Thursday 22 February 2018

Riviera: Throwing your collaborators under a bus can have repercussions for an actor or creator's career

Critiquing yourself is one thing but when actors or creators throw their collaborators under a bus, it could spell a career drought

Behind the lens: Julia Stiles as Georgina in Riviera which has been criticised by Neil Jordan
Behind the lens: Julia Stiles as Georgina in Riviera which has been criticised by Neil Jordan
Megan Fox as Mikaela Banes and Shia LaBeouf as Sam Witwicky in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
Ed Power

Ed Power

Things are far from sunny on Sky Atlantic's Riviera with esteemed director Neil Jordan distancing himself from a series he is credited with co-creating.

"I can't claim it's mine," Jordan said of Sky's glossy potboiler, starring Julia Stiles as the widow of a recently assassinated billionaire.

"If I had been in control of the thing it would have been quite different."

Jordan appears particularly aghast at the thriller's clunking dialogue and acres of exposed flesh. He had written the first two episodes with Booker-winning author John Banville, while the original idea for the show originated with former U2 manager Paul McGuinness.

Megan Fox as Mikaela Banes and Shia LaBeouf as Sam Witwicky in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
Megan Fox as Mikaela Banes and Shia LaBeouf as Sam Witwicky in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

"Critics have said, 'Is this the same Neil Jordan that wrote The Crying Game? Is this the same John Banville who won the Booker prize?"

Nor, by Jordan's telling, is Banville exactly enamoured with what has made it to screen.

"I emailed John, wondering whether his doppelgänger Benjamin Black [Banville's crime novel pseudonym] had been up to some strange double tricks.

"His response was that even that scoundrel wouldn't have written some of that dialogue. They were changed, to my huge surprise and considerable upset."

McGuinness has been quick to defend Riviera - leading to the unique spectacle of two leading figures in Irish entertainment clashing in public.

"Making a show the scale of Riviera is inevitably a team effort," McGuinness said. "Neil co-wrote the first two episodes of the series with John Banville. The show is the most successful premiere on Sky Atlantic this year, achieving higher ratings than such international hit series as Billions and Big Little Lies. I couldn't be more proud of what we have all achieved."

You have to admire McGuinness's chutzpah in standing up for a drama universally panned as gauche and inane. "Riviera is fine if all you want is the TV equivalent of a computer screensaver," began one write-up. "Codswallop on the Cote d'Azur" went another.

What will be the fall out from this high-profile tiff? Obviously, the small talk is going to be stilted the next time Jordan and McGuinness attend the same South Dublin cocktail party. Is there a possibility, however, of more far-reaching repercussions?

The first thing to be pointed out is that entertainment industry figures slamming their own work is not unheard of. Kate Winslet has confessed to cringing every time she stumbles upon Titanic on the television: she hates her American accent and feels her acting is overblown throughout the film (also every time she hears Celine Dion crooning 'My Heart Will Go On' she wants to "throw up") .

At a Q and A in Toronto last year, Michael Fassbender, for his part, expressed dissatisfaction with his acting in a scene from X-Men: Apocalypse that was screened as part of the interview.

"I don't actually like that performance there, to be honest," he said. "I just think it's me shouting. It's just like some dude shouting."

He isn't the only Irish star to take themselves to task. Colin Farrell has voiced displeasure with Michael Mann's remake of Miami Vice, in which he played a rebooted Sonny Crockett and was out-acted by his drooping moustache. "Miami Vice? I didn't like it so much. I understood that we were trying to paint a relationship with Tubbs and Crockett that was so grounded and familiar that there was no need for them to incessantly talk to each other - or look at each other - over two and a half hours."

Still, there is a difference between critiquing oneself and throwing your collaborators under a bus. When that happens, the backlash can be severe. Consider the career arcs of Shia LaBeouf and Katherine Heigl, one-time Hollywood darlings plunged back into obscurity after they broke the unspoken Tinsel Town code against the airing of one's dirty laundry in public.

In LaBeouf's case, he has paid the price for saying what everyone else was thinking anyway. The star of Transformers and Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull wasn't exactly dropping a bombshell when he described the former as confusing and the latter as undercooked. Nonetheless, there was a sense he had gone where other actors would never dare. "I couldn't see what the f*** was going on, you know, with certain robots," he said of Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen, which even fans will agree was a low point in cinema. "I couldn't decipher what was happening. There were story line paths that I just wouldn't have gone down."

Such frankness has not done him any favours. The same can be said of Katherine Heigl, who critiqued her break-out movie Knocked Up for its depiction of her character as "shrill" and "humourless". "It paints the women as shrews, as humourless and uptight... I had a hard time with it on some days. I'm playing such a bitch; why is she being such a killjoy?" Again, the sin wasn't slinging mud at her own work - fine in Hollywood, provided you don't go over the top. To castigate director Judd Apatow, though was too much.

It didn't help that Heigl - then the ruling queen of the rom-com with a salary of $12m per feature - was gaining a reputation for being hard to work with. She clashed with Grey's Anatomy creator Shonda Rhimes when letting it be known she didn't wish to be considered for an Emmy nomination for her performance in the series, while off the record whispers painted her as privileged and demanding.

Fast forward to 2015 and she was trying to rebuild her career with NBC thriller State of Affairs. Unfortunately it was cancelled after two episodes. Once you've fallen all the way down, it's a long climb back. "I was feeling completely like the biggest piece of sh*t on the bottom of your shoe," Heigl said. "I was really struggling with it and how to not take it all personally and not to feel that there's something really deeply wrong with me. It was, at first, very hard."

Yet such pleas have not received a favourable response. "I feel sad that she hasn't learned the lesson of her journey yet," said Judd Apatow of Heigl last year. "You'd think at some point I'll get a call saying 'Sorry, I was tired...', but then the call never comes."

Sometimes, however, the story is a more complicated. In 2003, comedy actor Bill Murray was approached about voicing sardonic kitty Garfield in a new animated movie. He said yes on the basis that he would be working with esteemed director and screen writer Joel Coen (one half of the Coen Brothers). In fact, Garfield was written by the rather less garlanded Joel Cohen - a fact of which Murray did not become aware until it was too late. "I was exhausted, soaked with sweat, and the lines got worse and worse," he said of recording his lines.

"And I said, 'Okay, you better show me the whole rest of the movie, so we can see what we're dealing with.' So I sat down and watched the whole thing, and I kept saying, 'Who the hell cut this thing? Who did this? What the f*** was Coen thinking?' And then they explained it to me: It wasn't written by that Joel Coen."

Irish Independent

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