Damage Control: When Celebrities Embark On The Apology Tour

Credit: Zegler: Theo Wargo / Staff, Smith: Nicky J Sims / Stringer. Getty Images.
Theo Wargo / Staff. Nicky J Sims / Stringer. Getty Images.

Clean up on aisle four!

Celebrities make messes far bigger than what most of us leave behind.

One advantage? They can attempt damage control on late-night TV, the concert stage or even via social media.

Actress Rachel Zegler chose an awards-season interview with Variety to clean up the mess she made earlier in the year. Zegler, the 20-something starlet known for “West Side Story,” “The Hunger Games” prequel, and “Shazam! Fury of the Gods,” almost personally sank a Disney mega-project. 

She’s slated to play the title role in Disney’s live-action “Snow White” update, but she had few kind things to say about the source material.

It’s no longer 1937, and we absolutely wrote a ‘Snow White’ — she’s not going to be saved by a prince! And she’s not gonna be dreaming about true love… She’ll be dreaming about becoming a leader she knows she can be.

Those and related comments went viral. On steroids.

She had to wait out the actor’s strike to do some super-sized damage control. And that’s exactly what she did alongside fellow Disney star Halle Bailey.

The cartoon is so beloved — it’s like a monumental moment in film history. It’s the first feature-length cartoon movie, to the point where it won honorary Oscars, and all these amazing things that happened for that film are the reason that you and I get to sit here today, because it made Disney what it is.

That didn’t stop Team Disney from adding CGI dwarfs to the project and bumping its release date to 2025. We’ll have to wait until then to see if all is forgiven.

Daily Wire Announces Live-Action ‘Snow White And The Evil Queen’

Other damage control efforts involved affairs of the heart. Or, perhaps, another part of the anatomy.

Hugh Grant sat atop the Hollywood food chain after the shocking success of his 1994 comedy “Four Weddings and a Funeral.” That, plus his coupling with fellow rising star Elizabeth Hurley gave him Flavor of the Month status.

It all came crashing down when he was caught dallying with a prostitute named Divine Brown. His squeaky-clean image, forged from his “Weddings” success and the anticipated release of the comedy “Nine Months,” suddenly soured.

What to do?

Drop by “The Tonight Show” and offer a sheepish mea culpa. No excuses. Just self-flagellation.

“You know in life what’s a good thing to do and a bad thing to do. I did a bad thing,” he told “The Tonight Show’s” Jay Leno.

THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO -- Episode 725 -- Pictured: (l-r) Actor Hugh Grant during an interview with and host Jay Leno on July 10, 1995 -- Photo by: Margaret Norton/NBCU Photo Bank

Margaret Norton/NBCU Photo Bank

Grant’s career made a slow but steady comeback following the scandal. Today, he works constantly on high-profile projects like “Wonka,” “The Undoing” and “The Gentlemen.”

The results of some damage control projects won’t be known for some time. Take Will Smith’s response to “The Slap,” the awful 2022 Oscar moment when he attacked comedian Chris Rock for telling a joke about his wife Jada Pinkett Smith’s bald head.

Smith’s bulletproof brand as a talented, charming A-lister vanished overnight.

The “King Richard” star laid low for a while and, eventually, released the requisite apology video. He has spent the last year and a half referencing “The Slap” during carefully considered press interviews to diminish its long-term impact.

His 2022 promotional campaign for “Emancipation” toned down the superstar’s usual elan.

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 02: Will Smith arrives at the European premiere of "Emancipation" at Vue West End on December 2, 2022 in London, England. (Photo by Nicky J Sims/Getty Images)

Nicky J Sims/Getty Images

It’s unclear if he’ll ever return to his superstar status. That’s up to movie audiences, and they’ll soon have plenty of chances to weigh in. His upcoming projects include “I Am Legend 2,” another “Bad Boys” sequel and a “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” remake.

Some damage control efforts crash on impact. Mega-producer Harvey Weinstein offered a swift response to 2017 allegations he sexually assaulted multiple starlets. The Democratic bundler claimed his actions reflected a different, less evolved era, and he was deeply sorry for offending the women in question. He added a vow meant to rally his progressive base.

Two, actually.

I am going to need a place to channel that anger so I’ve decided that I’m going to give the NRA my full attention. I hope Wayne LaPierre will enjoy his retirement party. I’m going to do it at the same place I had my Bar Mitzvah. I’m making a movie about our President, perhaps we can make it a joint retirement party. 

Suffice it to say the effort didn’t work.

Sometimes an actor isn’t seeking the public’s grace but the industry’s forgiveness. Superstar Matt Damon earned the #MeToo movement’s wrath when he suggested Weinstein’s predatory crimes were far worse than what future Sen. Al Franken did by posing with a sleeping woman in a lewd manner.

There’s a difference between, you know, patting someone on the butt and rape or child molestation, right? … Both of those behaviors need to be confronted and eradicated without question, but they shouldn’t be conflated, right?

Team #MeToo excoriated the “Good Will Hunting” star, and he vowed to stay silent on the subject moving forward.

Later that year, Damon famously portrayed future Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh on “Saturday Night Live,” leaning hard into the negative portrait of the conservative judge painted by the legacy media.

Kavanaugh’s case became a #MeToo cause celebre despite microscopic evidence assembled against the judge.

The public didn’t care about Damon’s involvement in the sketch, but his Hollywood peers likely cheered his attempt to derail Kavanaugh’s nomination.

Perhaps Hollywood’s most intriguing damage control project came from ageless actor Tom Cruise. The “Top Gun” star’s antics in the mid-2000s drew plenty of unwanted attention.

First, he infamously jumped on Oprah Winfrey’s couch while declaring his love for actress Katie Holmes. Social media wasn’t the gargantuan force it is today in 2005, but the story still spread like wildfire thanks, in part, to late-night TV.

None of it flattered Cruise.

One month later, Cruise battled “Today” show co-host Matt Lauer while promoting “The War of the Worlds.” They debated the efficacy of psychiatric drugs, reflecting his Scientology faith’s criticism on the matter.

TODAY -- Pictured: (l-r) Matt Lauer interviews actor Tom Cruise on June 23, 2005 -- (Photo by: Virginia Sherwood/NBC Newswire/NBCUniversal via Getty Images/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images)

Virginia Sherwood/NBC Newswire/Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images

His career didn’t flatline, but his all-American brand took a hit. His response? Work more, talk less.

Cruise stopped over-sharing about his love life, avoided almost all political banter and kept the focus on making movies. His fan base began to grow anew, and on the strength of the “Mission: Impossible” franchise he resumed his place atop the Hollywood star chart.

Today, Cruise can’t stop thanking fans for supporting his Hollywood dreams. He’ll never have to do damage control for that.

* * *

Christian Toto is an award-winning journalist, movie critic and editor of HollywoodInToto.com. He previously served as associate editor with Breitbart News’ Big Hollywood. Follow him at @HollywoodInToto.

The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.

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