TV

The Rundown: Jeremy Strong Is Hollywood’s Prince Of Bold Choices

The Rundown is a weekly column that highlights some of the biggest, weirdest, and most notable events of the week in entertainment. The number of items could vary, as could the subject matter. It will not always make a ton of sense. Some items might not even be about entertainment, to be honest, or from this week. The important thing is that it’s Friday, and we are here to have some fun.

ITEM NUMBER ONE — The Number One Boy

Most people — most of you, especially, I imagine — know Jeremy Strong best as Kendall Roy from Succession, the narcotics-riddled Number One Boy who can’t get out of his own way long enough to let a single good thing happen to him. That’s fine. It’s good, even. It’s a meaty role, and Strong does a nice job with it, wearing Kendall’s torment and desperation all across his face like a handlebar mustache of despair. But the tricky part of the performance is, to put a fine point on it all, that Kendall kind of looks and talks like Jeremy Strong looks and talks. There are degrees here, sure, and this is zero percent a knock on his performance, which is great. But it’s true. And it’s a shame, in a way, because if there’s one thing we’ve learned about Jeremy Strong over the years, it’s that he loves making Choices, capital C not a typo.

Start with The Trial of the Chicago 7, the Aaron Sorkin movie about the real-life fallout from the riots in Chicago at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Strong plays Jerry Rubin, a famous counterculture figure who was at the center of the whole thing, and an associate of Abbie Hoffman, played by Sacha Baron Cohen. If you knew nothing about Strong other than his role as Kendall going in, you’d think Cohen was the wild man on set, the prankster who got so deep into his character that it drove his co-stars a little nutso. You would have been wildly, galactically incorrect, for a few reasons I’ll get to momentarily, right after I show you this screencap of Strong in action, which will, I think, add some necessary color to the presentation.

Netflix

Okay. That helped. The next issue we need to cover is that Jeremy Strong is Method, also capitalized, from the Daniel Day-Lewis school of acting, which leads to all sorts of fun quotes about the filming from people involved. Like, for example, this one, from Sorkin.

The most die-hard Method actor was Jeremy Strong, who once worked as Daniel Day-Lewis’s assistant and seems to have inherited his role model’s relish for total immersion. Filming the riot scenes on location in Grant Park, he insisted, before the cameras rolled, that a former Chicago cop playing one of the storm troopers hurl him to the ground before every take. “Jeremy begged me to spray him with real tear gas,” adds Sorkin. He declined.

“Jeremy begged me to spray him with real tear gas.” It’s perfect. And beautiful. Beautiful and perfect. And still not as good as this next thing, from an interview at Vulture. It turns out Strong got so deep into the role that he brought the prankster, rascal spirit to the set, to a very real degree. How real? Hmm. Is “secretly installed a fart machine into the bench of the judge, who was played by 82-year-old Frank Langella, a man who has the second-most Tolerates No Hooey face in Hollywood behind Tommy Lee Jones” real enough for you? Because…

So I planted a fart machine in the judge’s dais where he couldn’t find it. I would set it off sometimes before a close-up, and it would really piss him off. His face turned red. Those are the takes we used in the film. It was great — there was real, palpable tension in the room when that happened. I got in trouble sometimes with Aaron and the producers, but I kind of felt like … if I’m Jerry Rubin, and I’m not in contempt of some court, then I’m not doing my job.

God, poor Frank Langella. I mean, I adore almost everything about this, and please do stop here to picture Jeremy Strong in like a Spencer’s Gifts at a mall comparing four different fart machines to find the specific sound he’s looking for, but poor Frank Langella. I hope they at least let him keep the fart machine.

It’s not just The Trial of the Chicago 7, either. Strong showed up in Guy Ritchie’s The Gentlemen recently as Matthew McConaughey’s main drug-dealing rival, Matthew Berger, a Jewish American gangster in England who looked like this…

Miramax

… and was absolutely bursting with can only be described as Stanley Tucci energy. And when I pointed out on Twitter how these two roles exhibited a fantastic degree of Choice-making, something like five people immediately yelled at me about his role in Serenity, which I have not seen but appears to fall into the same category based only on that reaction. And when I sat around thinking about it all this week, it led me to a very important question.

In the second season of Succession, a few episodes before performing the cringe-inducing rap song cooked up by his boy Squiggle, Kendall Roy pooped in his bed after a night of cocaine-fueled debauchery. We know this because he woke up naked with poop in his bed and a very irritated maid nearby. Which is about par for the Kendall Roy course. But here’s where my head is at now: Given what we know about Jeremy Strong as an actor, that he begged to be tear-gassed and drove Frank Langella mad with a fart machine and loves adding layers and layers to the characters he plays, do you think… do you think he really pooped in that bed? You know, for the realism? To drive home the shame and humiliation of it all? Do you?

