- Alyssa Roenigk, ESPN The Magazine senior writer
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On February 19, Lakers guard Kobe Bryant stepped his size 14s into a square of cement at Grauman's Chinese Theater and became the first athlete to be immortalized on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. It seems Shaun White is angling to be the second.
In the wake of his second Olympic Gold Medal, White talked often about his desire to try his hand at acting once the right scripts and projects floated his way. It seems that is starting to happen. This summer, White will make his big-screen acting debut in the movie "Friends With Benefits" starring Justin Timberlake, Woody Harrelson and Mila Kunis. In that film, as in the commercials and TV appearances he has to his credits, White will play himself. But last week, in a video for The Black Keys Howlin' For You, White made his small screen debut playing a character other than himself.
In his roughly 20-second part in the video, White has a pretty racy, yet PG, love scene with Alexa, the main character of the video, speaks one line -- "That was amazing" -- and then is murdered by said lover, "a sexy assassin with a troubled past." As White will surely be embarking on more roles in the future, we enlisted Hollywood acting coach Cameron Thor of the Carter Thor Studio to dissect White's most recent performance, check out some of his earlier performances in commercials and on TV and tell us if he thinks White has what it takes to make yet another crossover.
ESPN: So, overall impression?
Cameron Thor: I think he's great. He is too charming and he makes me smile. He has an enormous amount of likeability and that is a rare conversation. Finding someone who is likeable, lovable and will work his butt off to get what he wants.
All of that comes across in the short clips you watched?
Acting is an art and a craft and it takes time to learn. But when it comes to movies and television, the first thing we experience is the person's personality and who they are. That is why so many good actors out here will never make it: Because it is harder to be yourself while making the right choices to play a character than it is to pretend to be someone else. Shaun has a good deal of humility, a great sense of humor and is committed to what he does.
So, it seems he has what Hollywood calls the "it" factor. Is that what you're saying?
Actors are born. You can't take a non-actor and make him an actor. But you can take someone who was born one and make him great with training. Even if a person has never acted, if he was born to act, it will come through. Part of that quality is that they love to entertain people. I am quite certain a big part of Shaun's thrill in being a championship snowboarder is that he thrills people when he is doing what he is doing, and he has a relationship with his audience.
Until the Back Keys video, Shaun has always played Shaun. He's playing Shaun White in "Friends With Benefits". Is that as difficult as playing a character?
It is very difficult to play yourself. You are still reciting lines and making choices. Most actors screw up because they do way too much to try and convince us. In The King's Speech, Geoffrey Rush only makes two or three choices to play the speech therapist, but he is so committed to them, it is convincing. With Shaun, I don't think he will ever undergo a total transformation to play a character. We ultimately want the heart of the man who makes us smile when we look at him and makes us feel like we know him when we watch him on television.
He's only in the music video for 20 seconds, but did you see potential?
How do I put this? Acting is like sex. If you take care of the other person, you will get taken care of yourself. But if you concentrate on yourself, nobody will have fun. In that video, it is obvious he is aware of what his scene partner looks like and is doing. He is both playing a character and playing Shaun having the experience of getting to be bedded by what is obviously a very lovely girl. There isn't enough there to really calibrate him as an actor, but I have seen actors get into situations like that and it not work because they are too nervy about having the camera there. What he did well, which is difficult, is pull of that he doesn't know anybody is watching them. We believe him.
Do athletes typically make this crossover well?
Athletes are great acting students. They know how to work hard and that you can't get to the top without committing to excellence.
Have you have a success story?
I work with the lovely Brooklyn Decker and she is obviously doing quite well. She's another example of success in one world translating very quickly into success in film. It may seem strange to think of her as an athlete, but the type of modeling she did is very much like athletics; it takes strength, stamina and commitment. And after looking again at Shaun's work, I was struck by how much they reminded me of one another: open, kind, funny, humble, hard working ... and they both have amazing hair.
Yes. That, they do.
Shaun White featured as an actor in The Black Keys new music video.