21st Century Fox
THE SEXY MEGAN FOX IS WORKING HARD TO BREAK OUT OF HER (BOMB)SHELL BY TAKING ON MORE CHALLENGING FILM ROLES. BUT WILL HER BIG MOUTH COST HER A PROMISING HOLLYWOOD CAREER?
The concept of the beautiful bombshell dates almost as far back as Hollywood itself. In the 1930s, sirens such as Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich sizzled on the silver screen, driving up box office revenues in the era of the Great Depression. A mere decade after the passage of the 19th Amendment granted women the right to vote, these actresses found self-empowerment (and occasional controversy) in a world typically dominated by men by unabashedly emphasizing their femininity.
Some would say that Megan Fox, who turns 24 this month, is the 21st century’s first true bombshell. After all, she’s got the long Bettie Page-like hair, the Betty Boop curves, the Mae West mouth and that Marilyn Monroe tattoo boldly emblazoned on her forearm. She ranked No. 2 on Maxim magazine’s Hot 100 list in 2009 and was voted Sexiest Woman in the World by FHM readers in 2008. And, lest we forget, her entire career was launched with an unforgettable scene in Transformers, the image of her lithe body bent over the engine of a ’76 Camaro—this generation’s version of Farrah Fawcett’s famous swimsuit poster.
Her physical beauty has helped the former model earn comparisons to big-screen icons such as Angelina Jolie—but her acting skills have yet to be praised. Fox herself acknowledges that being typecast as a sex symbol in a Hollywood blockbuster was “responsible for whatever level of success I’ve managed to acquire,” and that, “I haven’t given people any reason to think that I’m a good actress.” Jennifer’s Body—her first above-the-title outing after the two Transformers films made her a household name—bombed, earning just $16 million at the box office. And last year, her over-exposure in the media led several prominent men’s websites to take part in “A Day Without Megan Fox.”
What makes Fox compelling (at least as an interview subject) is her willingness to discuss both sides of this debate about her relative merits with alarming forthrightness, surprising self-awareness and a sense of humility that can either be interpreted as genuine self-doubt or sly media manipulation. But it’s also this tendency to run off at the mouth that has earned her the most criticism, whether for comparing Transformers director Michael Bay to Hitler or for talking frankly about her romantic relationships. Her provocative quotes have certainly earned her plenty of attention, but they’ve also left her management team questioning the old adage that any publicity is good publicity.
Fox traces her in-your-face attitude back to her childhood, growing up with divorced parents in the small town of Rockwood, TN. “I was sort of an outsider,” she says. “I was raised Pentecostal, and everyone where I came from is very judgmental. Everything is wrong and nothing is acceptable. So I always rebelled against that mindset and refused to conform to everyone else’s ideas of what is right. I feel like I have to do the same thing now in Hollywood.”
Though this rebelliousness has caused problems in Fox’s career (see: a letter from Transformers crew members posted online last September defending Bay and accusing the actress of being difficult to work with), she seems unlikely to change her approach anytime soon. “I don’t like small talk, and I don’t like to have to be cookie cutter,” she says. “That’s a quality I developed as a kid. You know how everybody goes into cliques and talks behind everyone’s back? I thought it was so ignorant. So I just started being completely honest with everybody all of the time. It gets me into trouble often, but I think it’s a good quality to have.”
Perhaps that’s true, but it’s also fair to question the merits of biting the hand that fed Fox’s explosion in popularity. Bay has been a Fox fan since 2003, when he cast her as “Stars-and-Stripes Bikini Kid Dancing Under Waterfall” in his summer hit Bad Boys II, and even leapt to her defense last year, insisting that he did not condone the anonymous letter. Yet the buxom beauty remains relatively circumspect when asked about the impact the hit franchise has had on her career.
“Transformers’ commercial success has opened a lot of doors for me,” Fox says. “For me to have that is a huge blessing, and I don’t want to complain about it. But at the same time, Transformers left me pegged as a pinup, and I haven’t really been given a chance to be much more than that. My goal is to still be working in Hollywood in 10 years, and if I don’t break out of that box, I won’t be able to have the kind of career that I’m hoping for. There’s a lot of responsibility on me to get my [act] together.”
