Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Hard Road to Nowhere: Five Actors Deserving Better Roles

You might remember some months back when I presented to you a list of five actors lacking the love of mainstream Hollywood they so rightfully deserve. Upon reflection, I felt as if I had left out a certain segment of the actor talent pool. The ones that are seemingly loved by Hollywood but are trapped in a never ending spiral to redundancy and mediocrity. These are the talented ones. The ones that have proven they have the chops to be more than that person standing behind the idealized mainstream idol. Their the apparitions that never go away, and for good reason - they're simply too talented... if only the roles they were handed matched their natural endowment.

Some are relatively new to the Hollywood scene, while some are very old. Still, I'm of the opinion that the world of cinema would be a far greater place, if they were featured more predominantly on it.

Chiwetel Ejiofor
Chiwetel Ejiofor has 'it.' If you don't know what "it" is, then I suggest you pick up a copy of one of the movies he's in and take a look. It's a natural essence. A characteristic of talent that just can't be pinned down into simplistic terms. That enduring charisma that gives life to the careers of those like Denzel Washington. The Shakespearean tongue from which Laurence Olivier wove so many wondrous soliloquies. All wrapped in the emotional range of some of our most beloved stars. So why is that he cannot escape the realm of being just another face in a series of crowded rooms? Salt. American Gangster. Inside Job. 2012. Children of Men. Love Actually. All blockbuster films, for their own part. Each time he's little more than a second pegging. In some cases the sole minority figure. In others, just that guy standing behind other more dominant figures.

Even in something as mentally degrading as 2012 he exhibits some sentiment of unique presence. An auteur quality that sets him apart from the fold. He demonstrates such command of emotion, and yet so many films bend of backwards to keep it at bay. Is it his name that keeps him back? Do they worry its individuality with respect to the collective norm will not be accepted by the 'average' fan? Surely it can't be something as trite and trivial as that. However, if Redbelt is really all Hollywood can muster up as a centerpiece film for him, perhaps they should be examining what they present as film to begin with?

Toni Collette
Toni Collette seems to be the quint essential 'that girl from the party' in the Hollywood circle. You know the one. The one that just after the party, everyone turns and says "she is brilliant! We should have her around more often!" Then when the next party comes around, nobody seems to remember to invite. Thus has become the staple of a career that has spanned everything from Shaft and The Sixth Sense, all the way on over to Little Miss Sunshine and Towelhead. For my own part, I first became aware of Mrs. Collette at a relatively young time in my movie watching maturity when a fellow neighbor friend introduced me to the film Clockwatchers, of which he was unhealthily obsessed. And despite the film featuring to whom at the time I merely knew as 'that girl from that popular TV show' and 'that annoying girl from Scream 3,' Collette stood head and shoulders above them all.

Now, I won't deny that in United States of Tara, Collette may have finally been given a role of her stature; but this is after all a movie centric blog, and thus I feel obligated to note the lacking in her cinematic counterpart. Perhaps it's the roles she goes for? Perhaps it's the way Hollywood views her? The archetypal everyday Plain Jane mother from down the street. All I do know is this - she definitely deserves a sight bit better than whatever the hell In Her Shoes was. Then again, what do I know? Some people really like that movie (*shrug*).

Jean Reno
Perhaps the most grievous crime committed by 1998's craptastic Godzilla is that ever sense then Jean Reno seems to be either playing 'that tough french guy' or 'that kind of goofy tough french guy.' And considering this is from a man whose career featured near fifteen years and twenty odd films prior to his US breakthrough with Leon: The Professional in '94, I think that's a bit unbecoming. He just can't seem to be break away from the stigma of being Hollywood's favorite french man. He's always either inexplicably still there (Pink Panther remakes, Flyboys, Rollerball), or thrown in for a bit of a swerve and then dumped off at the next stop (Hotel Rwanda, Da Vinci Code). Let's not even begin getting involved in the discussion of why he even bothers with some of the aforementioned. He probably enjoys them. They let him do whatever he wants, and he gets paid more than you and me will ever realize. Fair trade by most anyone's account...

Yet, every time I watch Leon, I see an untouched well of potential just waiting to be hosted at center stage. That same potential which echoes throughout the background of each role he inhabits. And I find it most unfortunate that until Hollywood wises up, that well will forever be plugged.

Jeff Daniels
I think it can be safely said that if Jeff Daniels and Greg Kinnear were to ever team up for a film as two brothers on a cross country trip, we'd have to name the movie Homeward Bound 3. It's that puppy dog, golden retriever facial expression that just makes you want to cuddle them. Then they burst through the screen with a role like Daniels' Lewis in The Lookout and you find yourself a two year old bouncing on the edge of the couch, desperately begging for more. Unfortunately that's when you also realize Daniels only other role that year was a sideshow part in RV and you question humanity's point in the universe. It's a harsh jump, but an understandable one. With great performances in films like Squid and the Whale, Good Night and Good Luck, and Pleasantville, you'd think Daniels name would be attached to more high profile role prospects.

