In Chef, Jon Favreau's newest movie opening in Dallas theaters today, the title character (played by Favreau) walks through the streets of Santa Monica and stops to stare at a street performer's puppet. It's a rock 'n' roll skeleton marionette named Mr. Bonetangles, and as the chef pauses to watch his show, it comes to symbolize the fragility of his recently marginalized restaurant career. That puppet is from Dallas and the man holding the strings is Woodrow Wilson High School graduate Will Schutze (yes, one of those Schutzes).
If he starts his story at the very beginning, Will Schutze owes his upcoming cameo in Chef to the State Fair of Texas and to his dad. Years ago, he was working summer jobs at St. Pete's Dancing Marlin in Deep Ellum and learning the craft of puppeteering at the fair's beloved show, World on a String. During that time, Daddy Schutze bought Will a skeleton marionette, who quickly became Will's street-performing sidekick Mr. Bonetangles.
Later that year, Will moved to Los Angeles with Mr. Bonetangles in tow to pursue his acting ambitions. In between auditions, the two would head to Hollywood Boulevard or Venice Beach to busk, earning enough money to pay the rent when Will wasn't landing commercials or films.
"I had this whole vision in my head that once I started busking, puppetry would be my ticket -- the way I stood out," Will says. "I had this fantasy that they'd see me and they'd want me to be in this movie as an actor. And I wouldn't call what actually happened 'backfiring' because I'm so much more interested in puppetry now. It certainly got me noticed."
One of the curious onlookers was Favreau, who saw the pair in the street and later looked up Mr. Bonetangles on YouTube. He immediately Tweeted it out to his followers. This was March 2011.
Mr. Bonetangles http://bit.ly/hF8q54
— Jon Favreau (@Jon_Favreau) March 9, 2011
The views on the YouTube video immediately shot up. At first Will just assumed it was coincidence.
"I had no idea how he would've found my video online, and I was just excited that more eyes had seen it and that he had sent it out," he says.
The next month on Easter Sunday, Will lugged Mr. Bonetangles out to Santa Monica to perform, and when he looked up after a song, he saw Favreau and his family watching them.
"I looked up and I said, 'Hey thanks so much for Tweeting the video,'" Will recalls. "He said, 'Don't mention it, Boss. You've got skills.' That's exactly what he said to me. I just thought it was so funny. He was just standing there not worried who was seeing him."
Luckily, his dad had forced him to make business cards over Christmas break, so when Favreau inquired, Will could pull one out of his pocket. And that was all that came of the interaction for two years. Will moved to Charleston, South Carolina, with his girlfriend and tried (unsuccessfully) to let go of his brush with celebrity.
"I told that story for months after it happened. My friends were always joking that I needed to let it go," Will says. "It wasn't until last May, almost exactly a year ago, I got a Facebook message on the puppet's page from a producer who said she was working on a film with Favreau and he was toying with the idea of having Bonetangles as a spot in the film."
Will called the producer and after a few weeks of negotiations, the film company flew him and the puppet out to California for a day of shooting. When he arrived on set, he still hadn't reconnected with Favreau until they sent him to the make-up trailer for a shave.
"They told me I hadn't done a very good job with shaving, even though I thought I had," Will says. "As they're shaving me, Jon sat down in the chair next to me. He thanked me for making it out and wanted to know why I'd left L.A. I like to think he was looking for me on the boardwalk."
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When the film was set to premiere at South by Southwest this year, he figured he'd head down to Austin to busk during the festival. And yet again, as if attracted to one another by fate, Favreau saw Will outside the premiere, pulled him onto the red carpet and invited him to sit with the family.
After seeing the film, Will says he's pleased with the overall product, but what continues to strike him is how fortuitously linked his story is with Favreau's character in the film.
"The connection I will always make is that I was doing this puppet show on the street in Hollywood asking myself if I really wanted to just be part of this machine cranking out these films as an actor or if I wanted to do something different and have some sort of control," Will says. "And that's one of the things Favreau is saying with Chef. He wanted to go back to cleanse his palate from these blockbuster films, so he made a movie about leaving behind security for something more fulfilling."
See Mr. Bonetangles in action at a park in downtown Dallas in the video that John Favreau Tweeted years ago. See Chef in theaters across Dallas beginning today.