There are three things to learn watching “Me and Orson Welles.” Zac Efron can act. British thespian Christian McKay is Hollywood’s discovery of 2009. And a movie about the “theat-uh” can be more than a snore. Set during one week in 1937, director Richard Linklater zeroes in on a 22-year-old Orson Welles as he rehearses his ground-breaking New York production of “Julius Caesar.”
The chaos. The drama. Welles’ bombastic charms. His romantic dalliances. You can almost smell the greasepaint in the air in Linklater’s exhilarating ode to Welles’ youthful heyday.
“People think they know Welles from “War of the Worlds,” “Citizen Kane” and beyond. But, his early time in New York were his real glory days,” Linklater, 49, told CTV.ca.
“Everything Orson touched back then turned to gold. Theatre. Radio. He launched his Mercury Theatre. He was a showman firing on all cylinders. Nothing ever matched that time again,” says Linklater.
Adding to this story’s pandemonium is the brash arrival of teenaged thespian Richard Samuels (Zac Efron). Desperate to break into the theatre, Richard blunders into a meeting with genius Welles and wins a small role in the play. Suddenly Richard is sucked up into a world of glamour, over-the-top egos and artistic treachery.
“I am Orson Welles!” McKay thunders at Richard and everyone else who dares to breathe the same air that he does.
Welles humiliates his company members. He coddles them. He zings them with poisoned arrows then lets them sob on his shoulder. Every inch along the way McKay embodies Welles right down to his booming voice and sly, ego-slaying smile.
“Finding Christian was just meant to be,” says the Houston, Texas-born Linklater.
Just when Linklater thought no actor could fill Welles’ shoes, he found McKay at London’s Royal Shakespeare Company.
“Christian was a dead ringer for Welles,” says Linklater. “There are so few actors on the planet who could have pulled this role off. Christian did it in spades.”
“Me and Orson Welles” is, first to last, McKay’s show. Yet, Efron gives a surprisingly sturdy performance as the youthful wannabe wounded by his art and the artifice of one ambitious theatre assistant (Claire Danes).
“Zac brought a lot of his own past to this role,” says Linklater. “He told me it reminded him of all the seat-of-your-pants theatre productions he had ever done.”
Linklater also says the “High School Musical” star is a better actor than critics believe.
“Zac wasn’t just this kid coming from California who didn’t fit in here. He held is own against everyone else on the set,” says Linklater.
As for the Welles’ superhuman career, Linklater says, “Nothing about Welles ever ceases to amaze me. It is astonishing that he accomplished so much at such a young age. The more I learned about him on this film, the greater my respect for Welles grew.” [Source]