Me And Orson Welles by writer/director Richard Linklater recreates the drama and excitement of Orson Welles' early days as seen through the eyes of a stage-struck teenager played by Zac Efron.
"This is the story of one week in my life. It was the week I fell in love, the week I would make my Broadway debut …and the week I would meet Orson Welles."
The fledgling Mercury Theatre troupe is struggling to put the finishing touches on an innovative production of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. As storm clouds of war rumble across the Atlantic, Welles puts the play not in ancient Rome, but in contemporary Europe with Caesar as a fascist dictator. Into this creative whirlwind … enter young Richard:
Zac Efron, well known for the romantic comedy of the High School Musical series, takes on a different kind of role as the teenaged participant in Welles' great experiment.
"It was exactly what I was looking for - a great opportunity - and I loved the script," Efron says. "I thought I could relate to the character; this whole adventure, this week in the theater, resembled my life experience growing up in the theater. It was all of the best moments in one movie, I think, and it was different [and] something I didn't necessarily know I could pull off. It wasn't a predictable next move and that for me was all the right signs.
English-born actor Christian McKay co-stars as Welles, a character he first explored in a one-man play that spanned the lifetime of the acclaimed genius; but in Me and Orson Welles McKay says the challenge was to rediscover the brash young man who would become the stage and screen icon:
"I felt a tremendous responsibility toward him, especially because of his own mythology …his own myth making," McKay says. "He created all the legends about himself. He used to say 'never let the truth get in the way of a good story.' But when you're playing him you have to take away all of those [and] just peel him back to try and find the truth."
"I am Orson Welles! And every single one of you stands here as an adjunct to my vision. You want a career in the Mercury Theatre and in everything else I plan to do, then remember one simple rule: I own the store. If you don't like the way I work here, there's the door. Find somebody else to star you on Broadway."
"The wonderful thing about this character is that everybody has their own take on him; and so any actor playing him, you've got the people going 'he doesn't look like him'," McKay adds, "he doesn't sound like him …' So that was entirely personal [and] something I had to satisfy for myself to answer certain personal questions. Take him off the pedestal and look him in the eye as a human being. That's the only way I could have played him. Otherwise I would have been totally intimidated all the time."
Writer-director Richard Linklater believes any moviemaker would be daunted by the challenge of telling the story of the man behind the great American film Citizen Kane; and Linklater found the real Welles within those iconic characters
"He is an enigma. He is Charles Foster Kane. I don't think you can ever pin Welles down," notes Linklater. "For every opinion there is a counter-opinion. Someone says 'oh, he was a blowhard;' someone else says 'he was a charming, sweet guy.' I think the truth is in between; but that is ultimately the Welles theme, isn't it? The unknowable-ness of an individual. What does it matter what you say about somebody? It comes up all through his work that you never can pin anyone down. I think he was aware of those contradictions in himself: you could be a great man and a mediocre individual. You could be all these things at once and that's the Welles we're trying to portray in this."
Me and Orson Welles is adapted from a best-selling book by high school teacher and novelist Robert Kaplow. The cast includes Claire Danes as the ambitious young production assistant in the Mercury Theatre office; and, in a bit of 'movie magic,' the film re-creates 1937 New York in and around a vintage theater on the Isle Of Man in the Irish Sea.