Somehow I don't think a 'was that Jeff Daniels?' random-thon in Traitor, State of Play, and Away We Go don't quite cut the mustard. Toss Paper Man into the mix and you've got a starring role in a movie nobody will see. But please, please, don't mention his voice work in Space Chimps. Hasn't the man suffered enough? I mean, after all, he did My Favorite Martian. Which, coincidentally, could also be a key factor in why his career hasn't panned out. But I still hold hope for this veteran of greats of my youthful years in Speed, Dumb and Dumber, 101 Dalmatians, Fly Away Home, and the unforgettable Arachnophobia. Sure, they aren't all masterpieces. But that doesn't stop him from being fantastic in each and every single one.

John C. Reilly
I can't even quantify in any meaningful measurement just how much pain I feel when I have to say to someone "you know, the friend from Talladega Nights" when trying to discuss John C. Reilly's career. The only similar moment I can think of that you might relate to is that feeling you have just after you came downstairs for the third time this morning, and now finally remember what the hell it is you keep going upstairs to look for. That "gah, I feel like such an idiot" sort of inner anger. But every time I optimistically try and slide in with a "you know, the guy from Chicago, The Aviator, Magnolia, Gangs of New York, and Boogie Nights," all I get are vacuous stares more heartbreaking than watching Paris Hilton explain middle eastern politics.

These days Reilly is the poster boy for drama comedies you haven't seen, and out and out mainstream comedies you just won't see. Sure, his latest endeavors have finally earned him the minute sentiment of public outcry that dissipates just as quickly as it emerges, but these roles are no where near indicative of the caliber of skill he possesses. If anything, they've become a nuisance, depriving us all of his craft.


There you have it. Five Actors whom I'd love to see Hollywood take a deeper look at in the casting department. Sure, I know this post will not provide a necessary catalyst to their careers that ought to lead them onto the quick train to Oscarville they so rightfully deserve. Then again, that's not going to stop me from hoping anyways.

So, what are some of your favorite actors you'd like to see get some better roles?

19 better thoughts:

Nikhat said...

Yes!! I agree with every single one of them. I was watching Sideways yesterday...everyone in that should get more roles. I'm sorry but Sandman is just pathetic. And Ian Somerhalder...yes I'm a fan girl, but he has friggin' potential!

Fletch said...

I love the idea of this piece, but I'm not sure how much I agree on all of your choices.

I'm definitely with you on Ejiofor - he seems like a leading man waiting to happen, but instead it's as though his career is paralleling Don Cheadle's. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing - Cheadle has been fairly successful for the past 15 years, but you just get the sense that each is/was destined for a higher profile.

But the rest...I think they've tapped their potential and/or just don't have it in them to be bigger stars or have the range for better roles. I can see it in Daniels, but he just doesn't seem to have enough heft or cache in Hollywood, and I think his time for that might have passed him by.

I've never gotten the sense that Collette wanted to be a bigger star than she is. She appears to be pretty content in smaller films.

Reilly has had his chance and I don't think he's all that great of an actor, to be honest. He does a few things really well, but that's about it. How about a villain role?

And Reno, the lovable Frenchman, forever the sidekick. Too late for him, too.

My list would include:

* Peter Saarsgard - seems to be happening, though Green Lantern don't look too great and he looks ridiculous in it.

* Joel Edgerton - definitely happening. He ought to be a star soon.

* Karl Urban - Forever on the verge. Gets pretty good roles now, but like Ejiofor, I see him as leading man material (in good stuff, not shit like Pathfinder).

How bout some women? Kristen Wiig was one, but she's having a moment.

Univarn said...

@Nikhat Ian Somerhalder has never impress him. He just seems to be void of range. Which I find key to getting the better roles.

@Fletch In these cases I'm not saying they should get bigger roles, but more so ones that indicative of their talent. Ejiofor ought to be a leading man, and I think that's the kind of role he's made for. Reno, Daniels, and Reilly are all actors I feel have more potential than most of their latest offerings. Reilly only does a few things well, true, but what he's been given lately haven't tapped into that. Collette doesn't need to be a 'big' star, but I'd say she has the talent to compete for roles alongside the best of them.

As to yours. Totally agree on Karl Urban, but I'm not sure how much potential he has to do different. He was quite good in the indie film Out of the Blue, and I think he matched Bones in Star Trek just right. I think Hollywood has a good pegging on what he can offer. Still, I love seeing him in films. Joel Edgerton seems to be the upcoming Hollywood go to guy following the success Animal Kingdom, but I haven't seen enough of his performances to pass judgment. Peter Sarsgaard ought to be a staple of acting by now, and you're so right about him. And his role in Green Lantern just looks dreadful. Too many overlapping with the dreadfully overplayed Tim Blake Nelson role in Incredible Hulk. Hoping he can get out of the pitfall of being a second-hand villain to character vehicles on the path to nowhere (please, no more Knight and Day). Thanks for the insightful comment as always Fletch :)

Alex said...

