-centered, and very brilliant.” “And,” she warns, “the rule with Orson is you don’t criticize him. Ever.” He’s basically the Don Corleone of Depression-era Broadway: favoring those he loves with warmth and generosity and ruining the lives of those who dare to cross him. During his stint at the Mercury, Richard sees many sides of Welles’ persona: his improvisational brilliance, his unwavering directorial vision, his ravenous womanizing, and his dangerous temper. The rest of the “Caesar” cast and crew are often seen waiting around for Welles while he’s darting from one radio appearance to the next. But when he arrives, he is always worth the wait.

Christian McKay is… uncanny. He’s larger than life, but never cartoonish. He’s simultaneously charismatic and repulsive. He’s equally convincing whether Welles is sweet-talking a pretty girl or browbeating an argumentative stagehand. Watching McKay in the role, it is easy to see how Welles commanded so much attention; whenever McKay enters a scene, you can’t take your eyes off him. It’s said that Welles fired the actor who previously played Richard’s part in “Julius Caesar” because Welles feared being upstaged. McKay never has to share his character’s concern. He’s so good he comes dangerously close to rendering the film’s title half untrue.

[Additional photos: “The Night That Panicked America,” Paramount Television, 1975; “Malice in Wonderland,” Incorporated Television Company, 1985; “Heavenly Creatures,” Miramax, 1994; “Ed Wood,” Touchstone Pictures, 1994; “RKO 281,” HBO, 1999; “Cradle Will Rock,” Touchstone Pictures, 1999; and “Me and Orson Welles,” Freestyle Releasing, 2009]

Underworld

Under Your Spell

10 Otherworldly Romances That’ll Melt Your Heart

Spend Valentine's Day weekend with IFC's Underworld movie marathon.

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Photo Credit: Screen Gems/courtesy Everett Collection

Romance takes many forms, and that is especially true when you have a thirst for blood or laser beams coming out of your eyes.  It doesn’t matter if you’re a werewolf, a superhero, a clone, a time-traveler, or a vampire, love is the one thing that infects us all.  Read on to find out why Romeo and Juliet have nothing on these supernatural star-crossed lovers, and be sure to catch IFC’s Underworld movie marathon this Valentine’s Day weekend.

1. Cyclops/Jean Grey/Wolverine, X-Men series

The X-Men franchise is rife with romance, but the steamiest “ménage à mutant” may just be the one between Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), Cyclops (James Marsden), and Wolverine (Hugh Jackman). Their triangle is a complicated one as Jean finds herself torn between the two very different men while also trying to control her darker side, the Phoenix. This leads to Jean killing Cyclops and eventually getting stabbed through her heart by Wolverine in X-Men: The Last Stand. Yikes!  Maybe they should change the name to Ex-Men instead?


2. Willow/Tara, Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Joss Whedon gave audiences some great romances on Buffy the Vampire Slayer — including the central triangle of Buffy, Angel, and Spike — but it was the love between witches Willow (Alyson Hannigan) and Tara (Amber Benson) that broke new ground for its sensitive and nuanced portrayal of a LGBT relationship.

Willow is smart and confident and isn’t even sure of her sexuality when she first meets Tara at college in a Wiccan campus group. As the two begin experimenting with spells, they realize they’re also falling for one another and become the show’s most enduring, happy couple. At least until Tara’s death in season six, a moment that still brings on the feels.


3. Selene/Michael, Underworld series

The Twilight gang pales in comparison (both literally and metaphorically) to the Lycans and Vampires of the stylish Underworld franchise. If you’re looking for an epic vampire/werewolf romance set amidst an epic vampire/werewolf war, Underworld handily delivers in the form of leather catsuited Selene (Kate Beckinsale) and shaggy blonde hunk Michael (a post-Felicity Scott Speedman). As they work together to stop the Vampire/Lycan war, they give into their passions while also kicking butt in skintight leather. Love at first bite indeed.


4. Spider-man/Mary Jane Watson, Spider-man

After rushing to the aid of beautiful girl-next-door Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), the Amazing Spider-man is rewarded with an upside-down kiss that is still one of the most romantic moments in comic book movie history. For Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire), the shy, lovable dork beneath the mask, his rain-soaked makeout session is the culmination of years of unrequited love and one very powerful spider bite. As the films progress, Peter tries pushing MJ away in an attempt to protect her from his enemies, but their web of love is just too powerful. And you know, with great power, comes great responsibility.


5. Molly/Sam, Ghost

When it comes to supernatural romance, you really can’t beat Molly and Sam from the 1990 hit film Ghost. Demi Moore goes crazy for Swayze like the rest of us, and the pair make pottery sexier than it’s ever been.

When Sam is murdered, he’s forced to communicate through con artist turned real psychic, Oda Mae Brown (Whoopi Goldberg in her Academy Award-winning role) to warn Molly she is still in danger from his co-worker, Carl (a pre-Scandal Tony Goldwyn). Molly doesn’t believe Oda is telling the truth, so Sam proves it by sliding a penny up the wall and then possessing Oda so he and Molly can share one last romantic dance together (but not the dirty kind). We’d pay a penny for a dance with Patrick Swayze ANY day.


