McGarryBowen’s session on brands and celebrities as cultural icons had no right to go as well as it did. The seminar was originally titled A Conversation with Gisele Bündchen, after all – Rob Lowe was a welcome last minute addition to the schedule. And barely five minutes into the talk, the stage received another unexpected visitor. Journalist Nimrod Kamer, who can always be relied upon to bring the weirdness, sauntered casually up to Lowe and began an elevator pitch. Unfortunately, he was escorted out of the theatre before he could elucidate the details of this business opportunity.
The unflappable Lowe shrugged it off, and carried on chatting to Gordon Bowen about his diverse work as an actor, director and writer. Bowen mentioned that some fans were surprised to see Lowe taking on a comedic role in Parks & Recreation, not to mention his grotesque turn as plastic surgeon Dr Jack Startz in Behind The Candelabra. Says Lowe: “Making choices that are surprising and difficult is critical to keeping your brand alive.”
Something else that has proven instrumental to Lowe’s success is a healthy work/home balance. “I spent twenty years building my career, to the detriment of my personal life. Then I had the good sense to grow up, and concentrate on my life outside of my career. The result was twofold; my personal life got better, and so did my career.”
Bowen asked Lowe what he feels he’s learned from working with master storytellers like Francis Ford Coppola on The Outsiders and Aaron Sorkin on The West Wing. “All of these people have one thing in common,” he says. “They are so confident in their vision. Aaron Sorkin never took a note from the network, and that is unheard of. Creatively, there is no upside to not sticking to your guns.”
Lowe also echoed Courtney Love’s statement from earlier this week, that artists should be earners: “In this economy, it’s incumbent for artists to be business brains,” he says, disagreeing with the notion that creative minds shouldn’t “sully” themselves with such practicalities. “The artists who make it happen are the ones who pay attention to business.” Lowe is refreshingly frank about juggling well-paying, commercial fare with passion projects. He arrived in Cannes straight from filming a comedy with Cameron Diaz; this mainstream work, he says, enables him to conserve his energies for when he has to “swim upstream.”
Lowe finds it important to try new things and challenge himself, which is why he branched out into writing. “Be different and unexpected,” he says, “but don’t got totally off brand, like a comedian who stops being funny because they want to win an Oscar.”
The solitary discipline of writing was unlike anything Lowe had experienced in the hugely collaborative world of film and television. Bowen pointed out that in his two memoirs, Stories I Only Tell My Friends and Love Life, he lays himself bare on the page. For Lowe, there was never any other option. “People want authenticity,” he says. “And the only thing worse than being inauthentic is being faux authentic.”
When asked if he had any words of advice for young writers in the audience, Lowe’s response was essentially a commandment for any wordsmith, from screenwriters to ad men; “For the love of all things holy, just write what’s real. It has to be real, and not aping a cadence, style or convention that the industry has created. When it’s original, you know it, and the audience knows it.”