It’s official. I am the 18,867th most successful actor in the world. It’s a marvelous feeling, I can tell you. I’d like to thank my agent, my manager etc etc.
I only found this out recently when I was initiated into the “Internet Movie Database”, or imdb as it’s known to its friends. Imdb is a database of everyone who’s ever had anything to do with the making of a movie or television programme: actors, directors, writers, all those slightly arcane titles you see in the end credits – gaffers, grips, best boys – each one has a page dedicated to them. The website is so thorough I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the prostitutes who help ease the occasional creative block on Sunset Boulevard were listed there as well.
There’s something slightly frightening about imdb. It knows everything, not only your date and place of birth, but everything you’ve done, from Hollywood blockbusters to the most insignificant guest appearance on, say for example, Matthew Wright’s daytime chat show on Channel 5 that went out on 22nd July 2004 (see under David Schneider IV. There are 12 David Schneiders. I’m number 4).
But that’s just the beginning. Every person on imdb is ranked. So I’m 18,876th, Pearce Brosnan is 315th, Tom Cruise (real name Tom Cruise Mapother IV as imdb helpfully tells me) is 13th, David Schneider VI is 74,020th (it’s important to be the most successful David Schneider. Not that I’ve checked you understand).
If that wasn’t bad enough, imdb recalculates your ratings every week and provides a helpful graph plotting your ratings history so that you (or any director, or, for that matter, anyone) can see which direction the imdb oracle thinks your career is going. For instance, I’m here to tell you that on 6th July 2003 I was the 2274th most successful actor in the world which, although the whole system is obviously meaningless and totally flawed, I have to say I’m pretty damn pleased about.
Such is the power of imdb that even the dead cannot escape its verdict. Thus, Marilyn Monroe is at 440 this week, whereas the spirit of Orson Welles is no doubt staring at his current rating of 741 and wondering where it all went wrong.
The truly disturbing thing is that nobody seems to know how it’s done. Is there some geeky Bill Gates-Sharon Osbourne hybrid out there judging us all? Do a group of cardinals lock themselves in a room with a pile of DVDs and release a plume of white smoke over the Hollywood hills once they’ve decided everyone’s placings for that week? No-one knows for sure. Some say it’s to do with sales figures in the US, but for most, imdb remains a quasi-religious mystery, the closest movie people come to contact with the divine.
But imdb is a flawed god. I’m ranked higher than at least two theatrical knights of the realm, which can’t be right. And I know I should be happy being 18,876th. If you were the 18,876th best plumber in the world or the 18,876th most attractive person I imagine you’d be fairly chuffed. But stop me if I’m sounding bitter (and I’m probably about the 8,465th most bitter person in the world) but three months ago I was 14,187th best actor in the world. Since then I’ve done a Woody Allen film and my own comedy series so how can my rating have gone down? Who can I appeal to? – No-one. That’s imdb for you. It moves in mysterious ways. It’s inscrutable, its word is absolute.
I know its placings are really quite arbitrary (except when I was 2,274th), but it’s a strong-willed person who can resist seeing how other people rate. Imagine being able to look up anyone in your profession – that person who got the job you should have got, that ex who never truly appreciated you – and seeing whether you’re ranked higher than them. It’s a high risk strategy, but if you come out on top, that’s got to feel good. And if you don’t, well, you can always rant about how flawed the system is (see previous paragraph).
So approach imdb with care if you work in film. If you don’t, then sign up, have a look at your favourites and try to guess who’s at number 1. It’s not Tom Cruise (13), or Scarlett Johannsen (42), or Nicole Kidman (52 – I bet Tom’s pleased). The closest I came was Johnny Depp (4). And if you get bored of that game, why not click on David Schneider IV and see if my graph is on the way up. If it is, great, if not, just remember that imdb is misleading, gratuitous and complete and utter nonsense.
This article first appeared in The Sunday Telegraph in 2007. I think I’m now at least at 17,429.