Jeremy Strong And The Sad, Slow Death Of The Celebrity Profile

Celebrities are rushing to defend Jeremy Strong after the publication of a lengthy 'New Yorker' profile about him -- but why does he need defending?

Jeremy Strong New Yorker profile

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Last week, The New Yorker published a lengthy, astonishingly well-researched profile of the actor Jeremy Strong, best known for his performance in Succession.

The profile focused on Strong’s intensity and his unwavering dedication to his craft. It didn’t exactly paint him as an easy person to work with — quotes from his co-stars, chiefly Kieran Culkin, made it clear that his commitment to method acting had become deeply tiring on set — but it was far from a hit piece. Amidst the lines about Strong’s amusing confusion over whether Succession was a comedy or not was a portrait of a complex, multi-faceted man: a caring father, and a true battler, who has never once come to take his success and fame for granted.

But try telling that to the celebrities — more and more of them every day — who have come rushing to Strong’s aid. First, his Molly’s Game co-star Jessica Chastain bemoaned the piece, which she called “one-sided” and full of “snark”. Shortly afterwards, director Aaron Sorkin, quoted in the profile, became so incensed that he publicly released the answers he provided to The New Yorker in full, hoping to correct the course of a ship that was in no need of correcting.

For these celebrities, the profile had made the supposed mistake of investigating a man, rather than just serving up more content for the PR machine. Their outrage is laughable — who amongst us would read the profile and imagine that Jeremy Strong was in need of defending? Jeremy Strong, a man who makes more money than most of us will see in a lifetime? — but it is not, sadly, surprising. More and more, celebrity interviews are designed for one thing only: to push tickets, to drive ratings, to sell more content in a media landscape saturated with it.

That, after all, is why the Strong profile made such waves online in the first place. It was a deviation from the norm, not a reinforcing of it, the rare case of a piece of media criticism that went deeper than questions about Marvel movies and cutesy “relatable” anecdotes about how celebrities are just like us.

This narrowing of the parameters of celebrity profiles has been fuelled, in large part, by the prevalence of social media. The rich and the famous are more in control of their image than ever before. The media’s job was once to provide a direct conduit between the lives of the actors and the lives of those who watched and loved them. Now, Twitter and Instagram can — at least superficially — do the same.

Of course, social media accounts provide only an illusory access to the inner lives of those we flock to see. Most actors have PR teams to handle that for them — Kyle MacLachlan isn’t really out there trawling Reddit for Twin Peaks memes, no matter what his Twitter feed might tell you. For actors, social media is, on the face of it, a win-win: they can appear present, relatable, and accessible, without ever having to submit themselves to the scrutiny of journalists. The narrative is entirely in their hands.

Only, that narrative has become increasingly boring as the years have gone on, for one simple reason: celebrities are not like us. Their wealth, their freedom, and their influence means they can live in ways that we cannot. That is precisely what drives our curiosity to understand how they think, how they move through the world. It is one more capitalistic lie to pretend that having the utter autonomy to do what you want, live where you want, is in any way similar to the option sets available to 99 per cent of people on the planet Earth.

Good celebrity profiles don’t eradicate that difference between us and those we adore. They explore it; make it vivid; help us understand what it means to have people hanging on your every word. The beauty of the Jeremy Strong profile is that he is, in the way that he has chosen to live, utterly alien to us.

That is why, above all else, the insistence of celebrities on anodyne, PR puff pieces will only hurt them in the long run. Sanding off the rough edges of those superstars, whose inner lives are mysteries to most of us won’t ultimately drive ticket sales, or increase social media traction. The Strong piece proves that. After all, when was the last time a profile generated that much chatter or attracted that much interest? Celebrities might think that their narratives are the cleanest, most interesting, when entirely in their control. But they would do better to submit, for once in their lives, to forces above and beyond their control.

That submission doesn’t just help them. It proves that profiles can be an art form; that they can have the pull and interest of any great work of literature. And what carefully brand-proofed tweet can you say that about?

Joseph Earp is a staff writer at Junkee. He tweets @JosephOEarp.