Return to the Corral–of Actors!

Posted: December 22, 2010 in Actors
Tags: ,

Debra Winger is one of the greats, but you don’t see her in much. This is because she turned down great roles (she was offered Glenn Close’s role in Fatal Attraction), bad mouthed the directors she did work with, and engage in long battles over stupidities (like her guest spot on Wonder Woman. She spent everything she made doing that part in a legal battle to get the episode repressed).

But despite how toxic she was on set, and she could be toxic, she kept getting work because she is just so good.

Officer and a Gentleman is supposed to be good. I’ve never seen it.

She was also notoriously difficult to work with. On Terms of Endearment, she had massive, legendary fights with another favorite actor of mine, Shirley MacLaine. Shirley writes about the nightmare on that set, and tells stories about Debra that are either the weirdest things a person has ever done, or a little MacLaine style vengeance.

They were both nominated for the Academy Award for that movie, and Shirley won it. Watch her accept the Oscar.

But the final product is a heartbreaking portrait of a difficult relationship.

Forget Paris is a movie she did with Billy Crystal that did poorly in theaters and was quickly forgotten, but it is one of those movies I can watch over and over again. I think it failed because it was marketed as a romantic comedy, but it isn’t romantic, and not always funny. Although the pigeon scene is hilarious, and I can’t be in a car without thinking of the father character.

It is a movie that is about a romantic beginning to a relationship, followed by a ton of cold realities of everyday life chipping away at that relationship. It ends on an impossibly optimistic note. After it has been made clear that these two people can’t be happy together, they get back together anyhow. And they acknowledge there is no reason to think things will be any better.

Billy Crystal is his usual meh. He’s not that good looking, and he sounds like he’s doing a stand-up act most of the time. But Debra is amazing. She sometimes seems a bit stiff, but when things start falling apart for her character, she is raw, vulnerable, and engaging. Enough to counteract the Billy Crystal effect.

Shadowlands is, of course, an all-around amazing movie, and she fills a particularly interesting role. The real life Hope was known to patrol the grounds around C.S. Lewis’s house with a gun. Yet she was also someone he considered his intellectual equal.

Amazing, awful, wrenching film, with amazing, awful, wrenching performances.

Film acting is different from stage acting because of the closeness of the camera. The viewer can see the actor’s face so clearly, that you can see what the actor is thinking. A bad actor is thinking, “When is my next line?” A good actor is thinking, “I am sad now.” A great actor shows on their face the complexity and variety of thoughts that a human has.

Because a person thinks many things at once, or in a succession so quick that it might as well be at once. Because we don’t think in language, we translate thoughts into language as needed.  Some of our thoughts are nothing more that shots of chemicals racing around our brains.

Debra Winger is the kind of actress that even up close, is complex and genuine.

But why are so many sublime actors completely crazy? Is it a result of being so good or does it take a little bit of crazy to act in the first place?


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