I mean, it’s a fair question.

ITEM NUMBER TWO — It is very upsetting to me that it took us this long to create a John Wick roller coaster

Lionsgate

Can you believe it? I mean, honestly, can you? Can you believe that we’re here in 2020, a full three films into the John Wick franchise, with a fourth and a fifth on the way, and there is still no fully operational John Wick-themed roller coaster at any theme park anywhere on this big stupid marble of a planet? It’s crazy. There are roller coasters for every movie. There are even, as we learned just last week, movies based on roller coasters now, and yes, I’m talking about the Space Mountain movie, again, partially because I’m still just flabbergasted that it is a real thing that is happening, and partially because it gets me back to the point I intended to make before this meandering sentence started: Finally, at long last, society and has stepped up and righted this historical wrong. The time has come for the John Wick roller coaster.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that the roller coaster will not be here in America. It will be in Motiongate theme park in Dubai. Although I guess that’s good news too if you live in Dubai. Lots to consider here. Anyway, from Variety:

The “John Wick: Open Contract” coaster will offer riders a choice as they board: They can help John Wick — the assassin played by Keanu Reeves in the 2014 movie and its two (so far) sequels — or they can hunt him.

The funniest thing would be if, when you choose the “hunt John Wick” option, you just get lit up with paintballs the whole time you’re on the ride. Possibly by the people in line for the “be John Wick” option. I don’t know. I suspect there are liability options here. We’ll get the lawyers on the phone later. Let’s get some more information first.

“I think what’s going to be amazing for fans is to have the opportunity to walk through the lobby of the Continental and experience different key moments in the settings that took place in the films,” Brown said. “This attraction in particular is really about setting the story by putting people in this very immersive environment, and then you really get the action as you get on the coaster. It’s 10 stories high, so there’s definitely a level of intensity that’s befitting of the ‘John Wick franchise that guests will experience.”

You want to know the crazy thing? I’m reading this last paragraph and I’m thinking, really cranking away on the lumpy parts of my brain, and the more I do it the more I think maybe the real moneymaker here is a full-on John Wick fantasy camp where you stay in a fake Continental and do paintball skirmishes and maybe someone kills your dog. Wait. No. Not that last part. That’s too real. And the lawyers definitely won’t like it.

Yeah, let’s just stick with this roller coaster. Probably the safer option.

ITEM NUMBER THREE — Sigourney Weaver rules

Sony

Sigourney Weaver is a legend for about a hundred reasons. She was in the Alien movies. She was in Ghostbusters. She was in Galaxy Quest, which is not as big a deal culturally as those first two, but still, Galaxy Quest whoops ass. She does not need to continue proving herself. She does not need to do physically risky stunts in sequels to action movies that came out over a decade ago. She does not need to hold her breath underwater for six minutes so some ocean-obsessed director can get his shots more quickly. She could very well just chill and relax and make money by showing up at fan conventions and stuff.

And yet! From a profile in the New York Times:

In “Avatar 2,” which is largely finished but not scheduled for release until December 2022 — to be followed by several planned sequels — she shot many of her scenes underwater. Never mind that she was closing in on 70. (She’s now 71.) Or that the preparation included dives in Key West, Fla., and in Hawaii, where she reclined on the ocean floor while manta rays glided over her. Or that she needed to train with an expert who had coached elite military divers so that she could hold her breath, after a big gulp of supplemental oxygen, for more than six minutes. That made the part more attractive to her. “My hope is that what I receive from the universe is even more outrageous than anything I can think of,” she told me. “I don’t really say to myself, ‘Well, you can’t do this.’ Or, ‘You can’t do that.’ Let me at it! And we’ll see.”

Okay, do me a favor. Right now. You have a few minutes. I know you do. Open up the stopwatch feature on your phone, take a huge deep breath, as deep as you can, and then start the clock and see you long you can hold that breath. Push yourself. Don’t, like, pass out or anything. I don’t want that on my conscience heading into the weekend. But don’t be a wimp, either. Be a champion. Stop the clock when you have to take another breath. Record your findings mentally.

Then go back and read that blockquote. Six minutes! Sigourney Weaver held her breath for six minutes! And don’t you dare point to the phrase “supplemental oxygen” in there. Don’t even think about it. Sigourney Weaver is 71 years old. Some 71-year-olds need supplemental oxygen to go food shopping. Sigourney Weaver was using it to sit on the damn floor of the ocean and chill out with manta rays. Come on.

My point here is twofold, I suppose: One, Sigourney Weaver is and apparently always will be a badass; two, you could never.

