The old career path was simple.
Fix on an objective. Commit body and soul. Keep your eyes on the prize. Stay at it.
No experimenting with other options. No idle curiosity. No putzing around. In sum, no career wanderlust.
Make a choice. Stick with it.
But for some Hollywood stars, this has changed.
Take the case of Justin Theroux. He’s the one in the poster to the right (bottom row, far left).
Theroux wrote Tropic Thunder, Iron Man 2, and stars in the new comedy Wanderlust. He also dates Jennifer Aniston (bottom row, second from the left).
Rottenberg of Entertainment Weekly says:
More the most actors, Theroux is a moving target, bouncing between small roles and big ones, art films and blockbusters, dramas and comedies, TV and film. ”I’ve had the most unpredictable career path — it’s really a career stumble,” says the actor, 40.
We have seen this pattern before. In Culturematic, I write about the case of James Franco, an actor famous for trying a wide variety of roles and educational programs, all of this at the height of his career.
In Culturematic (out in May!), I compare Franco to Bethenny Frankel. Both Franco and Frankel are experimental, trying a variety of things. Whereas Frankel exhibits a simple opportunism, Franco appears to give us something broader. Here’s what I say in the book.
The point of Franco’s explorations is not celebrity. Indeed, he appears almost in flight from celebrity. More probably, his motive is curiosity. In the old Hollywood, stardom brought the actor a kind of completion. Nowadays, for some actors, it is seen to close off options and experiences the actor cares about. Franco doesn’t know what he needs to be an actor or a person. And he doesn’t know what he needs to know to stop being an actor. So he needs to find what’s “out there.”
For most of us this sort of thing would be take as a symptom of indecision, perhaps a refusal to commit. For Hollywood stars, some of them anyhow, it’s a way of doing business.
Both Theroux and Franco have turned their careers into culturematics. They are using it to search the world for options. They are prepared to risk a certain blurriness of image to surface options that are otherwise hard to see. There are to this extent treating their careers, once so simple and well defined, as adaptive exercises.
This really was a bad idea when Hollywood was a simpler place, when ours was a simpler culture. But now that our culture is so various and unpredictable, now that Hollywood is a more complicated, less scrutable place, it makes sense to do a career “stumble” as Theroux calls it. This is an excellent way to discover and make contact with possibilities that would otherwise be invisible.
First quote: Rottenberg, Josh. 2012. It’s Time You Got to Know Justin Theroux. Entertainment Weekly. February 24. (I can’t find this article on line. Sorry!)
Second quote: McCracken, Grant. 2012. Culturematic. Harvard Business Review Press. (To be published May 15, 2012. You may preorder from Amazon by clicking HERE.)