4 Surprising Celebrity Side Projects That Flew Under The Radar

Celebrities: they're nothing like us, if for no other reason than the fact that their entire existence is a carefully cultivated brand. However, some celebrities occasionally do weird side projects that show us a glimpse of something human beneath the glossy sheen of fame ...

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4
Billy Zabka (the Cobra Kai Guy) Produced A Meta-Documentary About Aid For Uganda

Between Billy Zabka's '80s movie bully heyday and his Cobra Kai resurgence, he was busy making music videos and documentaries. One doc that he edited and produced is Mzungu, or "white wanderer" in Swahili, about four college kids from the West who come to Uganda to try and make things better.

Come, Let's Dance
Did they wander in from an Old Navy in 2003?
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Ultimately, the kids just end up defeated. But that's not how the movie ends. In a meta twist, the movie's real subject turns out to be its director, Shane Gilbert, who ends up ditching her original idea for the film and proceeds to settle in Uganda. She sets up a non-profit, eventually opening up orphanages, taxi services, micro-businesses, and helping Ugandans set up businesses of their own. This enables hundreds of college kids to come to Uganda and make a difference. Basically, the opposite of Kony 2012-style slacktivism.

So what does Zabka think about it? To him, it's a "touching documentary" about American and African cultures meeting and about what we need to learn from one another. He points out that billions of dollars in aid have been given over the last few decades, and basically none of it has actually reached the people it was supposed to help. Zabka feels the movie is an excellent example of how Westerners can actually help developing nations when they truly put aid money to good use -- as Gilbert does.

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All of which is pretty surprising from a guy whose TV character runs a dojo with a giant American flag on the wall and inspires his students by shouting, "Don't be a pussy!"

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3
Lucy Liu Spent Decades Making Art Under A Fake Name

You may be surprised to learn that the greatest work of art Lucy Liu has ever created is not Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever. That honor probably belongs to one of the many works she completed as Yu Ling, her Chinese name, under which she had been exhibiting her art since 1993 (she stopped using that name in 2011). Her interest in art started at 15, and since then, she's completed paintings, collages, silkscreens, ink drawings, and arrangements of discarded objects (which is as weird and arty as it sounds).

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In 2019, she opened an exhibition showcasing her art and that of Indian artist Shubigi Rao at the National Museum of Singapore. The stuff in her part of the collection was mostly, well, discarded objects -- like a bunch of books that were thrown away by a printing house. Liu cut holes in them and put in those holes stuff she found on the street -- like a Tic Tac container or a crushed can. We told you this was going to be arty and weird.

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Here is a photo of Liu at work on a painting. No pics yet of her picking up Tic Tac containers off the street.

Those works are part of her "Lost and Found" series, which she says is all about creating a feeling of safety (that's the theme of much of her work, in fact). That's a feeling she had missed as a child -- she grew up as a latchkey kid, she says, and her parents weren't around much, so she and her siblings cooked TV dinners and kind of took care of each other. She longed for a sense of safety that was never there and ended up finding it in this art, and she hopes that viewers can have that sense when they look at it, too. Which is kind of the feeling we get watching her in Charlie's Angels.

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2
Francis Ford Coppola Designed A Luxury Penthouse Suite

For sure, you know Francis Ford Coppola's acclaimed film work ...

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... and maybe know a little about his work in the wine business. But what you may not know anything about is his work in the luxury hotel business -- which he apparently takes very seriously. For some celebrities, "designing a hotel suite" would basically mean having an underling present a couple of toilet seat options and having the celeb pick one -- for Coppola, that would be basically unthinkable.

Coppola owns several hotels and pays attention to most minor of bullshit -- like making sure there's always a tiny shower tray for your shower gel and shampoo. To ensure the right level of comfort is there, he spends a few nights in his hotels as they open, and he "question[s] hotels whose designers" don't do that. Just like how most of us question Godfather 3.

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So when the Parisian hotel Lutetia asked him to design a penthouse suite, he went all in, sending a bunch of his personal items. Family portraits, scripts, decorative knick-knacks, and even awards (he lives in a one-bedroom house and just keeps those awards in storage) went into it. There's even an old-school Eclair camera he had bought in France and used for making personal films. Plus, there's a couple of annotated pages from his copy of The Godfather novel.

Lutetia Hotel, Paris
No word on if he left a horse head in the bed as a finishing touch.
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1
Kristen Stewart Co-authored A Paper On Artificial Intelligence

Many adjectives might pop to mind when someone mentions Kristen Stewart, but "scholarly" is not one of them. Unless, of course, you happen to be familiar with her pioneering work in style transfer, a machine learning technique which lets you copy one image's style to another. You see, when she made her 2017 short film Come Swim ...

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... she made a case study of using style transfer to apply the style of one of her paintings to the movie's frames. Well, the study was authored by her, David Shapiro (a producer at the studio that made the movie), and Bhautik J. Joshi (a research engineer at Adobe). Which doesn't make it significantly less mind-blowing.

Their approach consisted of using neural networks to transfer the painting's style onto a test frame from the movie, then fine-tuning the networks by using blocks of texture, which would give the filmmakers more control over how the frame looks (while still letting the AI do most of the work).

Joshi, Stewart, Shapiro
It's basically SkyNet's Instagram filter.

Oh, and when we called Stewart's work "pioneering" in the first paragraph, we meant it. The paper was written in 2017, and it's been cited 17 times since -- which means that 17 other papers build on the work in this one. So ... Lucy Liu really needs to step up here Charlie's Angels art game here.

Top image: Denis Makarenko/Shutterstock

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