Life’s Too Short (and unreality TV)

I’ve recently fallen in love with Warwick Davis. Well, in love with watching his fantastic television series “Life’s Too Short” anyway.

Life’s Too Short” is a BBC mockumentary series following the life of Warwick Davis, “a showbiz dwarf”, who is trying to revive his Hollywood career, while going through divorce and trying to make enough money to pay off a gargantuan tax bill (courtesy of his friend and chronically inept accountant Eric, who Warwick can’t bring himself to fire and actually appoints as his divorce solicitor because he can’t afford to hire anybody else).

The series was created and written by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant from an idea by Warwick Davis, and Davis plays a fictionalised version of himself (described by writer Ricky Gervais as a “conniving, back-biting little Napoleon”. Think David Brent as a dwarf with slightly more charisma, played by an actor with a great gift for physical comedy).

The real life Warwick Davis has actually been married for over twenty years and has two children. (Wife Samantha and children Annabel and Harrison are also dwarves). He runs a talent agency for small people both onscreen and in real life (though I highly suspect that the real life Warwick Davis is far more successful at it than his onscreen doppelgänger).

When Davis was working with Gervais and Merchant on “Extras” (in an episode where he co-starred with Daniel Radcliffe) he told them a number stories about living as a man who is 3ft6″ tall (for example, having people touch him for luck as if he were a leprechaun). This was the catalyst for the show’s creation.

There are also a number of amusing appearances by other film stars and celebrities who play fictionalised versions of themselves which seem to poke fun at popular public perceptions of them.

Johnny Depp‘s (very amusing) attempt to retaliate against Ricky Gervais for his “mean spirited” jokes about Depp and other movie stars when Gervais was hosting the 2011 Golden Globes. (In reality, the Hollywood community were so completely offended that Ricky Gervais ended up hosting the Golden Globes the following year as well).

A very serious Liam Neeson wants to try his hand at comedy. (In reality Neeson said in the short film “The Making of Life’s Too Short” that he worried he would not be able to keep a straight face while doing this scene).

There is something fascinating about actors (supposedly) playing themselves.

Perhaps because it prompts the very natural question “How much of the real human being are we seeing in the character being portrayed?”

In truth, though, that’s probably a question we could ask about almost any performance.

In a scene from an episode of “Extras”, Kate Winslet casually reveals her cynical motive for acting in a film about the holocaust – she thinks she’ll get an Oscar out of it. (Ironically, a couple of years later Winslet actually won her first Oscar playing a former Nazi and Auschwitz guard in “The Reader“).

In a promo for the TV series “Episodes“, Matt Le Blanc is (understandably) bemused at having to audition to play the part of …himself.

In the film “Being John Malkovich“, puppeteer Craig Schwartz (Played by John Cusack) finds a portal that leads into John Malkovich‘s mind. In this scene John Malkovich has a torturous experience after going through his own portal… (Unfortunately, there is a stupid advertisement at the front to of this clip. Sorry.)

In the film JCVD, a 2008 Belgian crime comedy-drama Jean-Claude Van Damme plays a semi fictionalized version of himself – a down and out action star whose family and career are crumbling around him as he is caught in the middle of a post office heist in his hometown of Brussels, Belgium. In this moment from the film Van Damme, lifted above the set, performs a monologue directly to the audience (breaking the fourth wall). It is a surprisingly emotional (if somewhat cryptic) speech about his career, his multiple marriages, and his drug abuse. Is it a rare glimpse of the man behind the action star, lowering his guard and opening up? Or is Van Damme actually a far more gifted actor than his body of action films seem to reveal?

I’m Still Here” is a 2010 mockumentary film directed by Casey Affleck, and written by Affleck and Joaquin Phoenix, following the life of Phoenix, from the (purported) announcement of his retirement from acting, through his transition into a career as a hip hop artist. The fact that the events of the film had been deliberately staged was not revealed until after the film had been released (though it was suspected to be a mockumentary by some beforehand) and throughout the filming period Phoenix remained in character for public appearances, giving many the impression that he was genuinely pursuing a new career.

A promo for “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” one of the popular examples from the modern day myriad of reality TV shows. Mike Fleiss, the creator and executive producer of reality TV show “The Bachelor,” recently claimed that “70 to 80 percent” of reality TV shows are fake. “They’re loosely scripted. Things are planted. Things are salted into the environment so things seem more shocking.” he recently asserted at the Banff World Media festival. But Fleiss also claimed that viewers are “not requiring a pure delivery of non-fiction content…They know it’s somewhat fake, but they’re OK with it.” Does that mean we embrace the idea that “reality” TV stars are acting or playing themselves on some level, too?

Reality TV show “Survivor” has now been running for 25 seasons, and this is actually the intro for season 25 which features the return of many of the most popular and successful former Survivor contestants (or “Favourites”). It is also typical of the Survivor intro template – which seems to deliberately frame the contestants as (heroic, iconic) story characters.

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