Liz*


Rosetti's "How They Met Themselves"

My first swimming instructor, God bless her, was named Liz Crossgrove.  I thought she was pretty much the coolest person to ever darken the doorway of the Archbold Municipal Swimming Pool.  One day, my Mom said, “You know, Liz’s name is Elizabeth, too.  She goes by ‘Liz’ for short, and you go by ‘Betsy’.”  This blew my mind.  I didn’t understand the crazy turn of events that left Liz with an stunning, powerful, and yet thrifty one-syllable nickname, 30% of it consisting of the awesomely elusive letter “Z” and me with the clunk of two syllables, the very lisp/missing front teeth un-friendly “TS” combo, and the awkward “Y” ending.  Is it a vowel?  Is it a consonant?  Who the hell even knows?  While I didn’t understand the origins, it made sense to me.  Here was gangly yet round six-year-old Betsy (To quote Matt Besser of the Upright Citizens Brigade, “Fat and skinny at the same time.  No one wants that.”) with tan, not afraid to jump off the high dive, high school attending, beautiful Liz.  While Liz didn’t turn me into an Olympian by any means, she did manage to get me to jump off the high dive.  Once. And I can at successfully “freestyle” it in the true sense of the word.  Imagine the way a slightly disturbed eleven-year-old might run down a hill.  That’s basically how I swim.  No points for technique, but I arrive at my destination all the same.

That same summer, I was prescribed allergy shots.   My Mom and I dutifully went down to the lab of my doctor’s medical complex for my first round.  I sat in the chair, and the nurse said, “I see your name is Elizabeth.  Do you like to be called anything for short?”  As my Mom got out the first syllable of “Betsy,” I confidentally told her, “Liz.”

My Mom said, “What?!”

I said, “I go by Liz.”

“That’s news to me,” my Mom said.

For many years following, I was known, if only in the injection room at Bryan Medical Group in Bryan, Ohio, as “Liz.”

My childhood brain worked on what I’ve now come to call the “choice” system.  This means that I saw most questions as a choice.  When my Mom got pregnant with my little sister, Ellen, I assumed that we had the option to have an African American kid as well as white or Asian or what have you.  After watching The Cosby Show, my absolute favorite, one Thursday night, I said very casually to my parents, “I bet the baby will be black.”  How else did it happen?, I thought, rolling my eyes at my surprised parents.  Particularly my Dad.  “Is there something I don’t know?” I imagine he wondered in between my Mom’s guffaws, as I mused about the potential race of my soon-to-be sister.

So when the nurse asked me, “What is your nickname?” I came up with one that I felt suited me better than “Betsy.”  “Betsy” is the blond girl in pigtails from a 1950’s Easy Reader.  “Betsy” gets into a fix, and about ten pages later, she wholesomely finds her way out of it.  “Liz” pulls up in a convertible and writes a check to whomever is causing the trouble in the first place.  “Betsy” reluctantly plops off the low dive.  “Liz” flings herself, fearlessly, in perfect form, off the high.

My campaign to be called “Liz” was short-lived, however.  “Betsy” stuck.  Since that time, I’ve suffered along with many of the Long Name, in being called, Oh whatever the hell people feel is appropriate.  Liz, Beth, Becky (never understood that one); for awhile, I would correct people, but after having worked at a front desk for, god help me, nearly six years, my energy ran out a long time ago.  So I basically answer to anything short of expletives.

But “Liz” haunts me.  People want to call people who are named Elizabeth, “Liz.”  They really want to.  It really doesn’t matter if said Elizabeth goes by “Liz” or not.  So, as if being followed by some odd childhood wish granting fairy, it seems that I am now to be called “Liz,” at least downtown.  Sidebar: If, in fact, this is what is happening and I am actually being granted childhood wishes, I’d like to put it out there that I actually DO NOT want to live like The Boxcar Children.  Nor do I want crutches, and having now needed glasses and/or corrective lenses for some time now, the charm truly has worn off.  Keep the NKOTB tickets.  But I would definitely still take a Luck Dragon, the Barbie Dreamhouse (we can talk about dimensions later), and Pantene hair would be cool, too.  I actually HAD a Power Wheels.  So, yeah.  I know.  It was awesome.