Unfortunately, the process of getting her act together continues to be a work-in-progress. There was the failure of Jennifer’s Body and its cannibalistic cheerleader storyline. Then, an attempt to soften Fox’s image by having her host the season premiere of Saturday Night Live was met with decidedly mixed reviews. Nine years after her debut opposite the Olsen twins in the straight-to-DVD movie Holiday In the Sun, the fact remains that the actress has yet to find a project that will establish her as more than merely a ... well, fox.
To Fox’s credit, her sudden success has not led her down the self-destructive path paved by peers such as Lindsay Lohan and Mischa Barton. She’s never been arrested, never been caught drunk in a trendy nightclub, never appeared naked onscreen and never been in trouble for anything other than her occasional questionable quotes.
“Getting photographed coming out of Rite Aid with shampoo bottles is new to me, but you acclimate to that pretty quickly,” she says. “You have to make a choice to refuse to be involved with things that could get you in trouble. It’s easy when you feel upset about something to want to go to a club and drink, but instead I force myself to deal with it, because I don’t want to go down that path. I would be throwing away my career.”
By all accounts, Fox lives a relatively quiet off-screen life and is surprisingly poised and ladylike in person. According to Jennifer’s Body director Karyn Kusama, the actress is nothing less than a consummate professional, never resorting to diva-like behavior. “Megan comes to the set very prepared,” she says. “She shows up to do her job just like everyone else. She’s also very smart in talking about character. In the conversations we had, it seemed like she understood something deeper about Jennifer. Even though Jennifer was all about what was on the surface, Megan recognized what was more human and exposed about her.”
So is it possible that, beneath the rebellious spirit and the provocative mouth, there lies a thoughtful, budding actress desperately in search of her true self? That, after being thrust into the spotlight at the age of 21, Fox responded aggressively instead of exposing herself as vulnerable? The actress may be unwilling to elaborate on her personal insecurities, but she certainly doesn’t deny that they exist. She’s the first to acknowledge that her performances haven’t really lived up to her hype, and that her success has come from good fortune rather than talent or a solid, old-fashioned work ethic.
“It’s not anyone else’s fault that I haven’t really performed well in a film yet,” she says. “It’s my fault. The truth is that I’ve been able to be a part of some films that I really didn’t feel like I deserved to be a part of and gotten some opportunities that a lot of young actors don’t get. I’m not looking for anything specific to change people’s perception of me. I’m just looking for things that I feel will really push me as an actress.”
For better or worse, Fox will find her talent tested in next month’s Jonah Hex, a fanboy-friendly comic book adaptation starring what Fox calls “three of the best actors in the business”: Michael Fass-bender, John Malkovich and Josh Brolin. The story follows a Wild West bounty hunter (Brolin) trying to track down a voodoo practitioner who’s hell-bent on freeing the South by raising an army of the undead. And though Fox was relegated to a supporting role, she seems entirely enthusiastic about the experience.
“Trying to stay alive in a scene opposite Josh Brolin almost killed me!” she says. “I’ve never put so much effort into something in my entire life, because he’s a brilliant actor and I don’t have the skills to keep up. But I tried really hard, and things like that are ultimately going to force me to grow in a positive direction. I just want to keep seeking more amazing opportunities like that.”
The reality is that, despite the criticism of Fox, A-list actors and directors are lining up to bring more opportunities her way. She’ll be appearing opposite Bill Murray and Mickey Rourke later this year in her first serious drama, Passion Play, and she’s set to reunite with Bay and Shia LaBeouf for Transformers 3 next year. At this point, it seems as if the only one standing in the way of Megan Fox’s career is Megan Fox herself. She’s clearly got the beauty to get Hollywood’s attention and the mouth to enrapture the media. At this point, perhaps the biggest lingering question is this: Does she actually have the talent to back it up?