Julie Burchill

The rise of the sham actors

And the irritating trend of luxury self-deprecation

  • From Spectator Life
Paul Mescal at The Olivier Awards, 2023 (Getty Images)

We’re all wise to those phoney rotters who hold ‘luxury beliefs’ – the excellent phrase coined by the social commentator Rob Henderson in 2019 to describe ‘the modern trend among affluent Americans to use their beliefs as a way to display their social status… a belief held or espoused in order to signal that a person belongs to an elite class’. I’ve recently noticed a new side-effect of extreme privilege; luxury self-deprecation, as seen principally in actors who diss their own vehicles (if old) or express dismay at becoming famous (if young). I call them the Slamming Hams – Shams for short. These star-turncoats are headed by Hugh Grant, who recently said ‘I slightly hate [making films], but I have lots of children and need money’ at a press conference to promote his latest film Wonka, in which he plays an ‘Oompa Loompa’. He went on to compare wearing a costume to ‘a crown of thorns’ but no one will ever mistake this miserable old git – who appears to have been in a bad mood ever since he was discovered getting noshed off in a car way back in the 20th century – for Jesus.

The acting profession has a whopping 85 per cent unemployment rate

I’d have reckoned that young actors might be more appreciative of fame and fortune, but 27-year-old Paul Mescal has recently said that he would be ‘profoundly depressed’ if his leading role in the upcoming Gladiator 2 makes him globally famous. You’d think that someone who had an agent even before he graduated from drama school and has worked ever since – including showing off his bum a lot on the BBC – would be prepared for the consequences of rampant ambition, but there’s nowt so queer as theatrical folk.

Maybe Paul Mescal feels sad because he was in Normal People, with all that endless mithering on about ‘feelings’? What’s the furthest an actor could get from such drear introversion – I know, James Bond! But no, here’s Daniel Craig back in 2015, venting to Time Out, asked if he’d be up for making a fifth Bond film: ‘I’d rather slash my wrists.

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