Anyway, the entire legal department here calls me “Liz.”  In that they are actually very friendly people, and I deal with them regularly, I will let it go.  I just feel they are seeing some part of me that doesn’t exist.  A doppelganger, perhaps.  In the Caribbean they call it a “duppy”.  The Celts called it a “fetch.”  I call it, well, Liz.  A not so much evil twin,  more like an Executive twin.  I often hear people bemoan their artistic ability, “Gee, I wish I was creative!” or  something like that.  This, I have.  In spades.  What I do not have is a single practical gene in my body.  But Liz?  Liz wears khaki pants and sweater sets.  She has  “working and coordinated wardrobe.”  Liz has a “daily routine”.  Betsy has a place she has be on a daily basis that she stumbles her way into in a sort of pattern, I guess.  Nothing I would call a routine.

Liz has a Roth IRA, and she contributes to it.

Betsy has an old 401K that she plans on spending early.

Liz belongs to some sort of amateur sports team.  They meet up in the park on afternoons and weekends.  They play other such teams.  Then they go for beers afterwards, in their rakishly muddy raglan-sleeved baseball t’s to celebrate their victory.  She has a friend she calls “Coop.”

Betsy does storefront theatre in Chicago where we sometimes actually drink on the job, at the very least during tech.  Nobody ever thinks of getting matching tshirts.  She has, however, performed with others in a uniform consisting of fake eyelashes, dance tights, t-strap character shoes, and wig caps.

Liz has a Blackberry.

Liz likes sour cream and cream cheese.

Liz is kind of into the gladiator sandal thing.  She also has a pair of crocs.  She only wears them in the garden.

Liz has a garden.

Betsy also goes by the nickname The Black Thumb.

Liz will say things like, “Did you try the sashimi at Coast Sushi Bar?  It knocked me on my ass!”

Betsy will say things like, “Did you try the sache/shimmy at bar 57?  It knocked me on my ass!”

Liz will say things like “I found my Tiffany heart bracelet in my Coach bag.  I had been looking in my Dooney & Burke!”

Liz subscribes to Real Simple.

Betsy buys Real Simple and then cuts out the pictures for a Vision Board.

Liz has a dog.

Liz was in a sorority.  Probably AOII or Tri-Delt.  She dated a Phi-Psi.

Liz has a condo.

Liz goes to Spin class.

Betsy writes down the dates of upcoming tap classes.  She does not attend.

Liz secretly likes Dave Matthews Band.

Betsy secretly likes Dave Matthews Band.

Both Liz and Betsy took the LSAT.  Liz used it.

Liz uses Clinique makeup.  She wears Dolce and Gabbana Blue.

Does Betsy wish she lived Liz’s life?  Not at all.  Betsy is glad Liz is out there, blandly and mildy successful.  Betsy gets to be more bohemian.  Liz throws a clam bake.  Betsy throws a fake lobster building party.  Yin and Yang.  Betsy and Liz.  They occasionally channel each other.  If they were to ever bump into each other, it would likely be at Jo-Ann’s.  Betsy there for her weekly stock up, Liz fumbling around the art supplies, trying to find what she needs to make the “16th Annual Weekend Softball Championship” banner.  They will cross paths.  And they will each say, “Hey!  I like your shoes.”  And the heavens will then rain down.   And there will be a great flood.  And Betsy will be glad she jumped off the high dive.  And took swimming lessons from Liz.

*This in no way applies to the character “Liz Lemon” who, by nature of both alliteration and her last name being a citrus fruit, escapes any and all characterizations of me duppy Liz.  In fact, Liz Lemon may have a fetch called “Betsy” who is some sort of high-powered executive assistant in Los Angeles or something, married with three kids, vegetarian, and blonde.

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Sing, Sing a Song – Part Two of Musical Theatre Repertoire


At first I was loathe to write this post.  Why would I want to reveal my sources for cool, obscure and powerful audition material?  But love and be loved in return, right?

