Thursday, November 20, 2008

Look What Happens When They Stop Being Real...

Recently photos were snapped on the set of The Joneses, the 2009 Demi Moore/David Duchovny film about a family who moves into a prestigious community only to peddle very specific products. They are an affluent, powerful, popular family, so everyone else wants to follow their lead ala "keeping up with the Joneses," hence the title. These photos showed two very big reality television personalities playing even bigger versions of themselves to match the upgrade in screen size: Kim Zolciak and Sheree Whitfield from Bravo's The Real Housewives of Atlanta. This project seemed as tailor-made for these women as the custom clothing that their personal stylists create for their charity events and birthday parties. Hell, their show even boasts the tagline "I don't keep up with the Joneses; I am the Joneses!" With the job of basically just playing trumped up versions of themselves, there's virtually no way for Kim and Sheree to fail here, which will undoubtedly lead them to believe that they can try their hand at busting down genre doors and attempting their hands at legitimate acting roles. They would be far from the first reality stars to test the waters in the scripted side of the industry, but considering those who came before them, it is doubtful they can turn their reality run into a long-term and lucrative career.

Hands down the best example of reality stars who try to act and fail comes with the stars of The Scorned, the 2005 E! Channel horror film whose filming was captured by yet some more reality cameras for the tongue-in-cheek Kill Reality. The Scorned featured everyone from Jenna Lewis and Ethan Zohn (Survivor) to Tonya Cooley, Steven Hill, and Trishelle Cannatella (The Real World) to Bob Guiney (The Bachelor), among many, many others. The plot revolves on a group of young couples vacationing together in a shared house, making the story self-reflexive enough that it should be good for a few laughs, especially when a so-called "Angel of Death" begins offing them one by one due to their sinful, cheating ways. The film is so full of bad squibs, corn syrup, flying wires, and shower sex scenes that the one redeeming actor gets lost in the mess. Ethan Zohn actually does a decent job of portraying schizophrenic Murray, who everyone mistakes as crazy but actually just knows the truth about what haunts their beautiful vacation hideaway. Everyone else, though, is an odd combination of flat and stereotypical, all rolled into one, which was all the worse when paired with the episodes of the "making of" show, when all of them came alive while screaming at each other, hooking up, or in the case of one Johnny Fairplay, literally crapping on another's bed. It wasn't a metaphor, but it could have been: after watching The Scorned, one kind of feels like they were just immersed in sh*t. Needless to say, the only credits any of these people have had since have been of the softcore and late night variety.

Colleen Haskell was the fourth juror on Survivor's first season in Borneo before somehow winning the female romantic lead in Rob Schneider's The Animal a year later. Though her young, cute, bubbly big smile made her a breath of fresh air to watch week after week on Survivor-- especially when surrounded by others who were dirty, cranky, and foul-mouthed-- in carrying a ninety minute feature, it just got annoying and fast. She tried her hand at guest starring roles in television comedies like That 70's Show and Maybe It's Me, but she came across as whiny, and after 2002, she disappeared from the limelight, proving that it is a rare case when a reality star can extend his or her fifteen minutes.

Survivor Jerri Manthey was trying to be an actress long before she appeared on the second season of the CBS hit. She pretty much only had an episode of Blind Date to her name prior to the reality show, though, but since then it hasn't been much better. Sure, she has appeared as herself on everything from The Surreal Life to countless VH1 "I Love The..."s, but basically that was her as a commentator, not an actress. She has had a few supporting roles in independent films you've never heard of, such as 2004's Commitment Pledge and 2006's Chloe's Prayer, but other than trying to get invited to premieres for bigger movies that she is not in simply to be photographed on the red carpet in an attempt to remain a relevant part of pop culture, she has virtually, and for good reason, fallen off the grid. Perhaps she should have spent thirty-nine days in acting classes instead of in the Outback!

The Real World is perhaps the most obvious outlet for wannabe actors to get accustomed to cameras and to garner the fans necessary to open films later on in their careers, and since its stars start out savvy about this industry, it is the place (if any) one would expect the alumni to go onto fictional projects (Big Brother contestants like Jase Wirey, "the firefighter," and Janelle Pierzina have both only had featured roles in shows like Will & Grace and Entourage, respectively, with their line counts coming in as under-fives, so that show takes a distant second place in the success department). This was best exploited in season XX: Hollywood, which featured kids who were upfront and honest that they were doing the show to further their in-front of the camera careers. The season even gave them the "job" of taking classes and performing improv classes at the I.O. West. However, it is not a guaranteed recipe for success; Joey Kovar, the only one who seemed to want to make it as an actor, ironically enough, became overwhelmed during his season with the temptations of Hollywood and has since moved back to his native Chicago. Though he has completed an independent film, 10,000 Doors, it still remains to be seen if he will go the way of Robin Hibbard or Kellyanne Judd, both of whom have had so much plastic surgery they can't possibly not be auditioning for things, or follow in the footsteps of those rare few that actually made it.

Despite claiming his true professional intention was to be a politician during his season of The Real World: Chicago, Kyle Brandt experienced moderate success as Philip Kirakis on Days of our Lives for five years and has since gone onto star in an independent film with Jennifer Hall and Larisa Oleynik.


Jacinda Barrett from The Real World: London, on the other hand, did a little bit of everything from television (episodes of MilleniuM, as well as Zoe, Duncan, Jack & Jane) to horror (Urban Legend: The Final Cut) before being able to really show off her acting chops in dramatic character pieces and opposite some of today's biggest stars. Her resume includes The Human Stain with Nicole Kidman and Anthony Hopkins, Bridget Jones Diary: The Edge of Reason with Renee Zellwegger and Hugh Grant, and School for Scoundrels with Billy Bob Thornton and Jon Heder.

She should be, by far, an inspiration for any reality star aspiring for more, but her tale should still be cautionary at best, as she is clearly one out of hundreds, and she happens to have a very rare talent that just being yourself on television cannot cultivate. So for anyone with visions of bright Hollywood lights dancing in your head, please don't assume getting yourself onto a reality show is the way to go: for one things, producers and casting directors do not offer automatic roles, let alone respect, just based on ten or twelve or even eighteen episodes of such programming that might already be under your belt because conditions there (especially if you are in some sort of challenge-related program) are not indicative of life on a set. Instead, please take classes and participate in theatre workshops; not only will it strengthen any innate talent you have, but it will also spare the public from yet some more uninspired (reality) star turns.

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