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The True Confessions of Shark

He’s been in the business for more than 40 years, spawned a reality TV empire, and green-lit a whole genre of movies — and still, people keep trying to jump him. But Shark is back, and this time he’s ready for Oscar gold.

"You hungry?"

We’re in the lobby of the Ace Hotel and Shark has begun to look restless. You wouldn’t notice — it’s the subtlest shift — but I happen to be paying close attention. No one else is and why would they be: Thrifted T-shirt, pierced snout, slumped shoulders, phone in fin — on a day like today, Shark might pass for any other member of the vaguely arty class. A few extra-perceptive onlookers will stop us for autographs. But hundreds more will walk right past us, having no clue that they were just inches away from the legendary movie star who invented the blockbuster.

That’s what some people say, anyway: Shark "invented the blockbuster." And I tend to agree with them. With Jaws, Shark changed the way we watch summer movies — full stop, and forever. And now, over 40 years (and a long and winding stretch of ocean) later, Shark is back to rule the summer once more: with The Shallows — a breathtaking two-hander costarring Blake Lively — set to hit theaters. The film, directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, marks Shark’s first major work in years; if all goes well, it could be his first box office hit this century. (And oh yeah: There’s also that not-insignificant matter of a certain elusive gold statue.)

Shark doesn’t travel with an entourage, but I’ve spoken with his team in advance. Awful people — though at least not too restrictive. In fact, for the entire time I’ll spend profiling Shark, there’s only one hard rule: If he starts to look restless, ask if he’s hungry.

And so I ask.

"[Muffled shark noises.]"

That makes sense. It’s about four in the afternoon — sort of a no-man’s-land between lunch and dinner. I also have the strangest feeling that Shark ate those tourists in the bathroom a couple of hours ago, but I can’t prove anything. It’s cold in the lobby. Shark motions for his cigarettes and we step outside.

People love Shark movies. Sorry, I’ll rephrase: People really love Shark movies. And if you’re Shark, that means you’ve earned a pretty good living making them. This explains the private jet Shark flew in on; it explains Shark Mansion (some still call it the Pacific Ocean, but Shark bought the naming rights in 1995); and, for better or worse, it explains my shark-tooth necklace phase. To borrow an old wrestling maxim: Red means green.

But what it doesn’t explain is why Shark is still making movies — fairly relentlessly, and long after the high-profile roles have stopped coming in: Ghost Shark (2013), Super Shark (2011), Megashark Versus Giant Octopus (2009), Jurassic Shark (2012), Swamp Shark (2011), Sand Sharks (2011), Shark in Venice (2008). And that’s just a small sample. These are B-movies through and through, and to watch them pile up has frankly been surreal. How does one reconcile the biggest movie star of a generation being reduced to … camp?

A few critics have speculated on this "B" period as some type of James Franco–esque performance art, but Shark waves off the suggestion and then eats my left hand. This checks out: Earlier in the day, I’d asked about Sharknado — and instantly could tell I’d struck a nerve. "Fucking hacks," Shark mumbled, the only time he’d spoken English all afternoon. He is nothing if not sincere.

Rumors of financial trouble have also persisted as a theory (and were inevitable, one supposes, after the Shark Market crash in ’07). But I’ve been assured by well-placed sources that Shark doesn’t need the money. The fact is, with the Discovery Channel’s Shark Week, Shark’s reality TV empire is now more profitable than his movie career ever was. A pretty wild lesson in pop economics — and yet simply the way of the world.

But if it’s not for the money, and if it’s not some punch line of some winking meta-joke, and if it’s (certainly) not for the critical plaudits … then, you know, why do it? Why has Shark kept at it for all these years? As we walk into Zuma for dinner, I ask Shark just this.

"[Extended muffled shark noises.]"

It’s an interesting perspective, and one I’m not exactly prepared for. I’ve heard about this side of Shark: thoughtful, sentimental, cerebral, profound. And his answer is so obvious that I regret not having offered it on my own. I do it for the love of movies. I mean, of course. Why wouldn’t he? I check my human privilege and then press for more.

"[Muffled shark noises.]"

I’d never heard that about Topher Grace. Finally, as we sit down to eat, I ask about The Shallows. It’s the ostensible reason for this profile — but it’s also a lot deeper than that. It’s a comeback — but it’s a lot deeper than that, too. I ask Shark if he might call The Shallows a new beginning.

"[Muffled shark noises.]"

I’m not sure why, but in the moment that makes sense. I ask about the Oscar buzz.

"[Muffled shark noises.]"

I ask about the Lively rumors.

"[Muffled shark noises.]"

I ask about growing up and growing old.

"[Muffled shark noises.]"

I ask about movies.

"[Muffled shark noises.]"

The truth, as it tends to be, feels somewhere in between. We finish dinner, then order espressos; I motion for the check with my right arm and Shark eats it. "Don’t put that in the story," Shark tells me. I assure him I won’t. We walk back to the Ace; make our way into the lobby. It’s still cold — even colder than before, somehow — but that might just be me bleeding out. With no arms left, I ask Shark for a cigarette.

"[Muffled shark noises.]"

I won’t admit it, but it’s a great point. My body begins to numb; Shark helps me with a light and I sense the end growing near.

"[Muffled shark noises.]"

"Yeah," I tell Shark. "I know." I laugh. "Fuck Sharknado."

We say our goodbyes — and like that it’s over. I mouth, "Help," but no one notices. I ask the Ace to call an ambulance, but it’s not clear I’m heard. A text from Shark, moments later: sdanjlasdflkfs. My cigarette falls to the floor. "I hope Blake Lively doesn’t die," I think. I close my eyes and hear the waves.

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