ITEM NUMBER FOUR — A brief note about what not to say

Hanlon’s Razor is a philosophical device that states, if I can paraphrase a bit, that you should try not to assume a person has bad intentions in a situation when simple ignorance can explain it, too. Less eloquently, it means “don’t assume evil when stupid will do.” I like this a lot and use it too much. Some of that is because, again, I like it a lot, as I generally like to believe people are doing the best they can most of the time. Some of it is because I like to be that insufferable guy who throws around terms like “Hanlon’s Razor” in conversation to sound smart.

I bring it up now for both of those reasons, but also because Back to the Future screenwriter Bob Gale gave an interview to Collider recently, and when the concept of a fourth movie in the franchise came up, he had this to say:

We told a complete story with the trilogy. If we went back and made another one, we’d have Michael J. Fox, who will be sixty next year, and he has Parkinson’s Disease. Do we want to see Marty McFly at age sixty with Parkinson’s Disease? Did we want to see him at age fifty with Parkinson’s Disease? I would say ‘No, you don’t want to see that.’ And you don’t want to see Back to the Future without Michael J. Fox. People say, ‘Well, do it with somebody else.’ Really? Who are you going to get? All you’re gonna do is beg comparisons to the originals, and you’re not going to match up.

Most of that is good and sensible. I do not want a fourth Back to the Future movie. Making one would be a transparent cash grab and would run the risk of diminishing the earlier films, kind of like how no one needed the Crystal Skull Indiana Jones movie, or the additional Star Wars movies that Gale went on to reference later. And I don’t want to see a movie that replaces Michael J. Fox or reboots the franchise with a new young actor. I’m with him on a lot of it.

The bummer part is how he lumped in Michael J. Fox’s Parkinson’s with the reasons “you don’t want to see” a new movie. I have a horse in this race, admittedly, as frequent readers of this column know, because I have a disability, too (spinal cord injury, wheelchair, the whole deal). I wrote a whole thing not that long ago about disability representation in television and movies, and why it stinks right now, and potential steps in the right direction toward fixing it. One of those steps is an attempt to normalize it in the eyes of the audience, to get them used to seeing characters with disabilities on their screens. Michael J. Fox did some of this himself since his diagnosis, my favorite being his guest spots on The Good Wife as a scummy lawyer who would use his disability to manipulate judges and juries, which was cool because it punctured the stupid “people with disabilities are inspirational angels” balloon.

There are a million reasons not to make a new Back to the Future movies. “Because no one wants to see the guy have a disability now” should not be one of them. I don’t think Bob Gale is, like, a bad person for saying that. I just think maybe he didn’t think about all the angles of it, maybe because he didn’t know. That’s all I’m doing here — educating, trying to help. But seriously, don’t make another Back to the Future. That much we can agree on.

ITEM NUMBER FIVE — Finally, a show for me

Merlin Films

I have tremendous news. There’s no time to explain. I need to get straight to the blockquote, via Variety:

Amazon has announced a new Italian original series titled “Everybody Loves Diamonds” during Rome’s MIA market.

The heist series with comedic overtones is inspired by the 2003 “Heist of Antwerp,” dubbed by international media as “the biggest diamond theft in the world.”

Okay, first of all, hell yes. Hell yes to all of it. Hell yes to the title, Everybody Loves Diamonds, which is true and hilarious. Hell yes to the thing where it’s an Italian original series, because now I desperately want to watch this show in Italian with English subtitles. But most of all, hell yes to a show about the Antwerp diamond heist.

If you are not familiar with the Antwerp diamond heist, please familiarize yourself with it at once. Here’s a great longread about it from Wired. Here’s the Wikipedia page. Read the second one first and the first one second. It’s incredible. These dudes stole $100 million worth of diamonds at the end of an 18-month operation that involved fake identities and life-size recreations of the facility’s vault that they practiced on and a slew of other Ocean’s Eleven-ass tactics that will blow you away. This was an extremely sophisticated heist pulled off by a crew of meticulous professionals, which makes how they got caught powerfully funny in about four different ways.

