James O'Keefe, the Laurence Olivier of Rutgers

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Aug. 7 2012 9:23 AM

James O'Keefe, the Laurence Olivier of Rutgers

In 2004, a Rutgers film student named Joseph Helmreich got interested in the dramatic chops of another rising senior. "We were in an acting class together," says director Joseph Helmreich, "as well as some philosophy and communications classes. He was a great actor in class, so I asked him to be in the video.  He was pretty workmanlike for the most part, quietly doing his part."

The student was James O'Keefe. Yes, he still works in the video medium. Not like this, though. In the first college film, "Ricky Reality," O'Keefe plays a young man unable to distinguish between his life and his movies.

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In "Tuffer than Tuff," a sort of tribute to early Martin Scorcese, O'Keefe plays "Jonny," a member of a gang that doesn't do an awful lot but work on monologues. "I'm like a stray dog," says O'Keefe (dialogue dubbed in by Helmreich) to a girl who wants to tame him. "The street is my home. You take me in, and I just might bite ya."

 

O'Keefe didn't have much to say about Helmreich's journey into the vaults. "He's not the first to contact reporters based on what he knows from college days," he said, via e-mail. And if it helps pre-empt my own comeuppance, I know that I appeared in at least two college films and three films by a friend who went to another school. In one of them, I played a corpse. In another, I ad-lib the line: "I got somethin' to tell you -- I crack skulls!" before I run at a villain and get knocked out instantly. The age of cheap video, as everyone now knows, is an age of regret and horrors.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.