Was 'About Schmidt' About Actuaries?

Was "About Schmidt" About Actuaries?

By Lynn G. Coleman


By now, many of you may have read the tongue–in–cheek official SOA response to the movie "About Schmidt" on the SOA Web site: Portrayal of actuaries as math–obsessed, socially disconnected individuals with shockingly bad comb–overs 97.28892 percent incorrect.

Unofficially, though, we wondered what the reaction would be from the typical actuary on the street about the main character played by Jack Nicholson. Here is a sampling of the comments:

R. Thomas Herget, executive vice president, PolySystems Inc. Actuaries are more handsome and in better shape than Schmidt. Seriously, insurance actuaries do have more care for their cause (providing for the populations financial security) than Schmidt displayed. Schmidt was self–centered; most actuaries have more consciousness and respect for those around themselves.

The lifestyle displayed is commensurate with what an actuary can expect. The actuary trains and works very hard; few people invest more time studying for their profession than an actuary. He had a comfortable home and an expensive toy. This is just what most actuaries have.

Jay Novik, consultant and editor of The Actuary In the novel, About Schmidt, the central character is a New York–based lawyer. In the movie, the hero has been converted into an Omaha–based actuary. Why? Could it be that Schmidt suffers from conscience and remorse about his life, and this would not be believable in a lawyer, especially one from New York? Curiously, in the switch from lawyer to actuary the writers eliminated Schmidts torrid sexual relationship with a beautiful 20–year–old waitress. Is this an example of professional profiling?

Actually, Schmidts profession had little impact on the story of a man suffering from the double whammy of a mandatory retirement (I'm assuming that it was mandatory) and the death of his wife of many years.

That said, both Schmidt and his annoying successor are easily recognizable actuarial types. As actuaries, we know that there are many other types, some with a demeanor more akin to a game show hosts than to Schmidts.

Unfortunately, many will see the film and Schmidt will become their image of an actuary. I'm raising money to produce a movie portraying actuaries in a different way. Its called "Raiders of the Lost Rate Book." I would like to cast Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt as the actuary. Why not? Remember that Harrison Ford was cast as a professor of archaeology, of all things.

Michael Kaster, SOA staff actuary I'm not sure which image was more traumatizing to methe image that Jack Nicholson portrayed as an actuary or the image of Kathy Bates getting into the hot tub. In either case, my first reaction was Oh, my God! I wasnt at all happy with the image, especially after my wife insisted that the movie was indeed about an actuary. I claimed that it was a movie about a guy who happened to be an actuary. In any case, the image isnt exactly one I want to write home about.

I am sure there are actuaries (and other professionals) that are very much like the character that Mr. Nicholson portrayed. But there are many more actuaries who are polar–opposite of this image. I dont think he was playing a typical actuary, but maybe he was playing a typical retiring individual who has regrets. This may or may not be typical, but it really has nothing to do with being an actuary. Thats my story, and I'm sticking to it.

Samuel H. Cox, professor of actuarial science, Georgia State University I saw this with my wife, Linda. In the 10 years we have been married she has met a lot of actuaries, from students to society presidents. I felt that the image "About Schmidt" conveyed was so exaggerated that it could not be mistaken for reality. Surely everyone would know its a movie and actuaries are not really like that. Linda thinks there are actuaries just like Schmidt, perhaps a lot of them. I would be disappointed if she is closer to the truth on this than me.

The lifestyle is pretty much tied up in the image. Some of it is accurate. Schmidt is wealthy, likes his work and has poor relationships with women. Come to think of it, this fits some male actuaries I know, perhaps a lot of them.

We were both disappointed in the movie. Nicholson plays himself, which I like, but the story is boring and the movie is too slow. The only really good scene is the hot tub with Kathy Bates.

Robert D. Shapiro, president, The Shapiro Network Inc. In a 1988 survey done as a part of the Society of Actuaries "Actuary of the Future" project, one of the respondees said, "Actuaries are viewed as too inflexible, not people–oriented, not market–oriented, not investment–oriented and too numbers–oriented." The writers of the movie "About Schmidt" must have read our report.

The limited perspective portrayed by Schmidt's character, when carried into his everyday life, could be expected to lead to disaster. Schmidt's insensitivity and, at the end, his sad awareness of feelings he never previously acknowledged, led the friends who saw the movie with us to ask Karen (my wife) as we walked out of the theatre: "Is Bob really that bad?"

Karen said, "No, but ."

Editor's Note: Lynn G. Coleman is a freelance editor and writer based in Arlington Heights, Ill. She can be reached at lcoleman@colemancommunications.com.