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Maybe Vince Vaughn didn’t fully understand the scope of the telemarketing job he took to earn some money back in the early days, but from the vantage of 45 or so movies hence, you could argue he missed his calling—it’s easy to picture the saps he bulldozed into sending an orphan to the local rodeo. To be fair, he wasn’t aware that neither the orphans nor the rodeo really existed, but Vaughn’s marauding, motor-mouthed rhetoric did fuel the best and most memorable moments in films like Old School, Wedding Crashers and Made. His observational rants brought dimension to broad comedies in the form of characters we watched to see what they would say as much as we watched to see what they would do. He took the thoughts most of us keep well out of reach of our tongues and gave them voice in coercive comedic soliloquy. In fact, they spawned an addition to the film review lexicon: Vaughnese.
As fun as it is to imagine, the telemarketing career never had much chance to take off. Vaughn, who did some musical theater as a kid (along with basketball, baseball and football), decided at 17 to be actor. After booking a car commercial at 18, he moved from Buffalo Grove, Ill. to L.A. to make it happen. Shortly thereafter, he appeared in various and sundry TV series and after-school specials, as well as the film Rudy, where he struck up a friendship with fellow aspiring actor Jon Favreau. A couple years later, they decided to quit waiting for the phone to ring and made a small independent called Swingers. You never know which decisions are the fateful ones.
Interspersed with the blockbusters that followed were films that made use of Vaughn’s nuanced ability to shade humor with a certain undefined menace that goes beyond what comes standard with a burly 6’5” physique. (Though Gus Van Sant admits stature was a factor in casting him in his remake of Psycho; Vaughn scared the bejesus out of Van Sant’s assistant just by walking into the office for a meeting.). At the beginning of their careers, most actors choose the roles that are most likely to get them bigger parts, but Vaughn’s work in films like Made, Return to Paradise and Clay Pigeons demonstrate an uncommon disregard for painting himself in varying shades of unlikability. While some of those roles earned him praise—in its review of Return to Paradise, The New York Times said, “As Sheriff, Mr. Vaughn projects a deep-seated skepticism and chilliness that give the story its suspense.”—they didn’t necessarily rock the box office. So cue up the comedies, most of which were hits, but some of which were less than satisfying, including to Vaughn himself. This seems to have prompted more instinctive, personal choices of late. It’s also prompted entertainment writers to coin yet another term in his honor: Vaughnaissance.
Call it what you will, it appears to be going well. Of Vaughn’s performance in the HBO series True Detective, The AV Club wrote, “More than any other character, Frank Semyon reveals the numbness of rejecting his true self, and the vitality that returns when he embraces it…Frank sparks with vitality.” And some intriguing films are in the works: In The Archbishop and the Antichrist, he’ll play a murderer opposite Forest Whitaker’s Archbishop Desmond Tutu. He also stars in Mel Gibson’s WWII drama Hacksaw Ridge, and the prison-riot drama Brawl in Cell Block 99.
But here we have to confess ourselves Vaughnaissance-deniers; he’s never stopped turning out interesting work. It’s just that his on-screen career tends to overshadow projects like his live Wild West Comedy Show and Pursuit of the Truth, a televised competition that funded the passion projects of documentary filmmakers. And there’s his own Netflix doc Art of Conflict, a vivid and moving chronicle of the violent history captured in the street murals of Northern Ireland.
As an artist, Vaughn obviously has much to say, and we loved talking to him. So while we don’t expect he’ll be cold calling us at dinnertime anytime soon, we hope he’ll keep in touch.