Desperate Thespians

Salt Lake City Weekly | January 7, 2005
Desperate Thespians

Living the Hollywood low life in HBO’s Unscripted.


No matter how much your job sucks, there’s always someone stuck in a worse profession than yours—like George Clooney, for instance.

“The truth of the matter is less than 5 percent of our union makes all the money,” the Batman & Robin star says. “And that’s just the people in the union. There are so many actors that get up every morning and—forget getting a job—they try to get an agent. Or an audition. We’re trying to show what it is that we do. It’s completely unlike the way it’s usually portrayed.”

Clooney’s talking via press release about Unscripted (HBO, Sundays), the new reality/drama hybrid series he’s created with Steven Soderbergh, one of the few director-producers who’s managed to make a tolerable George Clooney flick. Unlike HBO’s other Hollywood-centric series, Entourage, which is all about the glamour, sex and bling of being a movie star (and, coincidentally, produced by another actor, Mark Wahlberg), Unscripted isn’t an infomercial for chasing glittery thespian dreams in La-La Land. It’s Scared Straight with callbacks.

If you’re one of the dozen or so people who suffered through Clooney and Soderbergh’s first HBO series, 2003’s political K Street, you’d be rightfully relieved to know that their awkward cross-fade of real situations and improvised drama actually works far better within Unscripted. Not that it’s any less depressing: Real-life struggling actors Jennifer Hall, Bryan Greenberg and Krista Allen play themselves, improvising dialogue in unrehearsed, no-retakes scenes based on their own or Clooney’s Hollywood experiences with ineffectual agents, failed auditions, humiliating résumés, endless compromises, negative cash flows and—perhaps worst of all—blustery keepin’-it-real acting workshops conducted by Frank Langella (ironically, the only one here not playing himself).

Greenberg’s actor roommate intercepts his phone messages and weasels in on his auditions; Hall has to hit up her parents for rent money; Allen has her own problems, mostly due to being impossibly hot. She’s older and experienced than the other two, but the majority of roles she’s landed (on CSI, Days of Our Lives, Baywatch and, most memorably, Liar Liar, as the “great rack” in the elevator with Jim Carrey) are of the one-dimensional sexpot-vixen variety she’s longing for the chance to Charlize Theron her way out of into a Serious Actress career. Until then, Maxim shoots and spokesmodel gigs pimping tequila brands on spring break pay the bills for her and her 8-year-old son.

The genuine-to-juiced-up ratio of Allen’s beauty-victim crisis in Unscripted isn’t quite clear, but it’s tough not to feel sorry for Krista the Character when what looks to be a breakthrough role in a Garry Marshall film (yes, the crapmeister behind recent cineplex gems like Raising Helen and The Princess Diaries—it’s a breakthrough of degrees) is accidentally yanked from under her by her own kid. As Clooney implied, 95 percent of these opportunities amount to nothing; in at least the first half of Unscripted’s 10-episode run, it’s more like 99.9 percent.

But, when it’s not dark and disheartening, Unscripted can be as dryly (and uncomfortably) funny as everyone’s favorite pseudo-reality doc, The Office. Like when Greenberg finally figures out what his roommate is up to and sets him up to audition for a gay-porn flick, or when Hall makes a friend of Yes Dear star Mike O’Malley while appearing on his sitcom, only to scare the bejesus out of him with her vulgar musical duo at a bar gig. And, given Clooney’s connections, the occasional Big Star drifts comically through the story—including Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Noah Wyle, Hank Azaria and, of course, Mike O’Malley—to make the jobless Unscripted trio look even more beaten-down and pathetic.

Or driven and brave, depends on your perspective. Unscripted isn’t going to convince anyone to become an actor, but it could engender some new respect for a craft that’s been tainted in recent years by talentless overnight reality-show “stars.” Or, it could get Krista Allen more work with her clothes on … kind of a win-lose, really.

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