One of my favorite shows used to be Inside the Actors Studio. I say used to be because I don’t even know what channel it’s on now, if it even is on at all.
But back in the day it used to air on Bravo — Bravo was into this sort of thing then, an actor or actress talking to the ever-inquisitive host, James Lipton, about their life, their art, their… process.
The show began in the mid-90’s and was a radical concept. Back then movies were all about real drama, not super heroes, and there weren’t many television shows that discussed the nuts and bolts of acting as a craft. You might see actors on television, but they were simply promoting their movies.
Which went like this: Actor goes on Late Night talk show, tells a little story about his or her personal life, laugh laugh laugh, actor introduces a clip, then says Blah Blah Blah movie comes out Friday, go see it.
Inside the Actors Studio was great because James Lipton had been an actor himself. The show was taped live in front of students at the Actors Studio, in New York.
Watching it, you got the sense that everyone wanted to be there. The show was a platform to talk about the craft of acting and the life of the actor, what the actor might bring to a role. It didn’t promote movies, it promoted acting itself.
And the actors — if not directors, and to a lesser extent musicians, who sometimes appeared — had things to say. From Robert De Niro to Meryl Streep to Tom Hanks, Sigourney Weaver, Samuel L. Jackson, to countless others, the show is a veritable laundry list of the biggest celebrities in the world opening up.
I haven’t seen every episode, but one that I really remember is Dave Chappelle. In 2006, about a year after controversially quitting “Chappelle’s Show,” Dave — who was the most popular comedian in the world — sat for an interview. In it, he essentially discussed the whole fiasco, as well as a myriad number of issues that are still noteworthy today
Watching it now, the episode seems like a relic. Today, you would probably not hear a celebrity, let alone a comedian, opening up in this way. Celebrities now are much more on guard, seeking to control the narrative, as they are prone to say.
But you needn’t look hard for content that mimics Inside the Actors Studio. We are awash in premium content — internet chat shows, podcasts, Netflix specials, celebrities who interview other celebrities, brand-supported video series where famous people talk about creativity. You could potentially argue that the kind of thing Inside the Actors Studio once did, is now overdone.
And yet there is also the sense now that famous people say everything and nothing at all. What’s more, nobody really cares. Everyone and anyone has a story to share, simply logging on to Twitter each morning will find someone speaking their truth, even if it’s a truth nobody asked for.
Beyond that, one wonders: are there any real Hollywood stars left, actors and actresses who, with their name alone can get people to buy tickets? These days Jordan Peele seems about the only one, and he doesn’t even act. But throw Iron Man or Captain Marvel on the screen and the tickets will fly.
No, in fact actors are not the celebrities people care about now. The most famous people these days are folks you probably have never heard of — teenage influencer types, folks who make YouTube videos, post inspirational content on Instagram, and make funny videos on TikTok.
But one wonders if this type of fame, where your average Instagram influencer might have more followers than a small country, really amounts to anything. In a world in which people become famous for seemingly doing nothing but being themselves, even if their self is a put-on of sorts, what deeper truth are they looking to expose through their work? Does that deeper truth actually exist?
I don’t really know the answer, and perhaps in a country where people no longer have the attention spans to read books or watch television shows without picking up their phones, the need to find meaning through movies or music is a kind of antiquated thing.
There is no craft in being yourself, nor can there be hindsight or reflection, because through social media, from minute to minute, our lives — famous and otherwise — are being shared, constantly. There is no backward, only forward, another video to post, another status update to share.
In this, there is no big story, just a series of little ones. Added up they seem to equal… sadly, nothing at all.