Posted on | January 11, 2013 | 18 Comments
Last weekend I remarked that I’ve had several long conversations with Ali Akbar about plans for his Viral Read news site. One of the things I’ve repeatedly stressed is how important it is in the news business to be task-oriented and mission-focused. People must be judged strictly on their ability to get the job done. It doesn’t matter whether you “like” somebody or not. It’s not about friendship or popularity. The key to survival is to focus on the task in front of you — cranking it out day after day on deadline — while ignoring all merely personal considerations.
This is one of those big Life Lessons that young people have to learn the hard way, if they are ever to succeed at the highest levels. The real world isn’t like high school. A childish fascination with “popularity” is counter-productive in most real-world work environments. People who attempt to manipulate their way to undeserved success by playing office-politics games will ultimately produce harmful effects to the organization.
Well, so much for the lecture. What got me thinking about this topic was a long article by Stephen Rodrick in the New York Times about the difficulties of working with Lindsay Lohan. Desperate to rescue her career from her self-inflicted disasters, Lohan agreed to work with Paul Schrader, a 65-year-old director who was himself desperate to maintain his viability in the 21st-century movie market.
The set-up: Schrader is attempting to make a feature film on a shoestring budget of $250,000, and it is a measure of how far Lohan has fallen that she’s willing to participate in this project. What Lohan can’t seem to understand is that show business is a business:
The first child of a drug-abusing, felonious stock trader and a failed dancer, Lohan survived her Long Island childhood, moved to Hollywood and became America’s newest sweetheart with winning turns in “The Parent Trap” and “Mean Girls.” She cut an album that went platinum. In 2006, she was the best thing in Robert Altman’s “Prairie Home Companion.” The future was hers to write.
Then — as the voice-over in an “E! True Hollywood Story” would put it — it all fell apart. Big-budget films need insurance in case an actress dies or becomes incapacitated and can’t go on with a role. Lohan’s misadventures made her uninsurable, her work dried up and she settled in as a generation’s snarky punch line.
This should put Lohan’s tabloid-headline life into proper perspective. Undeniably talented, Lohan can’t find work because her personal problems make her an unpredictable workplace liability.
Rodrick’s article is painful to read because Lohan constantly sabotages herself, and jeopardizes the entire film project, by her unprofessional behavior. She routinely shows up late — and sometimes doesn’t show up at all — and when she does show up, Lohan often imposes difficulties on her co-workers by arguing or engaging in other non-cooperative behavior. Here, Roderick describes one classic episode:
The next evening, around 6 p.m., Lohan barreled back up the hill. It was the last day the production had the Malibu house, and there were still two essential scenes left. The first one was the movie’s emotional payoff: Tara leaving Christian and Christian letting her go in exchange for a lethal favor.
The scene was to be shot at “magic hour,” the hour before sunset, and as usual, Lohan was running late. It had been an endless week of switching day for night, and everyone was on edge, including Deen. He had reached his limit with Lohan. During rehearsal, Deen and Schrader argued loudly over how Deen was playing the scene. After Deen remarked for the fourth time that he disagreed with how the scene unfolded, Schrader screamed at him. “James [expletive] Deen, play the scene as I goddamn tell you.”
The two stepped outside and talked for a minute and came back in with sheepish grins. (Later Deen told me, “We yelled at each other because we couldn’t yell at the person we both wanted to yell at.”) Lohan shook her head disapprovingly at Deen.
“That’s unprofessional to treat your director like that. Just very disrespectful.”
The light faded while Lohan gave a running commentary on how the scene should be played, which happened to be the exact opposite of what Schrader wanted. She finally stopped talking and turned to the director.
“Paul, how do you want to play this?”
“I was hoping to direct the scene, but it’s apparent that you’re not going to let me. Let’s skip it. It’s too late, the light is lost.”
Notice here how Lohan, whose lack of professionalism has quite nearly destroyed her career, is able to criticize “unprofessional” and “disrespectful” behavior by her co-star, who has been patiently putting up with Lohan’s outrageous, irresponsible prima donna act for weeks. And then, immediately afterward, Lohan wastes crucial time on the set by telling other people how to do their jobs.
This lack of self-awareness, this tendency toward blame-shifting and psychological projection, is typical of narcissistic personalities. Lohan can’t accept the fact that she is the cause of her problems. Her badly damaged ego has surrounded itself with defense mechanisms that deflect blame for her problems onto others, and Lohan has the narcissist’s knack for seeking out sycophantic enablers:
Only Lohan had a visitor on that first Malibu day. It was Steve Honig, her publicist, a stubby, bald man in a denim shirt. He told Schrader having a reporter on set was unacceptable. Schrader told Honig that he understood and that if he wanted to pull Lohan from the movie, he should do so. Honig backed down. Honig and I talked for a few minutes while the crew waited for the marine layer to lift.
“I don’t want this to be all about Lindsay being late,” Honig said. “Actresses are always late. Julia Roberts is late.”
“Julia Roberts is late,” says the publicist for Lindsay Lohan who — unlike Julia Roberts — has been melting down for seven years.
Let’s stipulate that a publicity agent could play a key role in helping a troubled starlet make a career comeback. But honesty is always the best policy, and a smart publicist — one who had his client’s best interests at heart — would insist that his client stop doing the things that had put her in the position of needing to make a comeback.
Think back to 2004, when the success of Mean Girls — which grossed $129 million worldwide — made 18-year-old Lindsay Lohan arguably the hottest young actress in Hollywood. Now think of how much professional failure and personal dysfunction were necessary to bring her to the point where, at age 26, she’s lucky to be able to get cast in a film with a $250,000 budget. And when you’re through mentally digesting that, perhaps you’ll be ready to contemplate the surreal level of narcissism necessary for Lohan to continue acting out during the Shrader project.
Like I said, I started thinking about this because I’d been talking to Ali Akbar about his Viral Read project. If you know anything about Ali, you must know this: He’s a maniac about punctuality. If you agree to meet Ali at 5 p.m., don’t think it’s OK to show up at 5:15 p.m. And if you promise to deliver something Thursday, don’t try to make excuses for turning it in on Friday.
Being on time is one of the basic principles of professionalism. If you want to think about what can happen when such principles are ignored — when we begin “defining deviancy down,” as Daniel Patrick Moynihan would say — the career of Lindsay Lohan offers a tragic lesson.