If you are a purist, these suggestions may not be for you.  These are non-traditional sources.  Some have a bit of a well-duh factor, admittedly.  And a word of warning:  Some songs are obscure because they simply are not good.  Beware.

New Musical Workshops

The time commitment is usually low, meaning it’s easy to fit a project in between other shows.  You meet great people.  You get to sing.  And many many times, you come home with completely original tunes, smack dab in your range.  One of my new money-note 16 bars is from a series of original musicals I performed at the Theatre Building last year.  I’m not sure what the future is for that particular program, but there are others.  Seek them out.

Small Sidebar:  My experiences at the Theatre Building over the years have been joyous.  I have met wonderful and supportive people and I have learned so much.  I don’t know what’s next over there, but I am forever grateful for every project I was a part of.  The sheer amount of talent that passes through that establishment on a daily basis is astounding.  I have been floored by the abilities of my music directors, the composers, and most of all Earth Mother Allan Chambers.  He provides many important opportunities to new arrivals and up and comers, all while keeping a relaxed and supportive environment.  I wish them all the best in whatever the future holds.

Moving on…

Obscure Disney movies

An obscure Disney move, you say?  Surely ye jest!  Well, pick one that doesn’t have a pj and bedding line at Kmart.  Even the non-musical ones usually have a theme song.  Try Freaky Friday (“I’d Like to Be You For a Day”)

Solo Albums

Check out your favorite chanteuse’s lesser known albums.  Composers are crawling over themselves to write for these ladies (and gents), and we are all the beneficiaries.

Dream Role

Guinevere

I believe we tend to be attracted to roles that “feel right,” roles that we have some connection with.  Of course there are glaringly huge exceptions to this rule (I’m probably not going to play Asaka in Once on this Island) it’s a good place to start.  Pick your dream role, then take the song from Act 2 that people tend to ignore.

Your Shower Routine

Oh, come on.  We all have one.  Perhaps there is a song you love, but you’ve never been able to find the sheet music.  Consider hiring someone to notate it for you.  It isn’t that expensive.  Try hiring a music student at Columbia, for example.  Many many music directors do it on the side for extra cash.

Old Movie Musicals

I’m talking about the ones that never really made it to the stage in any significant way: Funny Face, American in Paris, Ziegfeld Follies

Non-Disney children and family movies

Both animated and not.  Think Willy Wonka, Don Bluth movies, etc.

Randy Newman

Randy Newman

He’s a jackpot.

Old Vaudeville Ballads and Uptempo numbers

Some are heartbreakingly beautiful.  Others are absolutely goofy, and would work well as a comedic piece.

Burlesque

Those ladies may not be singing their songs, but talk about content, right?

Divas…but not the stadium Divas/Golden Age of Hollywood Stars

Instead of Judy, Barbra, Kristin, and Edina try Marilyn, Jayne, Jane, Bridgette, Sophia, Eartha, Blossom Dearie, and Ella

Instead of Frank, try Dean

Movie theme songs

Particularly look at the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s.  Tootsie, for example has a very sweet theme song.

Country

Allison Krauss

Something to note about country:  As opposed to pop, rock, and r&b, country people sing legit, very near Broadway style songs.  Cut out the twang and steel guitar and you’ve got a number.

Singer Songwriters

Gordon Lightfoot - He looks like my Dad in the 70's here

Anne Murray, Carol King, Carly Simon, Bob Dylan, James Taylor

Older work from R&B -ers

Mariah Carey’s old albums have some great stuff.  Men might want to try Seal.

Elton John and Billy Joel

Both of these have forayed into the world of musical theatre.  But I’m not talking about their Broadway work. Particularly take a look at Billy Joel.  Elton John’s rep is a little more widely known.  Billy Joel has definitely had some gems pass under the radar over the years.  Now, I am an unabashed Billy Joel fan, BUT that is very much because much of his stuff is really theatrical.  If you’ve never listened to “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant”, I encourage you to do so.  I’ll reveal here, one of my 32 bar selections is from this song.  I don’t use it a lot, but I have used it.

