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Tricia Olszewski didn’t really go for Me and Orson Welles. Washington City Paper‘s house critic called it an “inoffensively lackluster film” and charged that Zac Efron‘s portrayal of Richard, a young would-be actor who charms his way into Orson Welles’ production of Julius Caesar, “is bland and personality-free, and not even his looks are enough to sell the character.”
The kind things I might’ve said about Efron, had I saw anything in his performance worth highlighting, would’ve boiled down to a parallel sentiment: At least he doesn’t outshine the awesome and awesomely cast Christian McKay, a dead ringer for Welles.
McKay, as a number of outlets have already noted, was a cinematic nobody. When I point this out to director Richard Linklater, and that McKay’s is a strange face to present as that of one of America’s most iconic artists, the Texas director guffaws.
“British audiences haven’t seen too much of him either,” Linklater says. “He’s mainly a theater guy and a concert pianist, but he’s a big personality. He could bring that bigger archness to the screen and not be too theatrical to it.”
The British press are proud of McKay. The Telegraph‘s David Gritten praised him recently as a wonderful break from the UK’s current theatrical norm, “skinny, intense-looking souls with bed hair, faraway eyes and tentative conversation skills.” McKay, Gritten points out, is more robust: “Clubbable and well‑fed, he has a fruity, booming voice, a hearty laugh and a deep fund of gossipy anecdotes…there’s something of the old-fashioned, flamboyant actor-manager about him.”
There’s a certain charm to bringing someone on board as anonymous as McKay to star alongside an actor as ubiquitous—if for the wrong reasons—as Efron. Real life, in this case, strangely mirrors the movie: The famous Ephron plays a nobody, the unheard of McKay plays a cinematic titan.
It’s an irony that Linklater is well aware of. “We’re showing a guy who got a seemingly random chance to be in what is still considered a great production,” he says of Efron’s character in the film.
And when asked if outsiders can still make it big by being in the right place at the right time, Linklater points to McKay. “People still are sort of discovered. People get opportunities all the time. McKay reminds you of how much undiscovered talent is really still out there.”