Model-Turned-Actor - The Hottie and the Nottie
As The Hottie and the Nottie hits cinema screens Eddie Harrison calls time on the phenomenon of the Model-Turned-Actor
Paris Hilton’s latest celluloid foray, The Hottie and the Nottie earned a grand total of £20,000 at the US box office; considerably less than Hilton pockets to swan around for a couple of hours at a Hollywood shindig. Hilton’s rotisserie chicken physique may sell glossy magazines, but as an actress, the message is clear; we’d rather forget Paris.
The industry term is MTA, model-turned-actress. But for every Oscar-winner like Jessica Lange or Charlize Theron, there’s a Liz Hurley or a Kelly Brook. The MTA phenomenon is nothing new. In All About Eve, Marilyn Monroe’s character is dismissed with the put-down: ‘I heard she went to the Copacabana Academy of Dramatic Arts’.
Be careful not to get MTA confused with any other acronyms. An RTA is a road traffic accident, a phrase also applicable to Hilton’s mannequin-like performances in House of Wax, Bottoms Up or Pledge This. And an ATM is something that cash is produced from, not poured into like the cinematic careers of Cindy Fair Game Crawford, Paulina Her Alibi Porizkova or Pamela Barb Wire Anderson.
While models might be able to raise a crowd on the catwalk, they can’t necessarily fill a cinema seat. Supermodel rarely translates as super-actress, although Halle Berry, Kim Basinger and Kathleen Turner might disagree. Uma Thurman was another who bucked the trend, even sending herself up in Mel Brooks’ musical The Producers.
Nobody embodies the MTA better (or worse) than Pia Zadora. When the phrase model-turned-actress is abbreviated to ‘mactress’, Zadora is usually to blame. Zadora’s multi-millionaire husband was able to launch her career with some record deals and half-dressed photo-shoots, but came unstuck when putting the ingénue on-screen in a string of studio-flops in the early 80s. Witness Zadora opposite a clearly inebriated Orson Welles in 1981’s James M Cain adaptation, Butterfly; her interpretation of her southern fried sexpot role is less suggestive of a baby doll than a ventriloquist’s dummy. Despite playing opposite Telly Savalas in seedy Las Vegas set thriller Fake Out, or Ray Liotta in The Lonely Lady, Zadora’s onscreen presence usually had the same effect on cinema lobbies as a surprise fire drill. Rumour has it that when Zadora played Anne Frank in a stage production, her performance was so grating that when the Nazis were searching the house, audience members helpfully shouted out: ‘She’s in the attic!’
Yet, in hypocritical Hollywood, the MTA distinction rarely sticks to men for quite so long. Thanks to the tireless work of Ben Stiller in Zoolander, no one is about to call Brad Pitt an MTA. Brandon Routh probably prefers to think of himself as an unknown pre-Superman Returns. But models of either sex who fondly imagine themselves looking tearfully down from the Oscar podium should take a long hard look at the stream of MTAs littering the boulevard of broken dreams; King Ozymandis’ words in Shelley’s poem are just as applicable to the collected works of Pia Zadora, ‘Look on my work, ye mighty . . . and despair.’
The Hottie and the Nottie is on general release from Fri 28 Mar.