Casting Maxwell Caulfield As Rex Manning Was A Meta Stroke Of Genius

"We mustn't dwell. No, not today. We can't. Not on Rex Manning day!"

From the lens of 2022, it seems impossible that "Empire Records" wasn't one of the biggest films of 1995. With a cast of favorites like Anthony LaPaglia, Debi Mazar, Rory Cochrane, Johnny Whitworth, Robin Tunney, Ethan Embry, Liv Tyler, and future Academy Award-winner Renée Zellweger, "Empire Records" is the inspiring tale of a group of record store employees who try to stop their sanctuary from being sold to a large corporate chain. The plan to "Damn the man, save the Empire" coincides with a huge promotional event, Rex Manning Day.

Back in the 1980s, Rex Manning was a huge pop idol, but he struggles to find relevance in the mid-1990s. The staff view him and the celebration as a pathetic cash-grab, and with the exception of Zellweger's Gina and Tyler's Corey who are mildly starstruck; almost all of the fans who show up for Rex Manning Day are older women who loved him in his heyday, or the gay men who see him as an icon. Rex Manning is an unlikable, pompous jerk coasting off of the successes of his younger years, but still possesses devilishly good looks that trick you into believing you're truly witnessing the antics of a washed-up superstar. Finding the perfect actor as Rex Manning was vital to the film's success, and the decision to cast Maxwell Caulfield was downright genius.

An introduction to Maxwell Caulfield

The English-American actor Maxwell Caulfield appeared in the film "Accident" as a child, but performed on stage as an exotic dancer at London's Windmill Theatre, allegedly as a way of obtaining his Equity card, but this has never been confirmed. The lack of confirmation only adds to his mystique, but if you're willing to turn your Google safe-search off, there are some jaw-droppingly steamy photos from this era available for perusal ... respectfully.

He appeared on New York Stages in a variety of plays like "Entertaining Mr. Sloane," "An Inspector Calls," and most famously, "Salonika" which required him to appear fully nude. Audiences were captivated by Caulfield's beauty, which made him the perfect choice to play Michael in "Grease 2," the love interest of Michelle Pfeiffer's Stephanie Zinoni. Both actors were poised to reach similar superstardom as John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John did with the first film, but as history has shown, only Pfeiffer was able to reach similar heights (co-stars Christopher McDonald and Pamela Adlon have also enjoyed high-profile success, but Pfeiffer is on another level).

Before the premiere of "Grease 2," Caulfield famously told New York Magazine that he was bracing himself to become a household name. "Next year, if this film is marketed right, everyone will want to look like Maxwell Caulfield," he said. "I'm fascinated to see if the public is going to accept me or reject me. We're all terribly excited." New York Magazine seemed to agree with him, they even called him "The Next Overnight Sensation." But that's not what happened. "Grease 2" was a massive flop, and while Caulfield has been consistently acting for most of his life, he never quite reached the superstar status he so rightfully deserved. That is, until "Empire Records."

Rex Manning Day

"Empire Records," similarly to "Grease 2" overcame its initial box office failure by developing a cult following of rabid fans. "Empire Records" brought in less than $300,000 during its theatrical run, but over 25 years later, Rex Manning Day is still an unofficial fandom holiday celebrated every April 8.

"It's titled Rex Manning Day, but it might as well be called 'Empire Records' Day," Caulfield told The Hollywood Reporter. "It initially eluded me because the film had been such a box office disappointment, so I didn't give it the credence that it has developed over the years."

Caulfield has since embraced his Rex Manning status, knowing that every year his social media accounts will be flooded with love (and memes) from fans. Rex Manning Day has kept the film's legacy alive for decades, a perfect representation of its underdog message. "It just won't go away," he said. "It's one of those showbiz oddities."

Rex Manning believed he deserved a more prominent career, and his arrogant demeanor is the result of bitterness and an inflated ego. Caulfield loved playing the role, telling THR that someone like Manning is, "So full of himself, he is destined to take a great fall."

While all reports point to Maxwell Caulfield being a sincerely good dude, it's clear that he understands how a character like Rex Manning could become the way he is. Caulfield had it all — talent, good looks, a beautiful singing voice, and a heart of gold. In an alternate universe where Caulfield allowed himself to fester in the salt of not becoming an A-lister (which he genuinely, did deserve), he very easily could have become a Rex Manning of his own, coasting off of nostalgia appearances and signing old photos to old ladies from his exotic dancing days. Caulfield may have never gotten the chance to become a go-to leading man, but thanks to Rex Manning Day, new audiences are introduced to his talent year after year.