6. Cosima/Delphine, Orphan Black

It stands to reason there would be at least one complicated romance on a show about clones, and none more complicated than the one between clone Cosima (Tatiana Maslany) and Dr. Delphine Cormier (Evelyne Brochu) on BBC America’s hit drama Orphan Black.

Cosima is a PhD student focusing on evolutionary developmental biology at the University of Minnesota when she meets Delphine, a research associate from the nefarious Dyad Institute, posing as a fellow immunology student. The two fall in love, but their happiness is brief once Dyad and the other members of Clone Club get involved. Here’s hoping Cosima finds love in season four of Orphan Black. Girlfriend could use a break.


7. Aragorn/Arwen, Lord of the Rings

On a picturesque bridge in Rivendell amidst some stellar mood-lighting and dreamy Elvish language with English subtitles for us non-Middle Earthlings, Arwen (Liv Tyler) and Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) bind their souls to one another, pledging to love each other no matter what befalls them.

Their courtship is a matter of contention with Arwen’s father, Elrond (Hugo Weaving), who doesn’t wish to see his daughter suffer over Aragorn’s future death. The two marry after the conclusion of the War of the Ring, with Aragorn assuming his throne as King of Gondor, and Arwen forgoing her immortality to become his Queen. Is it too much to assume they asked Frodo to be their wedding ring-bearer?


8. Lafayette/Jesus, True Blood

True Blood quickly became the go-to show for supernatural sex scenes featuring future Magic Mike strippers (Joe Manganiello) and pale Nordic men with washboard abs (Hi Alexander Skarsgård!), but honestly, there was a little something for everyone, including fan favorite Bon Temps medium, Lafayette Reynolds (Nelsan Ellis).

In season three, Lafayette met his mother’s nurse, Jesus, and the two began a relationship. As they spend more time together and start doing V (short for Vampire Blood), they learn Jesus is descended from a long line of witches and that Lafayette himself has magical abilities. However, supernatural love is anything but simple, and after the pair join a coven, Lafayette becomes possessed by the dead spirit of its former leader. This relationship certainly puts a whole new spin on possessive love.


9. Nymphadora Tonks/Remus Lupin, Harry Potter series

There are lots of sad characters in the Harry Potter series, but Remus Lupin ranks among the saddest. He was bitten by a werewolf as a child, his best friend was murdered and his other best friend was wrongly imprisoned in Azkaban for it, then THAT best friend was killed by a Death Eater at the Ministry of Magic as Remus looked on. So when Lupin unexpectedly found himself in love with badass Auror and Metamorphmagus Nymphadora Tonks (she prefers to be called by her surname ONLY, thank you very much), pretty much everyone, including Lupin himself, was both elated and cautiously hopeful about their romance and eventual marriage.

Sadly, the pair met a tragic ending when both were killed by Death Eaters during the Battle of Hogwarts, leaving their son, Teddy, orphaned much like his godfather Harry Potter. Accio hankies!


10. The Doctor/Rose Tyler, Doctor Who

Speaking of wolves, Rose “Bad Wolf” Tyler (Billie Piper) captured the Doctor’s hearts from the moment he told her to “Run!” in the very first episode of the re-booted Doctor Who series. Their affection for one another grew steadily deeper during their travels in the TARDIS, whether they were stuck in 1950s London, facing down pure evil in the Satan Pit, or battling Cybermen.

But their relationship took a tragic turn during the season two finale episode, “Doomsday,” when the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) and Rose found themselves separated in parallel universes with no way of being reunited (lest two universes collapse as a result of a paradox). A sobbing Rose told a holographic transmission of the Doctor she loved him, but before he could reply, the transmission cut out, leaving our beloved Time Lord (and most of the audience) with a tear-stained face and two broken hearts all alone in the TARDIS.

OMG, It’s Zac Efron!

OMG, It’s Zac Efron! (photo)

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That’s the other hard thing about choosing an actor to follow, is then you get categorized: “Oh, he wants to be Tom Cruise.” I would love to come away with the originality that they all had in their careers. If I could achieve something down the road, it would be to [have people] say, “Hey, he tried a lot of different things. He mixed it up.” That’s what I admire about those actors.

Speaking of mentors, your character finds one in Orson Welles. How familiar were you with his work, and what do you appreciate about him that you didn’t know before?

I knew about “Citizen Kane” and “War of the Worlds,” just your basic Orson story that everybody at some point reads in a history book, or is forced to study. He was summed up in one quote in textbooks: “I began at the top and have been making my way down ever since.”

He’s been written off in that way in our culture, and that’s really disappointing because at the beginning of his career — well, in 1937, in “Me and Orson Welles” — he was a fascinating, brilliant, ambitious, young, talented star. He was changing the face of radio. He raised the bar for Broadway. In this chapter of his life that we explore in the movie, he’s absolutely vibrant. That’s what I really learned, is about the ambition and passion that was young Welles.

How much did you delve into his work for research?

