Me and Orson Welles and Christian McKay
Christian McKay and Zac Efron in "Me and Orson Welles"
Serendipity Interview of Christian McKay
This is the kind of movie that surprises you with a charisma, depth and charm you seldom see in films any more. The movie opened, appropriately enough, at the Pasadena Playhouse District trendy art cinema, the first of which was started in 1938. When the man behind the window said "Christian McKay will be here after the showing." I thought, "That's odd," but since I wasn't familiar with the actor, I didn't pay much attention. Then the movie began.
What if you had the chance to be at a pivotal place in history where a legend began?--- On Max Yasgur's dairy farm at Woodstock, Rosebery Street in Liverpool for the first full perfomance of the Quarrymen with Lennon and McCartney, or on 41st Street in NYC to witness the birth of Orson Welles' extraordinary career.
Me and Orson Welles is based on such a premise, a take on the real-life account of the famous opening of Julius Caesar at the Mercury Theater in 1937 NYC by the brilliant and impetuous young Orson Welles. Convincingly played by Christian McKay in his first film, the movie is a delight from beginning to end. The audience follows the coming of age of Richard, a high school senior and aspiring actor played effortlessly by Zac Efron who lands a part in the production and falls in love first with the theater and then with Orson's lovely assistant Sonja (Claire Danes.) Those who attend the movie as part of Zac Efron's phenomenal heart-throb following will not be disappointed as Zac delivers as a young Richard hungry to experience everything with a cocky, resourceful resolve that is at the same time naive enough to be vulnerable. What they may not have anticipated, however, is the incredible impact of a classical stage production and an ensemble of actors able to carry it off. Happily, while this film was originally focused on the young Richard's coming of age, in reality it is the coming of age of the virtually unknown Christian McKay in a bravura performance uncannily capturing the look and unstoppable energy of the tempestuous Welles. From the moment Welles appears on the screen, dressed to the nines and in unquestioned control of not only the theater transformation, but of the conversation and lives of his actors and production crew as well, McKay reveals what the real-life actors and finally we, the viewers know--here is the star of the show. The young Orson spots Richard and after bantering with him, invites him to be a part of the cast as Brutus' assistant Lucius. Taking him in tow, Welles and the spellbound Richard move through the city in an ambulance where Welles extemporizes at a radio broadcast reeling off dialogue as his own, both shocking and impressing his fellow actors. The production of Julius Caesar in modern dress and facist overtones with arm raising salutes is startling in its bold, artful power. McKay captures the brilliance and emerging dark side of the mercurial Welles which Richard underestimates despite the warnings of Sonja and members of the play. Clair Danes is as direct in her portrayal as she is desirable--making no secret of her ambition and willingness to do what it takes to get what she wants--in this case, a meeting with David O. Selznic. I was fortunate to attend a performance where Christian McKay himself was introduced after the film and to give his take on the whole phenomenon. Largely self-taught, the humble and charming McKay showed obvious surprise that a classical pianist turned stage actor like himself would have been chosen to star in a film. While in NYC for a "Brits on Broadway" festival, McKay took the opportunity to stage a 16 performance run of the one man play "Rosebud" portraying Orson Welles with his wife (who plays Welles' wife Virginia in the film) as producer. Word of mouth spread rapidly and Richard Linklater flew from Texas, saw the production and offered McKay the part over objections of his associates. With such a performance under his belt, McKay admitted that scripts are coming to him from all sides and in life imitating art, I was there at a pivotal point in the coming of age of the innocent newcomer Christian McKay. Those who attend Me and Orson Welles will be first spellbound by the extraordinary range of McKay's voice, his Orson-like expressions, movements and emotion and then transported into the very presence of an icon of our era whose reputation exhausts our range of adjectives.
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