May 20, 2010

All the world's a stage...

Last week, RW posted a fun rant about Mickey Rourke, Robert De Niro and Jack Nicholson. You should read it, if only for the hi-larious troll who dropped a little hate in a comment at the end of the post. She's funny.

Anyway, one of the topics that was brought up in the comments was whether it was the actor who made the role or the role who made the actor. Well, it was kinda brought up. So why not expound on it here, eh?

This past Academy Awards, and many of them from the past, have hi-lited the issue with awards and nominations going to the likes of Gabourey Sidibe, Mo'Nique, Jeremy Renner, Carey Mulligan, Christoph Waltz and Anna Kendrick. All great performances (I'm assuming on some of them) from a group of actors who really don't have much of anything else on their resume that would lead us to believe that it was they who made the performance special rather than the role itself.

So which is it?  Is it the role that makes the actor great or is it the actor who makes the role great?

Seems to me that's a pretty difficult question.  There have been some out of the blue performances that have been lauded by Mr. Oscar in recent years.  Kim Basinger in LA Confidential, Anna Paquin in The Piano, Cuba Gooding, Jr. in Jerry Maguire, Miro Sorvino in Mighty Aphrodite and Marisa Tomei in My Cousin Vinny just to name a few.  All engaging and entertaining actors, sure.  But award-worthy?  Maybe.  But maybe those specific roles had more to do with the honors than anything they brought to the table.  It's hard to tell.

What's easier to judge is how awful some actors are in great roles.  RW brought up Peter O'Toole and Katharine Hepburn in The Lion in Winter.  But I was thinking of something a bit more recent, something that bothers me every time I think of it.

Keanu Reeves as Neo in The Matrix.  Ugh!

You could argue about the greatness of this film.  I certainly don't rank it as an all-time great.  It was fun and cheesy and all that, but it could have been soooo much better.  Had they, for instance, CAST ANYONE BUT FUCKING KEANU REEVES AS THE MAIN CHARACTER!!!

Everything about his performance bothered me.  His delivery, his body language, his hysterical superman fighting moves.  C'mon!  Does "keanu" mean "wooden" in Hawaiian?  And what made his off-the-charts awful performance even that more awful is that he was surrounded by a bunch of fairly talented actors in Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss (awful in this, much better in other films), Hugo Weaving and Joe Pantoliano.  His sparring session with Fishburne makes my head ache just thinking about it.  The One?  More like The Stiff One.  Insert your own dick joke here.  He looked like a bad computer simulation of a martial artist, and maybe that's what the Wachowskis were going for.  Making a comment on the artificial computer world of the Matrix.  I dunno.  It certainly didn't work for me.

In the trivia section of the film's IMDB page, it mentions that Ewan McGregor and Leonardo DiCaprio were originally considered for the part, but both had to turn it down for other commitments.  Shame.  I think both of them are outstanding actors who would have made the film much more watchable.  Maybe they would have even made the two sequels watchable.  Probably not.  Hell, Will Smith, Tom Cruise and Nicolas Cage were also considered.  I'd much rather have ANY of them than fucking Keanu.  And I happen to think that Nicolas Cage is one of the worst actors we have going right now.  There would have at least been some slap your forehead awfulness/hilarity* had he been Neo.

* that clip.  Now imagine trying to make a coherent film around those scenes.  It's impossible.

So I don't think I answered the question here.  Is it the role or the actor?  I do think it is easier to point out someone who was mis-cast rather than someone who benefited from outstanding material.

What do YOU think?  (Farco Barnesian question added just to piss him off.  Because clearly, it is what it is.  Hehehe)
Note: Remember to play the Badgerdaddy Trivia Challenge every day. I've used that "what does Keanu mean in Hawaiian" joke more than a few times now.  It never gets old.


Dave2 said...

It depends.

I've seen great actors turn to shit in crappy roles. I've seen crappy actors look like geniuses in great roles.

RW said...

Well I dunno! I promised a little money under the table if you shot me a link every now and again but - you know - there's a limit to my bank account here dude.

At any rate I'll say this, because nobody asked me, there's a mechanism to it. I came up in Chicago when Malkovich and Mantegna and that crowd were doing Steppenwolf and had a few parts here and there and you learn... the entire key is to get the audience - live or not - to completely forget you when you are doing your role. It's harder when the actor doesn't have a body of work but the point is the actor isn't saying his lines and he isn't mocking emotions for the audience to read. When they say "inhabit" the part what they're saying is the audience isn't supposed to see the work. The work should be finished and the character exists in your place. It's not easy - which is why I don't do it. Couldn't hit a curveball, let's just say.