I agree with most of these, too. I love Chiwetel Ejiofor, he's amazing and really should have more visible starring roles. I'm grateful for his smaller films like Dirty Pretty Things, Talk to Me, and Kinky Boots, but I'd love to see him star in something more mainstream.

And yes Jeff Daniels is great! I feel like he had a good moment in the 90's but then sort of petered out, which is too bad. And John C Reilly is flourishing more in the indie film scene, adept at both weird comedy and significant drama. I hope he drifts away from the stupid Will Ferrell-y stuff. Or just more Steve Bruhle!

I wish James Urbaniak was more famous/got better roles. And Kat Dennings.

Candice Frederick said...

great list! i totally agree! and john c reilly used to get great roles, and is now playing dumb sidekicks. he definitelu deserves better.

Candice Frederick said...

i'd also like to add angela basett, lawrence fishburne, and salma hayek

okinawaassault said...

I remember the talk about Reilly replacing Dillon in God of Carnage and everyone freaking out, forgetting his foray in drama in the turn of the 21st century.

To be honest, I love how Reilly performed with Natasha Richardson on Broadway and has a recurring sketch in Tim and Eric: Awesome Show Great Job. Like he's the most humble, talented man on Hollywood.

Alex said...

Oh and I forgot to add congrats on the Lammy noms! Great job!

And I agree with Candice's additions.

Fletch said...

Alex - good call with Kat Dennings. I'm definitely on board with that.

Duke said...

Edgerton has a future - but people need to hold off on the stardom. I loved "Animal Kingdom" ~ but it's one performance.

Fetch was right on with Saarsagard & Uni I like your selection with Chiwetel Ejiofor - I knew he had "it" the second he was on screen in "Inside Man"

I would say Michael Pitt has a future in front of him - along with Emma Stone - she'll likely be the next "big thing"

Not sure I agree with Leno - his time has passed.

Richard Jenkins is another one that I think is magnificent - though underutilized.

Still, for now - I feel Keira Knightley is the best working actress we have right now - and still has yet to be given that *role* that will truly bring out her full range of talents.

Good post.

Simon said...

Alison Pill, who always seems to be hanging around the fringes of a movie providing snarkiness/femaleness.

Univarn said...

@Alex I like Kat Dennings, and I think she's a great presence for any film, but I'm not sure she has the range to do much more than what she currently does. That said, I'd be more than happy to be proven wrong.

And thanks, congrats to you as well. If only we weren't competing in so many categories!

@Reel I can definitely see a hefty argument to be made for Angela Bassett - whose name I haven't heard be tossed around in years.

@Okinawa He's definitely shown he knows how to be famous without being obtrusive, as so many become so quickly.

@Duke Jenkins is definitely on the up and up, and I think Michael Pitt has found some sturdy ground at last on Boardwalk Empire. But in movies, he could definitely use a boost.

@Simon She definitely does a good job of making each roll she takes on her own. She's got a few indie films in the work for this year and next, but you never know. I think Pill has the talent to become a feature actress.

Castor said...

Totally agree on Chiwetel Ejiofor. Dude deserves more credit as he is always engaging even in drivel like 2012.

Jean Reno will have Reno while John C. Reilly I feel is perfectly cast as the sidekick rather than the main lead so I'm not sure I agree there.

flixchatter said...

YES on Chiwetel and Toni! Both are massively talented and has that likability factor.

Yay Fletch on bringing up Karl Urban, sooo easy on the eyes but w/ talents to match. He's excellent in LOTR and stole scenes in RED, I kept thinking he ought to be getting more leading roles! I just rewatched Star Trek and he's got comic skills to boot.

JL said...

I do agree that Chiwetel is a fine actor. Not too sure how well he'd do as a lead man, but I'm sure he deserves a chance at least. I do agree that his career seems to be heading the same route that Cheadle's has.

Reno and Daniels are in the same boat for me. I really like both of them, but I think they're both too far past their prime to be redeemed of the "wrong doings" on their careers.

Toni I just don't get the appeal of. Yea, she's a decent actress, but really the woman just gets on my nerves. She gets under my skin for some reason and I don't really care to ever watch her. While I liked some movies she's been in (Sixth Sense, About a Boy, Little Miss Sunshine), she just grates me for some reason despite her competent performances.

As for Reilly, I agree with Fletch. The guy just isn't great. He's had his shot and hasn't proven anything to me. He can be funny and has his moments and strengths, but overall he's not a leading man and isn't all that great.

Chris David Richards said...

I saw this on Ejiofor:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?&v=XuYuZiGtEWk

It'll probably never happen, but still, that would be brilliant.

Fat Samurai said...

I love your choices. I would have to say that I have felt that same way about these characters. I also really like your Idea about a list like this; I am going to have to try my hand at one like this. You have me as a reader now.

Dan Stephens said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dan Stephens said...

Terrence Howard. The guy is a terrific actor and deserves some better roles and perhaps a lead in something.

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