To be honest, most of what we studied for the film — what we looked at as far as material — was very specific to 1937. Most of Welles’ work that you would watch in film, or hear in radio, is far after we began the story, years later. He’s only 22 at this time, which is my age, which is ridiculous. It makes me realize how little I’ve actually accomplished.

What was unique about your collaboration with Richard Linklater that you’ve never experienced with other directors?

I have a sense of pride now working with Rick that we made a movie that’s not typical in any way. It wouldn’t have been made if it wasn’t for a lot of hard work, and that’s Rick for you. He’s a renegade filmmaker and I love his philosophy to film. Whatever is going on in his head, you want to be a part of it, and Rick gave me a pretty big gift by sharing a lot of that knowledge.

He’s very meticulous with the environment that surrounds the actors, and in making sure that it feels genuine. We weren’t trying to act of the period. We weren’t talking with accents or anything like that. He wanted us to have fun and play and bring life to this era. In the past, when it’s been done, it could sometimes be a bit stuffy. That was a cool lesson that he taught me, is that no matter what’s happening, let it live. You can’t force anything.

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I can imagine the benefits, but what did you like least about working in a period piece?

I like my pants pretty low on my waist — I invest in nice boxers, you know? [laughs] It was the most fascinating feeling in the world to wear my pants buttoned at the belly button for the entire run of the film. It really put your head in the period. It’s just weird, how style has evolved. We used, for the most part, all authentic clothing, old stuff. You know the life that has gone on in the clothes before you. You can feel it, you can smell it. Some guy who’s probably no longer with us wore this when he was a kid. Although the clothes were very itchy, and I’ve grown to love cotton, I think I thoroughly enjoyed it.

In this ridiculous, tabloid-influenced society we live in, what do you think the biggest misconception is about you?

I don’t know, it’s hard to talk about that without exacerbating the problem. I know this doesn’t clear up any misconceptions, but all I can say is I’m just trying to live my life as a young actor, and all the rest is pretty much B.S.

“Me and Orson Welles” is now open in New York and Los Angeles.

More Than This

More Than This (photo)

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The temptation to make an orthodox narrative film shouldn’t always be indulged, because too often you’re tempted by the wrong things — pungent prose, say, or, as in the case of Richard Linklater’s “Me and Orson Welles,” historical juice.

The latest of at least five features depicting Welles at various chalk points in his iconic career, Linklater’s sprightly, bouncy period farce is all about flavor and sass, which is to say, there’s no clear reason for it to exist. There’s very little story to tell, in any case: the tortured, famed production of Welles’ fascist-uniform “Julius Caesar” at the Mercury Theatre in Manhattan in 1937 is the whirlpool into which a fresh-faced newbie, Richard Samuels (Zac Efron), plunges himself, eager for showbiz and bored with school.

Welles (Christian McKay) impulsively casts the boy as Lucius, and so the kid gets to observe the famed director in full-blown baby artiste mode, splitting his waking hours and inexhaustible ego between bedding women and prodding his troupe to perfect the play he’s rarely on hand to rehearse.

The incidental pleasures aren’t to be dismissed: the look-alike/sound-alike stunt casting (McKay, who’s staged a one-man Welles play, is a spot-on impressionist, while James Tupper is a fascinatingly close parallel-universe version of Joseph Cotten), the period tartness, the riffs on Wellesian tantrum-throwing, the passionate lit-talk, etc.

Efron’s wispy teen is loosely based on Arthur Anderson, who was photographed at 15 playing Lucius’ lute by Cecil Beaton (the inspiration for source novelist Robert Kaplow), but what might’ve trucked along nicely in Kaplow’s fiction idles aimlessly on film, and Linklater cannot stir up a progressive, meaningful froth no matter how hard he tries.

Emphasizing the hollowness of the rookie’s trial-by-Orson story is Efron himself, who’s prettier than Claire Danes (playing Welles’ secretary and sometimes screw toy) and who’s long-lashed, smirking, pristine nothingness made me want to hit him in the face with a shovel. Handily deflating every joke line he’s handed with a bloodless delivery fit only for pillow talk, Efron couldn’t be more of an anomaly in a period film, even one this hammy, or in Linklater’s filmography. (“When you’re on stage, you register!” Welles tells Efron’s Richard, while he might as well tell him his blue eyes are brown.)

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McKay, on the other hand, pitches Welles somewhere between Charles Foster Kane and Falstaff, and clearly has a hoot, particularly when “improvising” a paragraph of “The Magnificent Ambersons” into the live performance of a trite radio mystery, the likes of which both fed Welles’ fame and his theatrical experiments.

“Me and Orson Welles” is top-heavy with affection, but scant on enlightenment, and virtually absent of dramatic stakes — but it’s not as if there isn’t a real subject on hand. There is: the work, as Mike Leigh fleshed out so hypnotically in “Topsy Turvy.” But Linklater (and screenwriters Vince and Holly Gent Palmo) skip over the grist of process in favor of comic riffs on thee-tah clichés. The abridged but muscular chunks of “Caesar” we finally do see leave the rest of the film’s flimsy concerns in the dust.

“The Road” and “Me and Orson Welles” are now open in New York and Los Angeles.

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