The first time I saw Steve McQueen in a film was the first time I understood the idea of “action” as a lifestyle choice. Up until that point — at the useless age of 11-years-old — I’d grown up almost exclusively on protagonists like Ralph Macchio in Karate Kid and Michael J. Fox as Marty McFly (both great action performances in their own right). But I hadn’t quite yet discovered Schwarzenegger, Jackie Chan, Sylvester Stallone, and I’d only skimmed the surface with Bruce Lee. I didn’t grasp the relationship between actor and character. I didn’t get that action wasn’t just a performance on the big screen, but that it could be a lifestyle, as well.
Steve McQueen did, however. And, at the request of my Western-loving old man, I watched him deliberately try to steal Yul Brynner’s thunder in THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN. McQueen was cavalier, quickly disinterested in B.S., a lot charismatic, and collected and calm despite the violence exploding all around him.
Suddenly, a revelation that would re-frame how I viewed actors moving forward: Steve McQueen wasn’t playing a part. Steve McQueen was cowboy Vin Tanner. Steve McQueen didn’t have to try to be an action hero…he was one.
In the following retro documentary from The Hollywood Collection, the late-“King of Cool”‘s career is encapsulated in a close to one hour piece. His upbringing on the streets, his often antagonistic existence, and his death all paint a picture of a man who will always be an enigma of sorts.
Check it out below and try not to think about the task at hand for 58 minutes. No promises, but you might be a lot cooler if you did…