Your Fave Composer

Alan Menken

Many many musical composers have done work outside the stage.  Sometimes they compose for individual artists, sometimes movies.  You never know.  Dig around your favorite composer’s archives.  You never know what will pop up.

I hope these ideas help you find new and exciting songs for your book and for performance.  Sometimes, nothing is more invigorating and inspiring than singing a song you absolutely love, and that feels like a personal signature.

Singer, Know Thyself


After a very long time out of the auditioning world, I am slowly coming back around.  Due to many different factors such as shows with a long run, offers on projects, etc. it’s been a really long time since I’ve had to break out 16 bars.  So I pulled out my enormous audition binder this week and did some updating.  Musical theatre is a small world no matter how you cut it, but Chicago in particular has a fairly insular community.  As such, you feel a certain pressure to have a unique audition piece that won’t bore the director and accompanist to tears.  The last thing you want is to slap your music down, begin to intro the piece to the guy at the piano and have him say, “Yeah, the girl before you did it, too.  We’re good.”

And then, of course, each musical audition or role or project has a certain feel that you want to embody.  If it’s Sondheim, you want them to know you have an ear.  If it’s new, you want them to see your range.  If it’s Schwartz, you want something other than Wicked.

But then you want something that makes you sound good.  You want something that is “You.”  I won’t ever play Evelyn Nesbit, but I may have some Emma Goldman up my sleeve.  I’m no Sandy.  But I can do Rizzo.  Archetypes are rampant in musicals, and it really helps to have an idea of which ones you embody.  I’m the rich bitch Queen Villain clever bad girl friend comedic relief type person.  Any ingenues I end up playing are always a bit alterna.  Mary Malone in Zombies From the Beyond.  Margie Frake in State Fair.  No, Margie’s not pushing any boundaries, per se.  But she is a brunette in a musical written in the 40’s.  I don’t resent this at all.  Lucky for me, I get the most fun out of the villainy wise-cracker.  I played the mayor’s wife in a mini-musical last year that lasted all of five minutes and it was a blast.  The point is, my book has to match my personality.  I’ve always been pretty good at seeking out selections that fit.

But I was missing one thing.  I didn’t really like the songs I was choosing.  Academically, they were perfect.  But I didn’t enjoy singing them.  So, this week, I went ear to the grindstone (H/T Chuckie in Good Will Hunting) and started making my book truly a repertoire.  Out with the Jo from Little Women.  I never even learned the song in the first place.  Begone Rags!  Sayanara “Whistle a Happy Tune”! (Sidebar:  this was a tough loss.  I don’t really like the song – I didn’t like singing the word “erect.”  I’m a child, what can I say? – but I was struggling finding an upbeat piece in my head voice.)

My audition book is a little sanctuary for me.  I keep little clips of lyrics I love in the pockets.  It’s dripping with pink and purple.  I want to add rhinestones, but I don’t want people to think Starina is about to do 32 bars of “What is this Dream I See?”  Oh hell.  Maybe I do.

Starina

I went through each and every song and asked myself a series of ten questions.  Each song had to fit at least 6, or out it went.  Of course there were a couple exceptions.  I needed to keep my Gershwin.  I also have a sort of rotating Alternative Source meaning country, hymns, pop.  But I ended up with a book I love.  And I can do 16 bars of any of the selections right now at this moment.  My goal is to be able to perform the entire thing, no prep.

Here are the questions I ask myself of each song (having first passed the initial test:  Do I like it?):

1.  Is it smart?

2.  Is it funny?

3.  Is it a character I could play? (God how I want to put “Something Wonderful” from the King and I in my book, but that’s simply a role I won’t be cast in.  Off to the “Use in a cabaret someday” file)

4.  Does it show off some element of my voice?  i.e. range, belt, color, etc.?  (I don’t sound like the current Broadway style when I sing.  I decided to play that up.  It might get me less roles, but it’s me.)

5.  Is it a big personality song?  Can I really take the stage with it?

6.  Does it have depth?  Is there something going on? (Many jazz standards are beautiful, but in the end, you’re singin’ about a tree.  Audition songs have to have what my old acting teacher would call “packing.”)

