Hollywood's New Natural Selection

It's hard enough to be an actor under any circumstances -- the unending rejection, insane competiveness, constant scrutiny. Then, of course, there's the work itself -- which often gets overlooked amid all the public fascination with those who choose this particular career path.

The ones with the "dream" careers -- Meryl Streep, Johnny Depp, Brad Pitt -- spent years dealing with all kinds of personal and professional crucibles, navigating these landmines on the way to top-of-the-ladder success. Even at their rarefied level, they still have to constantly deal with perhaps the scariest thing of all: public perception.

Most working actors aren't movie stars, and it's hard to empathize with celebrities of that magnitude. But for those working their way up, acting classes might not be enough training anymore; how to manage your brand could be just as useful a tool.

In the old days, one misstep didn't necessarily ruin your career or your public image; most indiscretions were handled privately and permanently. Nowadays, a foolish quote is married to your name on Google, an unfortunate photo gets millions of hits while a moment of temporary insanity captured on video runs on TMZ ad infinitum. The website and the TV show.

Several top actors simply don't believe in the publicity machine, or are terrified of it. I've worked with actors who are fearless in front of the camera, but the thought of going on Jimmy Fallon unscripted raises the hair on their arms.

Some also believe in letting the work speak for itself -- the less known about their private lives, the better they can shape-shift with each role. With studios spending millions on salaries and then hundreds of millions on the movie and marketing, however, the days of the intense movie star brooding in private may have gone the way of Atari. There's probably a good reason why you don't see acclaimed actors like Joaquin Phoenix or Jason Patric starring in studio tentpoles.

Today's actors have something new that their predecessors didn't have to negotiate: social media.

Twitter, in particular, has created an incredible opportunity for celebrities to interact directly with their fans.

It's instant, it's global and it's insanely simple to use. For those who view this particular glass as half­‐full, you now have a world where actors can mostly control their own relationship with the public when they're "off-screen." Based on the results so far, it's clear that there are several different philosophies on what to do when trying to establish a more personal connection to their fans. Most seem to use this opportunity to promote either themselves or their products -- essentially, their own personal brand. This can also come in a less overt way via personal photos, details about their daily lives, the unrehearsed minutiae that is clearly better coming from them than in the often snide pages of Star Magazine.

Some use it as a personal self-defense class. When bad news breaks or a scandal is brewing, off to Twitter they go to tell their side of the story to the people who care most. Not a bad way to get your message across, whether it's ultimately successful or not.

Then there are those who are obviously committed to using their celebrity for charitable good. Leonardo DiCaprio and Edward Norton are two great examples; with over four million followers between them, people who follow them because they admire their acting or think they're handsome guys get to learn about some pretty amazing causes.

Having someone else "talk" to your fans can also backfire when it's readily apparent it's not actually coming from you. Tom Cruise's Twitter account reminds me of when my Aunt Barbara posted her very detailed bout with menopause on her Facebook wall; yes, Barbara, everyone can read that -- not just your sisters. (Strange how it got 247 "Likes.") In any case, Team Tom, it's clear that you have simply replaced your red-carpet publicist with an online one -- so step away from the computer and let the kids play with this new Internet thing. Perhaps it's best for some to take a page out of Mr. Cruise's ex-wife's book: Nicole Kidman chooses not to tweet at all.

Right now, it seems like musicians have figured it out more than actors. Granted, they tour all over the world, meet people in huge arenas, and create music that invokes an intensely personal reaction in people, so they might have a few advantages over their thespian brethren. Perhaps this accounts for the fact that, as of this writing, out of the ten people most followed on Twitter, eight are singers. (The other two are named Obama and Kardashian -- insert your own joke here.)

In fact, Katy Perry just might be the winner of the Best Use of Social Media award. Her content captures her personality beautifully--her tweets are funny, off-center, often heartfelt and totally adorable. It's one of the many reasons why her legion of fans feels such a tight connection to her -- she cares just as much and loves them right back.

So we'll never know what Grace Kelly would have done with 140 characters or less, or what Marlon Brando might have posted on Facebook.

Perhaps James Dean's Instagram account would have been revelatory or a clue about Steve McQueen's famous mystique would have lurked in his WhoSay photos.

Or maybe, just maybe, the good old days were indeed good enough.

This post appeared in the July 1, 2012 issue of Huffington.

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