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Jerry O’Connell

Beauty Truly is Only Skin Deep

By Sonali Muhkerjee

Raise your hand if you are guilty of the crime of going to see a movie or watching a television show, not because you were incredibly interested in the plot line, but to check out the hot guy who is starring in it. Even as I write this article, I reluctantly raise my hand.

Point in case: I jumped at the chance to interview actor Jerry O’Connell. Having been a devoted fan of Sliders, the futuristic sci-fi show in which O’Connell plays Quinn Mallory, one of four inter-dimensional time travelers, and having avidly watched (multiple times) movies such as Stand By Me, Calendar Girl, and Scream 2, the opportunity to teleconference with O’Connell was almost like a dream come true. But, alas, I soon came to realize that the old adage “beauty is only skin deep” is so very true, especially when it comes to actors like O’Connell.

In preparation for the teleconference, I went to O’Connell’s new movie, Mission to Mars, directed by Brian DiPalma. In it, he plays astronaut Phil Ohlmyer, accompanying three other astronauts (Gary Sinise, Don Cheadle, and Connie Nielsen) on a rescue mission to the our neighboring red planet. Ironically, the thing O’Connell is most proud of in the film is the fact that he had so many “technical lines” to say. He made this point specifically to me during the interview since I am from MIT; the problem, though, is that any MIT freshman who has taken Introductory Biology (7.012) can point out many of the ridiculous, half-witted references to human genetics in the movie.

Silly as this may sound, it had not really occurred to me before that simply because an actor is attractive does not mean he is Academy Award material. However, while watching Mission to Mars, the idea started to sluggishly register in my mind. Even through the stifled (and sometimes not-so-stifled) giggles of the audience, I tried to convince myself it was not that terrible a movie. Yet, it just became more difficult to keep a straight face through such scenes as when Ohlmyer reboots all the computers on a malfunctioning space ship simply by pulling a plug and reconnecting it like he was working with any ordinary electrical socket. As I walked out of the theatre, I listened to comments from the audience. The general reaction was this: What a cornball movie. You don’t have to be an MIT student to figure that one out.

Despite the fact that the movie had been so disappointing, I still looked forward to the teleconference, held last Friday. After all, he was an actor from Hollywood, and it’s always a rush to get to speak with a celebrity. One of the first things that struck me was that O’Connell seemed quite laid-back for a conference call that consisted of more than 8,000 people. He invited everyone to call him Jerry and even was nice enough to acknowledge the moderator of the teleconference.

O’Connell spoke a bit about previous roles he had taken. In Stand By Me, the 1986 film in which he debuted, O’Connell played the sweet but slightly obese eleven-year-old Vern Tessio, on an adventure with three other friends to find a dead body. In reality, O’Connell admitted that, around the time, he was a very exuberant and sometimes rambunctious kid in the New York City public school system who put most of his energy into activities such as drama classes in order to stay out of trouble on the streets.

In The Ranger, The Cook, and A Hole in the Sky, a made for TV movie that came out in 1995, he starred as the dashing mountain ranger Mac Hole. This type of role is the kind that O’Connell prefers: his height and his athletic build are definitely needed to pull off that effect. He used this to his advantage when he played the football star Frank Cushman in Jerry McGuire (1996).

Questions from reporters about the movie Mission to Mars dealt with topics from how he became involved in the project to how the zero gravity scenes were filmed. O’Connell was a film student at New York University Film School, and he said that he studied Brian DiPalma. He mainly accepted the part because he wanted to work with DiPalma, whom he called a genius. As for the zero gravity parts, unlike Apollo 13, where the scenes were filmed on the “Vomit Comet,” a jet created specifically by NASA to study weightlessness, most of Mars’s zero-g shots were done on cables and on green screens.

O’Connell took this opportunity to emphasize his athletic abilities as he told the reporters how he sometimes had to hang upside-down for long periods of time in order to allow DiPalma to do the shots he needed. Interestingly enough, O’Connell was on the fencing team at NYU, and had the chance to go to the Olympics for Team USA. However, he gave it up to go into acting because he was starting Sliders at about that time. O’Connell once even competed in a match against the MIT fencing team: apparently, he never learned what it means to be a gracious winner, for his smugness in his team’s victory over MIT was quite apparent during the interview.

As the conference proceeded, the questions became more directed at his personal life and his experiences in the acting business. They also became more trivial and juvenile, and O’Connell’s answers were not much better. From his experience of meeting Britany Spears at one of her concerts (“She’s a little hottie; I can’t wait until she becomes legal”) to whether he wears boxers or briefs (briefs), to what he would keep as reality if he woke up from today and realized that the world was a dream (his car), O’Connell demonstrated exactly how shallow and material his personality is. Perhaps this opinion is a little biased coming from a member of the female sex, but if you had to listen to him brag about how he made it to first base with some random girl in Orange County, California, you, too, would probably come to my conclusion.

Immaturity aside, O’Connell did have some interesting experiences to share. For instance, in an introductory film course at NYU, there was a discussion of the various metaphors and hidden language of Stand By Me while he was sitting in the class. Evidently, no one realized that he had starred in the film, and it was an interesting experience for him to sit there and listen to students pick apart the film. He also recounted that he was offered the role of Bailey (a role played by Scott Wolf) in the Fox TV series Party of Five, and how he later turned it down in order to play Quinn Mallory in Sliders.

Much to my disappointment, though, the interview made me realize that Jerry O’Connell is not the type of person I had expected him to be. This is direct proof of the ability of actors to completely fool their audience into believing that they are truly their character. I love actors who play people who are very intelligent. O’Connell was that for me in Sliders: an electrical engineering genius who built contraptions with the ability to transport people to parallel universes. Unfortunately, after learning that he failed algebra three times, I realized that the closest O’Connell is going to get when it comes to intellect is pretending to have it. As unappealing as I found him as a person, though, I would still go see a movie if he starred in it. You see, even the audience can be actors. I can convince myself he is really hot as long as I don’t think about his personality, because I don’t think I’m ever going to want to meet him in person again. As the old adage goes, “ignorance is bliss.”