7.  Is it sexy?

8.  Is it interesting or quirky?

9.  Is it active?  (Ultimately, songs are just monologues to music.  So it really helps if the character is involved in some sort of conversation.  Sondheim songs are great for this.  R&H songs are not.  It’s the difference between doing and telling.)

10.  Is it accompanist-friendly? (Having been one myself, when an actor slaps down a chart with umpteen million sharps, three key changes, and 5/8 time, you want to kill them.)

If I can check several of those off the list, it stays.

MusicalTheatreAudition.com has some really wonderful resources for repertoire-building.  Using their advice, my experience, and my “type” I have built up a repertoire system that works for me.  I hope it works for you.  Here are the categories I am sure to cover with my book.

16 Bars (with easy expansion to 32 bars)

  • Upbeat Belt
  • Upbeat Head Voice
  • Ballad Belt
  • Ballad Head Voice

Faves

A lot of times, you don’t quite know what you are getting into (Season auditions, etc.), so you might as well have a few you absolutely love and can drop rightnow.

I like to have a fave upbeat, ballad, rangey (has either/or huge musical range or emotional range.  Preferably both.  And no, not Rose’s turn, Babs.  Find ya own.)

Make sure you have at least one piece that is decidedly comedic, and one that is decidedly dramatic.

Composers

Certain composers have a feel that is unique to them.  Sondheim comes to mind, of course.  But even Cole Porter is someone to consider.  I like to have a smattering from the big guys.  Like monologues, it’s good to have both classic and contemporary.  Since musical theatre, in it’s modern sense, is relatively new, classic can mean pre-1970’s (in my opinion.  Others would say it has to be 1990 or later, but I think Chorus Line is much more contemporary than say, South Pacific.)  If you really dig in and try to represent quite a few of these composers and others, you will automatically span a good chunk of the music theatre cannon.

Consider:

Cole Porter
Lerner and Lowe
Rodgers and Hammerstein
Rodgers and Hart
Cy Coleman
Stephen Schwartz
Jason Robert Brown
Jules Stein
Kurt Weill
Leonard Bernstein
Flaherty and Ahrens

Now, while I don’t have a Jason Robert Brown piece in my rep, I do have a piece that sure sounds like him.  The idea is to show the people on the other side of the table that indeed, You Can Do That.  So if you love a song, and it sounds like Schwartz, then for our purposes, it is Schwartz.

Early Selections

It would behoove you to have something early 20th Century and something Gilbert and Sullivan.  In all honesty, I still need to find a Gilbert and Sullivan.  I know what one I want to use, but I need to get my butt to the library.  They didn’t have it on Musicnotes.com.

Then we move into the Non Musical Theatre Category

With shows like Rock of Ages out there, it’s good to have some contemporary and pop pieces available.  I also like to have a country song and something folksy/bluegrassy.  I wouldn’t say you NEED that.  That is something I enjoy and seek out.  But it does illustrate that if there is something you do well that is outside the mainstream (opera, scat, foreign language),  have that available.  It’s not unusual in an audition for someone to say, What else do you have?  You should always have an answer that is not: “Uhhhh…nothing.”

I also like to have a couple picks that are representative of certain decades in the 20th century.  I have a 50’s piece.  I also have a 70’s piece.  I also have a piece that is a bit Celtic (It’s “me”), a somewhat gospel piece (another thing I love), I also have a classical piece because I am classically trained, so it’s good to be able to show that. (Sidebar: I have never had to use this.  But I assure you, the second I take it out of my book, somebody will ask.)

