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The Best Connected Man in Hollywood
R.I.P., Christopher Lee
When the marvelous character actor Christopher Lee died last year, I thought that he had appeared in films with more different actors than anyone else alive at that time. But, as I started researching this article, I discovered to my surprise, that, while Lee was indeed a prolific actor throughout his long career, the title of “Best Connected Man in Hollywood” belongs instead to someone I never would have guessed: Eric Roberts.
My source for this astounding discovery, and, indeed, for all the statistics and figures in this article, is the Oracle of Bacon, a website dedicated to the career and connections of Kevin Bacon, who has achieved Internet and drinking game immortality as the subject of a game dedicated to seeing how closely related he is to anyone else who has ever appeared in a film. The Oracle assigns a “Bacon number” to an actor based on how many links it takes to get from that actor to Bacon. Thus, anyone, who has ever appeared in a movie with Kevin Bacon, say Tom Hanks in Apollo 13, has a Bacon number of 1 (Bacon has a Bacon number of zero with himself).
You’d smile too if they named an oracle after you
Neither Christopher Lee nor Eric Roberts have ever appeared with Kevin Bacon in a movie. However, Lee appeared with Brad Dourif in The Return of the King, who in turn appeared with Bacon in Murder in the First. Thus, Lee has a Bacon number of two. Eric Roberts also has a Bacon number of two. He appeared with Mickey Rourke in A Hitman in London, who also appeared with Bacon in Diner. By the way, Eric Roberts has a Lee number of two (and vice versa); he appeared in King of the Gypsies with Patti LuPone, who appeared in 1941 with Lee.
To determine the best connected actor of all time, the Oracle of Bacon calculates the “connectedness” number of every actor to every other actor in the Internet Movie Data Base and determines the average. On this basis, Bacon is no piker; at the last compilation on the Oracle of Bacon, he ranked #411 (out of over three million actors in the database). His average Bacon number is currently 3.017, meaning that it takes an average of just over three links to connect Bacon to any other actor in movie history. Similarly, Christopher Lee currently has an average Lee number of 2.920, ranking him around #30 on the list. Neither of them, however, compare with Roberts, whose average Roberts number is 2.831. And for those who think I’m being sexist in referring to the best connected man in Hollywood, connectedness is a man’s game. The best connected woman is Sally Kirkland at #47.
How did Eric Roberts become the best connected actor of all time? He has certainly made his share of quality movies, including the aforementioned King of the Gypsies, The Pope of Greenwich Village, Star 80, and The Dark Knight. He even got an Oscar nomination for Runaway Train. But those movies didn’t land Roberts at the top of the list. By contrast, Roberts’ sister Julia, whose resume considerably outshines Eric’s, is only #167.
The movie formerly known as A Hitman in London
It’s not the movies you’ve heard about that got Eric Roberts to the top of the list; it’s the literally hundreds that you’ve never heard of. I noted earlier that Roberts appeared in A Hitman in London with Mickey Rourke. If that film doesn’t ring a bell, it’s probably not because you’re more familiar with it under the name of its video release, Skin Traffik. Instead, you are probably one of the millions of moviegoers worldwide who missed Hitman when it supposedly played in Los Angeles in October, 2015 (two years after filming was completed). I say supposedly because there’s no record of any box office receipts for this movie on Box Office Mojo among the 129 movies that actually earned money at the box office that week.
While Hitman made nary a ripple at the box office, it, and dozens of similar films like it, have had the effect of casting Eric Roberts alongside many, many other actors over the years and, thereby, reducing his average Roberts number considerably. In addition to Mickey Rourke, Roberts’ Hitman co-stars include Daryl Hannah, Jeff Fahey, and Michael Madsen (who happens to have the second best Oracle of Bacon number), all actors who, like Roberts, are more than willing to lend their names and faces (for a couple of scenes) to essentially direct-to-video projects such as Hitman. As The Film Reel, one of the handful of sites that reviewed the video release, said: “It really does feel like a cast of characters jammed into an action film for the sole purpose of selling copies of the DVD by their names alone… [A]nybody you may recognize is only there to convince you to open your wallet.”
Christopher Lee fans should not despair, however. It’s still possible that he actually is the best connected actor of all time. The Oracle of Bacon bases its calculations on the IMDB database, which, in turn, relies on the information supplied by others, including studios and fans. Nowadays, even direct-to-video shlock like Hitman has a fairly comprehensive cast listing on IMDB (91 actors in total, including probably every extra who picked up a check). Of course, Lee also made his share of B-movies in the 1950’s and 60’s, but records from those days, especially for films that have never appeared on video, are often quite spotty. So, there’s a good chance that a number of Lee’s connections are now gone with the wind.
So, what does the future hold for Eric Roberts? Well, quite frankly, the future looks pretty good as far as his chances of maintaining his title. The IMDB lists 68 films in which Roberts appears that are either announced or in various stages of production. A few of these will probably never see the light of day in any form, but don’t be surprised to see the likes of Fatties: Take Down the House, Taco Shop, Santa’s Boot Camp, or Sorority Slaughterhouse on Netflix or Amazon Prime in the months to come. Do be surprised, however, to see them in any actual movie theater.
Photo credits: Eric Roberts – “Eric Roberts” by Eva Rinaldi / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0; Christopher Lee – “Christopher Lee – Berlinale – 2014” by Avda-Foto / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0; Kevin Bacon – “Kevin Bacon” by Gage Skidmore / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0