While ferrying the kids and cat to various schools and appointments the other day, I found myself contemplating actors. There is no significant “why” here, it just popped in my head and I created a dissertation on the merits of different actors and styles while driving from the groomer to the coffee drive-thru. Like ya’ do. So I put it to you, internet reader. Consider these theories:
There is a group of highly beloved actors and actresses that, in my opinion, are always themselves in every movie they play. You can’t blame them. When you are categorized as a Leading Man or Ingénue, that’s who you play, all the time. That’s your career. And that kind of character is pretty much just… you. So I get it. What I don’t get is when those actors are then touted as being the best in the business. They may be portraying their characters well, but those characters aren’t exactly difficult to create. This becomes even more irksome when the actor IS given different characters, but is just “actor as different character.” My two biggest offenders?
#1 Kevin Costner. I don’t care how monumental people wanted his movies to be. He is lifeless on screen, and every one of his movies is just Kevin Costner As ______. I will leave Robin Hood out of this one, because once you are no longer in middle school, the atrocity of that film is resoundingly clear. Side note: do not watch the movies you loved in middle school or risk life-shattering realizations over a tub of popcorn. Such hurt you’ve given me, Prince of Thieves. Anyway, Kevin Costner As _______. Behold:
Kevin Costner As Kevin with Natives
Kevin Costner As Kevin Doing Baseball Stuff
Kevin Costner As Kevin Being Serious in the 60’s
Kevin Costner As Kevin Cowboy
Kevin Costner As HOLY SHIT IS THAT TINA MAJORINO!? I didn’t even realize that! That’s kind of awesome. Anyway, there’s Kevin Costner again.
#2 Tom Cruise. He is just so easy to be disgusted with, isn’t he? Here he is, being easily repugnant, in many similar forms.
Tom Cruise As Tom in Action
Tom Cruise As Tom being Kubricked
Tom Cruise As… actually, probably just Tom Cruise
Tom Cruise As Tom Angry Soldier
Tom Cruise As Tom in Fancy Goth
Tom Cruise As OMG I even hate him retroactively. Even young, full of potential Tom is punchable.
And people will cite moments where these kinds of actors do something completely off book. But I disagree. Here is Tom Cruise As Tom Being Unpredictably Funny
Ugh. Just do SOMETHING that’s not you in different clothes, and I might ease up. A good example of what I want is comedians who make the transition to drama. The ones that do it well do it REALLY well. I believe comics make better dramatic actors than the other way around. Plenty of people do drama and can’t even begin to nail comedy.
But the other way around? It comes from knowing how to play an audience, I think. You can’t make people laugh unless you have a firm understanding of what makes people tick- how to wait for just the right moment and give just the right cues to lead them to your punchline. Keenly perceiving the human condition. And if you can do THAT well, it’s just a small leap to taking them to deep psychologically scarring places as well. ….comedians may be diabolical mind-controlling super-villians you guys. Keep your eye on them. Anyway, whenever a great comedian jumps to a drama, I pop that puppy in my Netflix queue- cuz it’s probably gonna rock. Examples? There are dozens who deserve mention, and I encourage you to in the comments. But my brief musing over this and a quick google search give us these:
Robin Williams as a weird cocaine-fueled alien (ok, so not entirely a stretch… too soon?) and also as the guy you wish was your dad.
Lily Tomlin as a ridiculous phone operator and a gilded lady you would not mess with.
Steve Carrell as every line you quoted in the early 2000’s and as a pitifully broken man.
This next one needs explanation as it is what made me realize this notion in the first place. I first noticed Sarah Paulson when she was on the short-lived show Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. If you missed it, too bad because it was really funny. It was about an SNL-style late night variety show, and Sarah Paulson was hilarious.
The next time I noticed her was when she did this in the movie Serenity, and I cried and cried.
That was the moment I realized that comedians make FAR better dramatic actors than the other way around. In the interests of full disclosure, I did study Theatre, and I sucked at it. Can’t act my way out of a wet paper bag. But it did teach me how to appreciate when those things are done well, and also that people who consider themselves Serious Actors are often insufferable, but the funny people over there? Pretty rad.
Which brings me to my last thought: character actors. Now THESE are the people who deserve the Oscars. These are the people who make a living playing someone completely freaking different every time you see them. You may not even realize it’s them from film to film. They are the sidekicks, the comic relief, the neighbor or bit part, and they ARE creating a new character, completely other than themselves, every time. Honestly, I judge a piece of entertainment not by its leads, who are often static and pat, but by the side characters. The greatest shows are the ones with the greatest ensembles of “other” kinds of characters. One of my favorite shows from the past is Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I honestly couldn’t have cared less about Buffy or her love interest Forehead. (Team Spike forever.) The leads were tiring. But the array of friends, sidekicks, and villains?! Now THAT’S a great show.
So anyway: character actors, or the real reason for the post. Two words. Christopher. Guest. If you aren’t going “ooooh, yeah. That’s right” then we need to chat. Just look at his IMDB page and count how many times you say Holy shit that was him!? I’ll do it for you.
Nigel Tufnel: Spinal Tap
Dr. Stone: A Few Good Men
Corky St. Clair: Waiting for Guffman
Alan Barrows: A Mighty Wind
Harlan Pepper: Best in Show
Ivan the Terrible: Night at the Museum
And the pièce de résistance? The Six Fingered Man: The Princess Bride. Whaaaaaaaaaat!?
He is my hero. My Hollywood hot-damn. I can’t get enough of that guy, and neither should anyone else. People are all up in arms that DiCaprio hasn’t gotten an Oscar. But which DiCaprio?
But this Christopher Guest guy, people. THIS guy you should look out for. It occurs to me that my endorsement is probably not something he needs, or would even want based on my prolific love of swearing, but I just wanted to let you all know because he is pretty neat.
So these are my movie thoughts as I do my soccer-mom-ish tasks of my day. Next time you’re getting all film buff-y, quit swooning over the mega-stars, ignore the leads, and look for the side-kicks. That’s where it’s at.
Edit: Oh! Oh! Patton Oswald. If you haven’t seen Young Adult, do it. Seriously. That movie is DARK and his performance was outstanding. I’m just going to keep adding people I think of as the week goes on because this is IMPORTANT.