Then, we have, as Musical Theatre Audition.com calls it, The Idiot Proof piece.  Let me give you a scenario.  You are at an audition.  Several people have walked out of the audition in various states of dismay, anger, sadness, and bemusement.  There could be several causes for this but there are two likely ones:  Evil director or bad accompanist.  There’s nothing you can do about an evil director.  It is what it is.  You do, however, have defenses for a bad accompanist.  You can help yourself by chucking Plan A (your prepared piece) and going with Plan B – The Idiot Proof piece.  It’s simple, straightforward accompaniment.  Easy key.  Not many page turns.  The accompanist is generally an angel on earth put there solely to bring forth your backup, but they are human angels, nonetheless.  Keep them in mind when choosing material.  More often than not, my accompanists have been borderline musical geniuses who genuinely love helping an actor out.  But sometimes they get sick or get a headache or get sick of playing My Heart Belongs to Daddy.  Sometimes they are terrible.  The girl on the piano at my SETC audition in 2003 just sort of slapped her hands around on the keyboard and giggled.  Keep your ear to the ground at auditions and always assess if you think it might be time for the Idiot piece.  If you are super paranoid, in a two song audition, start with your normal piece and end with Idiot proof.

Finally, I like to have a few character types handy.  Like I said before, I know who I am, musically speaking.  So I have a piece or two that is perfect for a villain.  I have a piece or two that is very quirky best friend.  I have torch.  I have Comedy.  And I have Drama.  I have very little to no ingenue.  What for?  Oh, sure, if I had to, I’ve got some stuff that will work.  I believe that musical theatre types are often born into a show, so to speak.  This means that there is one show that will follow you and find you throughout your life.  For me, it is the Music Man.  I feel Marian the Librarian might be in my future.  And I’m ready.  But just know that I’m secretly wishing for Eulalie Mackecknie Shin.  But I am reticent.  Oh yes, I am reticent.  In other ingenue lemmings, I would love to play Guinevere.  But generally, I want the comedy.  I want the zinger.  I want the sight gag.

Now, none of this is hard and fast.  In the wierd world of the arts, a 90 pound blonde girl might fare well with “Old Man River” and “Ladies Who Lunch.”  Certainly she will be remembered.  I have flagrantly broken some musical theatre rule at one point or another.  I spend years looking for beautifully obscure pieces just to bust out “I Dreamed a Dream” as a semi-joke.  Why the hell not?  I sing it well, I’m comfortable with it, and it always feels a little badass to do potentially the most overdone audition song EVER.  It’s like wearing Poison perfume.  People are likely to assess it as familiar, and then pay extra attention because what in the hell is going on here?  Why would you do that song?  Why would you wear Poison?  Call me a narcissist, but you’ll remember me.  Just remember to do it well.

Next up?  Dance call.

You’re on your own, dude.

Movie Hero of the Week – Keanu Reeves*


Rrgggglll

I had to.  Too many serendipitous references to this man have occurred recently for me to let it go without marking it officially.  True, he doesn’t quite fit my typical Movie Hero of the Week mould.   He hardly deserves “more of the spotlight.”  But I feel he is misunderstood, and not well directed.  While his intentional “bad acting” doesn’t differ much from his actual acting, I want to offer you a few considerations before we lock and key Mr. Reeves into Dudedom forever.

Disclosure:  I had a raging crush on Keanu from 1993-5, ages 12-14.  Any YM quiz called the equivalent of “Who Is Your Celebrity Boyfriend” resulted in my being assigned to him.  True, I changed all my answers so this would happen.  I just want you to know I’m horribly biased.  But then again,  it’s my blog.  It’s all biased.  Are my hormones affecting this pick moreso than, say, Edie McClurg?  Sure.  But bear with me.  When it comes to acting, at least, I know what I’m talking about.

Ted "Theodore" Logan

Keanu first came into the general public awareness in the form of Ted Theodore Logan of the Bill and Ted’s franchise in 1989.  I do own an offering of his from 1986 entitled Brotherhood of Justice.  However, since I’m trying to convince you that he is a good actor at times, we shall still begin with Bill and Ted’s.

Like bad singing, idiocy is most deftly performed by those who are not afflicted.  I give you Eugene Levy in Waiting for Guffman.  After films like A Mighty Wind , we know that Eugene Levy actually has a pretty good set of pipes.  But his true comedic genius comes through as tone-deaf Dr. Pearl.  Keanu, I hold, is not dumb.  Why?  Because Ted is dumb.  And Ted is funny.  Dumbasses don’t understand comedic timing.  Ted does.  He even nails well-timed shoulder shrugs.  This is more difficult than it looks.  And, when Ted, upon meeting the Princesses says, “I’m in love, Dude, ”  we believe him.   Ted, or Keanu rather, is seeing this Princess for the first time, and it reads.  And how specific are his heartfelt, “Whoas!”? Very, in this writer’s mind.

