Occupation: Writer; writer and co-founder of Fametracker
Residence: Brooklyn, NY
The other celebrity culture
You and Tara Ariano founded Fametracker.com, which doubles as a hilariously intelligent dissection of celebrity and the entertainment industry as well as a hilariously intelligent way to spend hours that one should be using to write TPS cover sheets at work. Tell us about Fametracker's genesis.
Tara and I met in 1999 while we were both working in Toronto at a Canadian magazine called Saturday Night -- a relatively serious publication, more or less analogous to Harpers. But we soon discovered that we both had an obsessive interest in pointless pop culture ephemera -- you know, questions like whether there's really a quantifiable difference between Tobey Maguire and Jake Gyllenhaal, or the exact deserved fame level of Jay Mohr. Luckily, Tara's husband is a crackerjack web designer, and they were doing a site called Hissyfit.com (and went on to do Television Without Pity). So he got Fametracker up and running.
How did you develop the different areas, like The Galaxy of Fame, The Fame Audit, 2 Stars, 1 Slot, and Hey, It's That Guy? And have you thought about taking Harrison Ford out as the center of the universe?
Originally, we were going to organize the site as a kind of IRS of celebrity -- thus, the idea for a Fame Audit, measuring someone's actual fame against their deserved fame. But then we decided to go with a Farmer's Almanac theme, with the difference being that we chart celebrity instead of whatever it is the Farmer's Almanac charts. (Cows? Wheat? Flax?) The Hey! It's That Guy! idea came from our fine colleague Sarah Bunting, aka Sars, who co-edits Television Without Pity with Tara. As soon as we heard it, we were, like, Yes! Of course! Much the way you feel when you see a Hey! It's That Guy! in a movie. As for Harrison Ford, we put him at the center of the Galaxy of Fame in 1999 because his preeminent position in the celebriverse seemed unassailable. Then came Calista Flockhart, the earring, and K-19: The Widowmaker. So, yes, we've considered booting him. But who to replace him with? Tom Cruise?
You and Tara have just published The Hey, It's That Guy book (complete with full color photographs!). You had a lot of actors and actresses to work with, so how did you decide to cull them down for the book? Do you have any particular favorites?
At the publisher's request, we did whittle the list down to about 150. A lot of the decisions were based on making sure each chapter, or "habitat" -- e.g. The Hospital, The Precinct, The Gentleman's Club -- had roughly the same number of people in it. I have particular love for the people in the habitat called "The Backwoods" -- I was honestly surprised at just how many actors make the bulk of their living playing rubes, hayseeds, and inbreds. (Much love, O-Lan Jones! You too, Tim Blake Nelson!) Another favorite of mine is Patrick Cranshaw, who played Blue in Old School, who specialized in portraying really old men, and who, sadly, passed away at the end of 2005. (As did the great HITG, Vincent Schiavelli.) His resume contains a good dozen characters with names such as Old Gentleman, Old Man, Codger, Grandpa, Gramps, and Man Dying In Elevator. He was, of course, awesome. And then there's Fred Thompson of Law & Order. He's a lawyer-turned-actor-turned-Senator-turned-actor-again. If he's ever elected President, we can basically retire Hey! It's That Guy! forever.
Does it feel good to see a "HITG" actor get a leading role (like JK Simmons in The Closer or Philip Seymour Hoffman in Capote)? Do feel like you could cast the supporting roles of a movie now?
We have a category in the book for certain HITGs like Hoffman or Paul Giamatti, who we label HITG graduates. It is nice to see these actors get more recognition as many of them, like Hoffman or Paul Giamatti, are brilliant. But we obviously don't feel there's any shame in being a lifelong character actor -- without them, there'd be no principals, no sheriffs, no army generals, no meddling next-door neighbors. As for casting, there does seem to be an increased appreciation for these kind of actors -- for example, Desperate Housewives has featured about six of them this season, including Danny Trejo, the excellent tattooed bad-ass in Con Air and From Dusk Till Dawn.
If you see a "Hey, It's That Guy [or Lady]" type on the street, what's the recommended course of action?
Do approach them politely and express your respect for their work. Don't ask them where you know them from, or insist that they taught chemistry at your high school. And don't argue with them about what movies they've been in. We interviewed Stephen Tobolowsky, of Groundhog Day [he's Ned Ryerson!] and Memento [Sammy Jankis!], for the book, and he said fans sometimes claim he was in a movie, even over his objections.
Your Fametracker.com co-creator Tara (who is also co-creator of the awesome Television Without Pity) lives in Toronto. Do the two of you have New York versus Toronto fights at least once a week? (Because that's what Gothamist tries to do with Torontoist.)
All day, every day.
And you also write about culture for New York What are some things you expect to see popping up in our city this year?
Maybe this is already happening, but I expect a big national comedy renaissance to blossom out of New York. A friend of mine described the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater as being to comedy right now what CBGB was to music in the 70s, and I think that's true. If only because you can sometimes catch Amy Poehler and Will Arnett there. Maybe those two will have some sort of mutant superfunnybaby, who will rule over us in 2006 with a little jester's hat and a scepter in one hand that shoots lasers.
And on NYC...
What is your favorite subway line?
I'm all about the D. First of all, it takes you to Coney Island. More importantly, I live near Atlantic Ave. station, and work near Rockefeller Center, so it's just six stops and twenty minutes on the express. Then, in December and early January, it only takes another forty-five minutes to hack through the tourists and walk the two blocks from Rockefeller to Madison Ave.
Best place for a slice of pizza:
Wouldn't I like to know! I landed here relatively recently from Canada, and am still seeking the perfect slice. Also: best bagels, best burgers, best discount pedicures.
You get to pick: Dogs, cats or babies?
You really can't go wrong with the babies that are made when cats mate with dogs. Pupittens! So cute!
Best place to browse books:
I am a huge fan of McNally Robinson [http://www.mcnallyrobinsonnyc.com/] , the new(ish) bookstore on Prince St. near Lafayette. Not just because it’s run by a lovely Canadian, who undertook the totally foolish and entirely necessary project of opening a huge, independent, thoughtfully organized bookstore in the middle of SoHo. Not just because they reliably have every book I'm looking for on their shelves when I'm in the store, and so I've never been directed toward ordering it from their website, as too often happens at some faceless chains that shall remain nameless. But also because their fiction section is organized by country of author's origin, which is confusing as hell, and extremely conducive to browsing and sayings things like, "Hmmm, I feel like discovering a Japanese author," which, even if you don't discover a new author, sounds very impressive to the person next to you. That's my favorite part of this great store, because if I just wanted to get in and get out with my book, I'd order it from the website. As you can with our book, available at fine stores and book-selling websites everywhere.
The Hey! It's That Guy!: The Fametracker.com Guide to Character Actors is available at bookstores and online venues. And you can visit Fametracker for further proof that Jennifer Aniston is overrated. Oh, yes, we did say that.