Shaquille O'Neal: Video Shaq
Shaquille O'Neal may or may not become a star of the big screen, but the man knows what he likes in movies. As he reveals in his own home entertainment center, it isn't II Postino.
Have you ever seen a person consume an entire chicken, spread across two sandwiches, in a span of about five minutes? It's an awesome sight. So awesome, in fact, that I stop banging around on Shaquille O'Neal's pinball machine--a Superman number from the '70s with lots of drop targets--just so I can witness the spectacle. No talk, all action, dressed in his standard garb of knee-length gym shorts and a cutoff sweatshirt, smooth-headed Shaq savages his sandwiches with guilt-free gusto and only the occasional grunt of conversation. It's a pleasingly fowl-splattering contrast to the typical Hollywood actor, who'd be doing invisible stomach crunches while downing an ugly tofu-and-sprouts concoction.
At 7'1" O'Neal ranks as the largest human being I've ever seen up close, and is surely one of the largest human beings ever to attempt movie stardom. His Hollywood ambition is, by the way, the only reason he is humoring a journalist who knows less than the average person about basketball and wants only to talk about movies. Ignoring the fact that nearly every other jock-turned-actor--people like Ken Norton, Rosey Grier, Jim Brown and even (no, make that particularly) O.J.--has found a home in my local video store's remainders rack, the Orlando Magic basketball star thinks he has the chops to make it on the big screen. To date we have seen him in countless commercials (charismatically flogging everything from Reebok sneakers to Taco Bell burritos) and the feature film Blue Chips, in which he played a lot of basketball, indulged in loads of mugging, and attempted a minimal amount of acting. This summer he'll be put to a sterner lest when he stars in Kazaam and doesn't have Chips costar Nick Nolte to back him up.
Considering that O'Neal plays a ghetto genie who materializes from a boom-box, you have to appreciate that O'Neal is taking a gimmicky risk that could turn out to be an express ticket to Brian Bosworthville (if you don't remember the annoyingly cocky, spiky blond-haired Bosworth, check your cable listings at 3:00 in the morning, which is when the former football player's howler Stone Cold tends to air).
What, I wonder, leads Shaq, a $25-million-per-year product endorser nonpareil, to stake his reputation on a movie with a high concept so thin that it would leave Don Simpson reeling in his casket? Is it that he harbors a life-long obsession with the great fantasy factories of Hollywood? Does he have a childhood dream that must be lived out at any cost? Well, no.
"Starsky asked me to do it," Shaq flatly states, perhaps condescending to someone who has to ask this question. Like, don't I understand the intricacies of showbiz? Don't I know that when Starsky calls you'd better answer? "Paul Michael Glaser showed me the script that he had commissioned." Now Shaq smiles, as if he is trying to sell me a taco burger. "Plus it's another opportunity. Gotta take advantage of all good opportunities. You'd do the same thing, bro'."
"What kind of opportunities is Hollywood offering you?" I ask.
"I'm about to sign a five-picture deal with either Warner Bros. or Disney," he tells me, hinting that Tinseltown treats its people better than the NBA docs. "During Kazaam I told Disney that I wanted to shoot baskets, and the next day a hoop was up."
"Only a hoop? I heard that an entire basketball court was constructed for you."
"That was for Michael Jordan," Shaq explains. "He did a movie on the Warner Bros. lot and they built him a big dome, a gym, a weight room."
"Don't you keep your perks apace with Jordan's?"
"I don't worry about anybody else's deal as long as mine is good," Shaq tells me, "Nick Nolte made more for Blue Chips than I did, but I was happy for Nick. I've never been the kind of person to go in there and say, 'Nick got $6 million, so I want $10 million.' It don't make sense to me. Anyway, $6 million is really the same as $3 million. We've all got the same cars, the same suits, the same houses."
Shaq's manse is located in a wealthy gated community near Orlando and boasts gymnasium-height ceilings, marble everything, and a topiary giraffe on the front lawn. What I'm interested in, though, is his very serious-looking video room. As we passed by it on the way to lunch in Shaq's kitchen, I saw that it has a burgeoning collection of tapes and laser discs, a massive screen (complete with velvet, ruby-colored, bijou-of-your-dreams curtains that close across it) and a remote that looks like it belongs at Cape Canaveral.
"So, you like movies a lot, right?" I ask, trying to get to the matter of how Shaq's tastes run in cinema.
"I like movies," he says. "Especially the funny ones."
"What are the movies that really crack you up?"
"Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and Ace Ventura; When Nature Calls," comes the immediate reply. "Jim Carrey, he's the man. I met him. It was cool. In fact, Ace is what the team loves to see when we're on our plane."
Shaq has finished his sandwiches and his private chef now hands him a plate of fried, puffy-looking things that resemble matching chicken Kievs. Shaq pushes them away.
"What videos do you look at before a game to get revved up?'" I ask.
"Movies that children can't watch," he shoots back, flashing a huge smile. "I like The Untouchables, The Godfather, action. I really like the scene when the Family's sister gets hit by her husband and the gangster guys come back and beat him up. That kind of shit is what I like."