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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Crackpot Theory: Ellen Page has every right to be pissed.

Acting is a monstrously difficult gig and I'm not talking about the act of actually um...acting. I'm talking about the hair greying logistics of maintaining a career as a professional. Look at IMDB, they have this new "top 5000" thing above actor's names. That's about as many people who make a living at this at any given time, and that is a crushingly small window of opportunity. Being a pro requires talent, sure, but also an intense and unreliable alchemy to stay on top, and only the likes of Will Smith ever seem to crack the code.

But its luck mostly, complete random chance.  One minute you're a star on a hit TV show, the next you change your hair and the ratings go in the toilet. It's hard being an actor, job security does not exist. Your livelihood centers around a slot machine, essentially.

So when Ellen Page was asked about what she thought of the character Ellie in the Last of Us, she was not happy. "I guess I should be flattered that they ripped off my likeness, but I am actually acting in a video game called Beyond: Two Souls, so it was not appreciated."

Now, for someone who just finished one of the greatest story driven games ever made, these seem like harsh words. It sounds like an established movie star swatting down a competing artistic medium's leap towards mainstream acceptance. But she's not talking about The Last of Us. She's not ragging on it's gut wrenching prologue or it's difficult and original ending. She's talking about every actor's worst fear: being replaced, and she has every right to be pissed.

Think about it, every time someone looks for a "type" like a "Micheal Cera type" that's one more chance to be replaced by some one else, cheaper. Now the fact that Page is the lead in another Sony exclusive game dropping in October also makes for frustrating timing. It's like an award season where two movies with similar actors are up for best picture. To the laymen, the "Ellen Page game" could easily be The Last of Us, and confused messaging like that could hurt sales. It won't, but I can see her point of view in which The Last of Us is like following up The Social Network with Scott Pilgrim.

She's going out on a limb being in a video game. She is not a gamer and she may not have any idea what the pedigree of Naughty Dog means. At first blush it might seem to her like a callow attempt to steal her likeness, but Ellie has gone through several designs and is now decidedly less Page-esque in her final draft. She has since back tracked her words (which really weren't as harsh as people have made them out to be) and is now "looking forward" to playing Naughty Dog's prestige piece.

How much of that is her personal opinion and how much of that is PR spin from Sony, I don't want to know. But I hope she likes TLOU if she ever get around to it, and I hope Beyond Two Souls is the game Heavy Rain should have been. Preferably less tin eared in the localization department. That was not Philly.

Long story longer, image maintenance is essential to professional acting. Whoever said there's no such thing as bad publicity is a damn lunatic. It's hard enough controlling what comes out of your own mouth, let alone a cgi 14 year old who looks and sounds like you. The presence of Ellie in Page's career was an unknown, and what that game will do to Beyond's legacy is still unknown. And any unknown in the entertainment industry has a chance to be cataclysmic. 9 times out of 10 it isn't, but what if Ellie was prone to racial slurs? People who couldn't be bothered to parse the difference between her and Ashley Johnson would flood Page's twitter feed with deaf outrage. And sometimes that's all it takes.

So when another prominent non-gamer sounds like they're taking a swing at an undisputed masterpiece, stop, think, what are they really upset about?  And in the case of Ellie, maybe that non-gamer has a point.

That's some mighty fine "eye" acting right there.

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