From the Wikipedia:

The group was caught after [Leonardo] Notarbartolo and Speedy went to dispose of the evidence of their plans, planning to burn it in France. Speedy was overcome with panic at the prospect of transporting such incriminating evidence and insisted they dispose of it in a nearby forest. However, Speedy suffered a panic-attack and disposed of the evidence poorly, hurling it into the bushes and mud rather than burning it. Notarbartolo was busy burning his own evidence and when he discovered what Speedy had done, he decided it would take too long to gather everything up and they needed to leave, confident that nobody would find their rubbish. However, a local hunter owned the land and called the police when he found the rubbish the next day (believing it to be caused by local teenagers he had previously had disputes with). When he mentioned that some of the rubbish consisted of envelopes from the Antwerp Diamond Centre, the police immediately investigated. The evidence from the rubbish was enough to allow the police to gain a lead and they were eventually able to identify Notarbartolo from security footage from a nearby grocery store where he had purchased a sandwich (a receipt for the sandwich was amongst the rubbish)

A sandwich! They did all that work, for over a year and a half, crossing every T and dotting every I, spraying cameras with chemical concoctions to disable them and all of it, and they got caught because of a sandwich! That’s why I want to see this show. Because the real-life result is so bizarre that it almost exceeds anything even the most creative Italian writer’s rooms could concoct. I hope they keep everything the same but replace the sandwich with something more Italian. A plate of lasagna, maybe. Yes. That will work. And have them escape in a gondola. Otherwise, exactly the same. For me.

READER MAIL

If you have questions about television, movies, food, local news, weather, or whatever you want, shoot them to me on Twitter or at brian.grubb@uproxx.com (put “RUNDOWN” in the subject line). I am the first writer to ever answer reader mail in a column. Do not look up this last part.

From Tyler:

I started re-watching Happy Endings on Hulu. I noticed a few odd storyline inconsistencies during the first season that suddenly became jarringly weird in episode 10. Turns out episodes 10 and 11 were supposed to be episodes 2 and 3, and the season aired mostly out of the intended broadcast order to make the initial episodes more “stand alone” in an effort to get more people invested in the show. I had a hard time focusing on the funny when characters were moving into places I’d already seen them living and characters were struggling to get over issues I’ve already seen them come to grips with.

1. Should Hulu take it upon itself to air tv shows in the order they were intended?
2. Should the people at ABC responsible for this decision be sent to prison?

Tyler, thank you for this email. Kind of. Thank you, kind of. I don’t mean to be rude. It’s a good email. And it gives me an excuse to mention Happy Endings again, which was a delightful television program that I miss terribly. My only issue here is that now I’m angry again, both about its cancellation and the specific thing you mentioned. It happened nine years ago! I should have let it go by now! But here we are!

The most important takeaway here is that you are correct. Hulu should just go ahead and put them in the correct order. There’s no reason not to. Hulu, if you are reading this, please get on that. You don’t have to do it today. I’ll give you a week. But if it’s not fixed by next weekend… I don’t know what I’ll do, actually. Something, though. Unless I forget. Which I probably will. Just do it anyway.

The other takeaway is how silly this all seems now in the era of streaming and binge-watching. Netflix straight-up encourages shows to use an entire first season to establish a premise. Things can burn slower because we consume them faster, and we don’t need to cater to people who might check in at random on like the sixth episode of the first season to see if they like a show. Granted, we have other problems, like those shows that got a full season to explore themselves then getting the hook before they have a chance to grow from there. Nothing is perfect anywhere. I guess that’s the lesson here. That and that Happy Endings was a good show.

So two lessons, really.

AND NOW, THE NEWS

To Florida!

This morning, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission announced charges for seven individuals it says were involved in an international wildlife trafficking operation involving thousands of native flying squirrels getting illegally shipped overseas.

Excuse me.

Hold on.

Is this…

Do we have…

Do we have an international flying squirrel smuggling operation on our hands?

The FWC opened the investigation in back January of 2019 after being tipped off that people were illegally trapping protected flying squirrels in Marion County, and other Central Florida areas, and then selling the animals to a licensed wildlife dealer in Bushnell, who then claimed they were captive bred, not wildlife, says the agency.

WE HAVE AN INTERNATIONAL FLYING SQUIRREL SMUGGLING OPERATION.

SCREW THE ANTWERP DIAMOND HEIST.

MAKE AN ITALIAN SHOW ABOUT THIS, NETFLIX.

The 19-month investigation discovered that the suspects used over 10,000 traps and captured over 3,600 flying squirrels, which equalled over an estimated $1 million in retail value.

A few notes in conclusion:

  • I know this is bad and we should not be smuggling innocent little winged rodents halfway around the world
  • It’s just so crazy
  • Please do not ruin it for me
  • If my math is correct, this means the retail value of a single flying squirrel is about $300, which feels… I don’t know, reasonable?
  • Now I want to know the wholesale rate
  • Imagine opening a mysterious shipping container and suddenly 250 flying squirrels come screaming out of it and into the night sky
  • I would go straight to bed
  • Wait a second
  • I just realized something
  • This isn’t just an international flying squirrel smuggling operation

This was…

A

MILLION-DOLLAR

INTERNATIONAL

FLYING SQUIRREL

SMUGGLING OPERATION

I demand this television show. By next year, if possible. Thank you.

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