The Talented Mr. Abdi

For the past couple days, various news reports have announced that the very talented, Oscar-nominated actor Barkhad Abdi is reportedly “broke” and living off per diems Sony Studios provided throughout awards season. (Click here for the report from The Hollywood Reporter)

People are outraged. They’re upset that this great actor could be a part of something that made so much money and was so successful and somehow as financially sound as his multi-millionaire peers.

Something about these articles rubbed me the wrong way. And I’ve been thinking about them a lot. And I finally figured out why I was so bothered by all the outrage.

Here’s the thing… Hollywood is f*#@ing tough.

I think it’s wonderful a talent like Mr. Abdi got the opportunity to have a huge break and possibly make a career for himself. And in no way am I writing this to question or undercut this man’s obvious talent. He’s a great actor and deserves lots more opportunities to shine onscreen.

But let’s look at some of the realities of the situation:

It was his first major film

He got lucky. Really lucky. Like, really really lucky. He is a very talented man with a gift who happened to be in the right place at the right time and was handed the perfect role to show that off. That happens. Rarely, but it happens. And when it does, it’s the start of a career. The first step in what can become and extremely successful and lucrative career. He was compensated a fair amount. And he continues to be compensated. Yes, he lives off a per diem and needs help from his friends to make his dreams a reality. I live off a day job and get help from my friends all the time to make my dreams a reality. That’s called started an acting career. It can be years of tough work. Even after you get big breaks. Just look at any average actors long-spanning career. It’s filled with little breaks, big breaks, and a ton of tough shit in between.

Tom Hanks was the box office draw, not him

I think people are so upset because Mr. Abdi was playing opposite one of the most successful box office stars of our generation. And he did a stand out job. There is no denying it. But Tom Hanks is the star. Tom Hanks is the household name. Tom Hanks is the reason the movie was financially successful. Sony is not going to pour millions of dollars into a movie about a guy barely anyone has heard of starring a guy nobody has heard of. That’s not going to happen. Studios care about making money. They’re a business. It’s a good business decision to have Tom Hanks be the star. And while Mr. Abdi has and should be rewarded for the excellence with which he portrayed his role, he is not the reason the movie was a financial success. Tom Hanks is. Plain and simple.

In ten years, assuming Mr. Abdi can consistently be the star of several financially successful blockbuster hits, then he should share the lucrative financial rewards (aka “points on the backend”) with someone like Tom Hanks. Or even five years from now. Or even three major movie hits. My point is, Tom Hanks has earned his keep. Of course he made more money in the film. He’s the reason the film made money.

Mr. Abdi lived and worked outside Los Angeles. He recently decided to move here and pursue his dreams, riding the coattails of this huge amount of publicity and success. Good for him! I’m happy for him! I hope he has lots and lots of success. But it won’t come without lots and lots more work. And probably lots and lots more poverty. Because this is LA, baby. Rent is high and actors plentiful. Your best bet is to do good consistent work, find people you love creating with, and do it for the love of creation. If you’re lucky (and smart about it) maybe you can turn that into a lucrative career. He’s certainly at a major advantage right now to do so. But careers are not made overnight. Great performances can be rewarded, but you have to consistently prove yourself before people will begin believing that you’re worth what you say you’re worth.

Hollywood does not reward pure talent alone. It can recognize it, as is the case with Mr. Adbdi, but that doesn’t mean the most talented people automatically get exalted to consistent big screen hits and stardom. It’s a weird and incalculable, usually unmeasurable, series of factors that make someone a star. Many times, being in the right place at the right time is a major fact that needs to fall into place. And Mr. Abdi got that. But after that, there’s a thousand weird things that need to continue to happen to keep your career progressing. Don’t ask me what they are. If I understood it, I wouldn’t be eating two day old chicken for lunch in my studio apartment before heading to spend hours at a day job that has nothing to do with acting. All I know is that it seems like consistent good work, a positive attitude, likable personality, inexhaustible work ethic, and overwhelming desire to create are eventually rewarded.

At least I hope so.

He is not a “casualty” of the system

One of the articles reporting on Mr. Abdi wrote that he may become a “casualty of the Hollywood system.” I would have thrown my computer across the room if I weren’t so poor and dependent on it for all my creativity at the moment.

Because here’s the thing- he’s not even close to a casualty. He’s an exception.

There’s a big ass difference.

If he becomes just another actor struggling for roles and working every day towards that next break to prove himself again, he won’t be a casualty. He’ll be a regular working actor.

The casualties of Hollywood are the people who give up. The people who come to LA with stars in their eyes, get worn down by the constant hardships and rejection and move back home. They’re the people who have lived and worked in LA for 20 years without ever getting their major breakout role and become so downtrodden they give up on their dreams. They’re the people who lose all their money to the constant scammers who prey upon them and give up on their dreams before they’ve ever even started. They all couldn’t take it and gave up on their dreams. Those people are the casualties.

Mr. Abdi is an exception. In his first role, he got to play opposite a major movie star in a blockbuster international hit movie and was nominated for several awards. That’s exceptional. If nothing ever comes from his career, it can still be considered a success. He was nominated for an Oscar. An Oscar. He can never be a casualty of Hollywood.

If I haven’t yet made it clear, this has nothing to do with Mr. Abdi’s talent. He’s awesome. I wish him nothing but success. This tirade has to do only with the assumption that just because a person is talented and made a good movie that Hollywood should automatically reward them. It’s never been the case and it will never be the case.

Besides, he was at every major awards season ceremony with huge movie stars who knew him on a first name basis and praised him for his work. If that isn’t rewarding, I don’t know what is.

Careers span decades because the creation has to continue. People become stars because they deliver consistently great performances over long periods of time.

Besides, if Mr. Abdi really is broke, that doesn’t make him any less of an actor. If anything, that makes him just like all my other extremely talented and extremely broke friends. Welcome to the club, Captain. Time to get to work.

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