The great tragedy of today's Academy Award Nominations was that the best performance of 2009 was not acknowledged. I am talking about Christian McKay's force-of-nature interpretation of Orson Welles in Richard Linklater's ME AND ORSON WELLES. To embody the bigger-than-life, hurricane personality of Orson Welles so completely and do it with subtle control and not get lost in the groundswell of preconceived notions of a well-documented iconic figure easily marks McKay as one of today's most fearless actors. Shame on you, Oscars.
ME AND ORSON WELLES is far from Richard Linklater's best work. The film doesn't approach the zeitgeist defining DAZED AND CONFUSED or the literary romanticism of BEFORE SUNSRISE and BEFORE SUNSET, but ME AND ORSON WELLES is a solid, if not whimisical valentines to art, artists, the creative process, and the selfish narcissism that drives those things. The story takes place in 1937 where a high school student and aspiring thespian (played by Zac Efron) takes a day trip to New York city and is fortunate enough to get cast in a production of JULIUS CAESAR to be directed by Orson Welles and staged at the famed Mercury Theatre. Forget Zac Efron, who seems not only lost amongst the talented cast, but blank of any genuine emotion. The centerpiece of this film is Christian McKay who captures Orson Welles' essence and manners so thoroughly, you would have thought Welles had come back to life for his greatest encore. Irregardless of the fact that it's based on a novel, the film should not have been called ME AND ORSON WELLES but ORSON WELLES AND I.
Surrounded by his merry band of Mercury actors, McKay has all the mannerisms, the smooth swagger, the uncontrollable egotism, and the uncontainable brilliance of Welles. McKay's had plenty of opportunity to refine the role. For years, McKay portrayed Welles in his one-man stage production ROSEBUD: THE LIVES OF ORSON WELLES to great critical acclaim. So by the time he got to the set for Linklater's film, McKay probably knew more about Welles than Welles knew about himself. And it shows, for every scene McKay is in, ME AND ORSON WELLES truly comes alive. His performance is more than explosive, it is Welles' gullet swallowing the tonnage of the world, a full chorus of creative aggression wrapped around the paradox of beloved genius and figure of odium. How many actors today can juggle such complicated nuances?
On March 7th, when they pass out the awards...know that the best actor will not take the stage.
On Oscar day, please remember Christian McKay.
Mike Le is a writer/producer living in Los Angeles. He is also the creator of the Hollywood webcomic DON'T FORGET TO VALIDATE YOUR PARKING.
You can also follow Mike Le on Twitter: @DFTVYP