With Ted, Keanu risked type-casting.  While Point Break allowed him to grow up, it hardly allowed to escape Surfer Dudedom.  I don’t offer Point Break as an example of his higher work.  (But I do offer it as a really good time.)  Yet, in general, he seems to have gravitated toward many weird and indie flicks.  My Own Private Idaho is hardly mainstream fare.   While he cannot hold a candle to his costars in Much Ado About Nothing, he does something that most people are too vain or scared to do, he surrounds himself with people who are more talented and more accomplished than he.  For what other reason than to learn?  Certainly any other movie would have made him more money than a Branaugh vehicle.  He could have most likely phoned in any role he must have been offered at the time.   As a viewer, I get a rare sense from Mr. Reeves; this man has respect for his art, and knows that there is always more to learn.  That’s hot.  Do I want to pay to watch somebody struggle?  I will answer this with a question, “Does this ‘somebody’ look like Keanu Reeves?”

Little Buddha

As my second offering in the “Give Keanu a Chance, Man” argument, I give you Little Buddha.  Keanu does one thing exceedingly well, that other more prominent actors do not.  He achieves a sense of wonder.  God love Clooney, but his charm lies in his somewhat bemused and unimpressed attitude.  Keanu is on the opposite side of the spectrum, particularly in Little Buddha, seeing each movie world for the respective first time.  “Whoa,” indeed.  Little Buddha is an innocent, and beautiful movie.  And Keanu, as Prince Siddartha,  fits right in.

One of my favorite Keanu movies is The Devil’s Advocate.  Like Point Break, I cannot offer this to you as an example of his acting ability.  I can only offer it to you in sheer fun.  His is overwhelmingly miscast as the high-powered Southern attorney.  Yet, his horror is real.

My Own Private Idaho

Let me finally offer My Own Private Idaho.  It’s early nineties gay Hamlet.  I say this without the slightest tinge of sarcasm.  That’s exactly what it is.  He’s kind of perfect.  His teenaged Hamlety bravado seems false.  Exactly as it should feel.  He’s a scared, young runaway in a world of freaks with a narcoleptic best friend.  I’d let my defense mechanisms kick in at that point, as well, I think.  Teenage/early twenties facade is the least buyable act in the world.  And he sells that sense.  Perhaps what I’m saying is Keanu gets dealt the difficult role, plays it with youth and innocence rather than cynicism, and then we condemn him for it.  The guy is an artist.  You don’t have to like his art.  But you have to respect that he puts love into what he does.  If only I could say that for everything I do.  Frankly, it’s something I aspire to.

You’ll notice I blatantly leave out the Matrix movies.  I don’t really like them, in all honestly.  If I wanted to see grey clothing with holes, I would dig through Will’s closet.  But more appropriately, I don’t need to mention them.  We’re all aware.  Frankly, my favorite Keanu flick is Speed.  But that’s not what this post is about.  What I want to encourage is seeking out the lesser known Keanu gems.  See what Gus Van Sant saw: an innocent.  The true problem may be that no one tends to write the male innocent.  The ethereal man.  And that’s what Keanu is.  He’s Depp minus the attitude.  He’s Pitt without the chip on his shoulder.  He is blissfully not self-aware.  There seems to be no air of narcissism about him.  He’s from the wrong side of the tracks.  But instead of picking fights, he seems more likely to paint. He’s not clever.  He’s entirely unique.  Truly.  Nothing incites controversy like an original.   It’s long been said that his name means (in Hawaiian) “cool breeze over the mountain.”  Certainly, he’s a breath of fresh air, no?

*What is a movie hero? An un or under-sung member of the film making community who deserves more of the spotlight. And yet lack of such a spotlight often adds to their charm.