An example of what I'm talking about is Meryl Streep. Connect her from Prada to Julia and there's the example; there is nothing reminiscent between the two characters. There are no Streepian traits you can pick out in the cgaracters that connect them like, let's say, DeNiro's same old tired old ridiculous same old goddam same cadence and NY tinge and sounds like your father in every role he plays lately bullcrap.

An actor isn't supposed to say their lines, he's supposed to be the character, speaking.

And I love my trolls. I'm making a collection of sayings and I'm going to post them on the sidebar. I work hard for that.

Verdant Earl said...

Dave2 - yeah, I figured it might be a futile exercise trying to pick one over the other.

RW - I still haven't seen either of those Streep films. Is she as good as she was in Mamma Mia? (just kidding)

Avitable said...

It's the writing and the director, I think. A good director with a good plot can pull off some very cool things with a mediocre actor. That's why I don't mind Keanu in The Matrix. And that's why DeNiro has had some good roles when he's not given the New Yorker tough guy/dad/gangster role.

Mrs. Hall said...

um. watched the wickerman clip.

um. REALLY??

you weren't kiddin when you said it was a comedy. Sure had me laughing.


as for the central debate. The role is paramount, but, it takes a great actor to both play it, but make it their own.

For instance. When Lorne Michaels has any do impressions of celebrities on SNL, he makes sure you can see whispers of the comedian underneath.

THAT'S THE ticket, see the whispers of the actual person underneath the character.


goddamn that wicker man clip was funny. :)

Slyde said...

im pretty sure that WIll Smith was more than CONSIDERED for the role. The way i understood it, it was pretty much his role, and then he backed out at the last minute.

Paticus said...

It's all lighting and costumes.

Verdant Earl said...

Avitable - I know a lot of folks who don't mind Keanu in The Matrix, but think about how much better it COULD have been.

Holly - So your thought (seeing the whispers of the actual person underneath the character) are the opposite of what RW said. Interesting.

Slyde - He would have been better than Keanu!

Paticus - That's why Shakespeare in Love won a bunch of Oscars.

Heff said...

I think it's ALL on the shoulders of the actor, not the role.

Have you EVER seen anything Keanu Reeves was good in ?!?

sybil law said...

Keanu is 2nd in line to my hatred - right after Tom Cruise.
I do think it falls on the actor. Actors are paid a gigantic sum of money to deliver. Directors can only direct them there. Roles are written, and sometimes, probably, an actor turns a role into something bigger and better, and sometimes, much, much worse.
Maybe we should be bitching about the casting agent!

Verdant Earl said...

Heff - Never. He was kinda entertaining in Bill & Ted and Parenthood, but that's about all.

Sybil - I get the Tom Cruise hatred. But say what you will about him, he certainly seems like he gives his all to every role. Doesn't make him a good actor, but at least he seems to be trying.

Mrs. Hall said...

Yes, I disagree with RW. I'm right though.

Because really, if any actor can whisper their presence underneath a role, then it means more.

Especially to any of us here, who create blogs and fancy the process of creating itself. And if a actor/creating puts themselves out there and does a bang up job with a role, well, they should let themselves be known.

That way we can cheer them on and live vicariously through their layered creative process.

WHEW!!! That's some deep thoughts.

I think I passed out there for a moment!

Verdant Earl said...

Holly - I dunno. I kinda dig when I watching Gary Oldman act and I have that moment when I realize "Holy crap! That's Gary Oldman!". That's impressive to me.

limpy99 said...

You shut your whore mouth about Keanu Reeves!!!

Verdant Earl said...

Limpy - Terribly sorry, mate. I forgot about your man-crush on the little feller.

Bruce Johnson said...

There is movie making and then there is the Hollywood machine. I can think of a bunch of great actors that have never been given their due. (Chrisine Lotti, comes to mind), and then there are others that must give their agents never ending blow jobs to keep them working (Keanu comes to mind along with countless others). An exceptional actor will shine through in the right role, and some just get lucky. I caught Gabaday Sidebay (or what ever her name is) on SNL....and she was atrocious. She obviously can't act. Then I recall Jack Nickelson in "Chinatown" or Steve McQueen in the "Sand Peebles" and you wonder, how they didn't win an Oscar.