Archive for the ‘Actors’ Category

Return to the Corral–of Actors!

Posted: December 22, 2010 in Actors
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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?


How to Not Work

Posted: November 17, 2010 in Actors

Howdy, movie pardners!

I wanted to talk to you today about how you can stretch one role in a movie into a lifetime of work.

Sure, you could do it the old fashioned way, by doing a great job and auditioning more and getting more roles in other movies, but that is so much effort! Why not do it the easy way?

All you have to do is get one semi-memorable role and then milk it for the rest of your life.

Science fiction is the most obvious way to do this. We all know about the kinds of nutjobs that go to Startrek conventions or dress up as Wookies. And by nutjobs, I mean the people who don’t understand the Next Generation was the best one. I will scream-fight you over that.

Farscape has its own convention. You haven’t heard of Farscape? It’s a sci fi series made in Australia that features puppets as characters.

You may notice from the wealth of knowledge that I have of all things nerdy, that I might be somewhat of a nerd myself. Or a connoisseur. I prefer connoisseur.

Actors go to these conventions, set up a little table, and charge people $15 for an autographed glossy. Actors who haven’t worked in decades, actors whose last role was “man in background,” squeeze a few more drops of blood out of some nostalgic fan.

So if you are an actor and you don’t want to work very hard, get on a science fiction television show. If you can’t manage that, get on a horror movie. Those horror fans have memories that you would not believe. Sci fi fans want to watch the same show over and over again, while horror fans like to remember every time they jumped in their seats.

The genres where this will not work: romance and comedy. There are more basic cable channels dedicated to showing low quality romance than there are for science fiction and horror combined, but good luck getting a part. You have to beat out all the washed up actors those producers prefer. Doing cheap romance is the death rattle of an actor’s career.

And romance fans have zero memory. Romance is just as escapist as science fiction or horror, but it is an escape that wants to go somewhere new (but familiar. Oh, so familiar) every time.

Fans of comedy memorize all the lines and repeat them ad infinitum. They don’t want to idolize their favorite stars, they want to be their favorite stars. Or at the very least, be friends with them.

So comedy and romance are out. Science fiction, fantasy, and horror are in. But you might be thinking there are only a few conventions for horror. How can I turn that into a full time job?

ComicCon now has panels for all kinds of movies and TV shows, even though it is supposed to be a comic book convention. DragonCon in Atlanta is supposed to be a  Dungeons and Dragons themed convention, but they bring in actors from the Stargate series. The only thing that these conventions have in common is that they give people a chance to dress up in costume. And they all have a place for has-beens to sell autographs.

So many actors have cobbled together a convention circuit they travel every year. It isn’t making anybody rich, but hey, at least they can pretend they are still famous.

I have written a few times about the actors on my wish list, the people I would love to be able to work with. I have been like a little kid pressing her face on the display case (inside of which are metaphorical actor donuts, because I love donuts in a no way metaphorical fashion). And before I get too carried away with my salivating and leaving snot prints on the glass, I thought I would take a moment to appreciate the actors I have already been fortunate enough to work with. To return to my metaphor, the donuts I have already eaten. Mmm. Donuts.

So I have to start with Maggie Martin. She plays the role of Charlie Proctor in The Making of Iridium Consequence. Charlie is the earnest and insecure amateur film director who is unfortunately, tortured by high standards and plagued by a desire to do things the right way. She is the female lead.

The first time I met Maggie was when she came to audition for an unknown project.  That is an important point, because as much as I complain about the audition process, there really is no other way to find skilled actors. Maggie had a strong audition, and we wanted her,  so I turned Charlie Proctor from a male to a female role.

Actors, take note. Because Maggie was a dream to work with, and if I could take three of her qualities and force them into every actor I know, it would be these:

She was always available. That was a huge help, because we had to work around so many other schedules.

Early mornings, late nights, she was always there. Usually first. She did a lot of waiting around for us to get set up.  But even if she had to wait around one day, she was still on time the next. That is what we call professionalism, kids.

And there was this whole thing about having to turn off the AC because the sound was picking up the hum. So it was hot to begin with, then we stuck our actors under high wattage lights and turned off the air conditioning. Maggie is a trooper. Did Maggie complain? Not once. Did she sweat and ruin a take? No. Because she controls even her sweat glands and makes them do what the part requires.

I can’t begin to tell you how valuable these qualities were.  I can say, without a doubt, if we had cast anybody else in that role, the movie would never have gotten shot.

So, thanks, Maggie.

Now, I’m going to go get me a donut.

What a Girl Wants

Posted: September 8, 2010 in Actors
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Ok, another addition to my actor wishlist.

Mark Sheppard, credited as Mark A. Sheppard.

He has a heafty career of one-offs. Many actors, talented and otherwise, end up in guest star limbo. And in the case of an actor like Mark, it is a matter of the right role coming along.

On Supernatural, he plays the deliciously self interested demon Crowley, and he tears that role to pieces. He has smarmy down pat. He also plays a regent on Warehouse 13, a much more boring role. He does what he can with it, but that whole show is muted and dull, and if that was the only showcase for his talents, I would have overlooked him.

No, what this guy needs is a nice complicated antagonist role. Maybe an uncooperative hotel manager or a dirty lawyer.

As soon as I get a pile of cash and a role like that, he’s my guy.

Interesting to note how, so far, my wishlist is entirely made up of subjects of Her Majesty the Queen. Next time, hopefully, I’ll find a red blooded American to desire.


Down at the Corral–of Actors

Posted: August 25, 2010 in Actors
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Every director has a list of dream actors. Brad Pitt, Meryl Streep, you know. But my list of dream actors doesn’t have any A listers. No B listers, either. I’m not big into wrestling egos, but I also love the value of casting a fresh face, someone who can be the character, not Brad Pitt playing the character.

So I just added another actress to my dream list, and I wanted you to be the first to know. Her name is Sally Phillips, and I love her.

She’s new to me, a British comedian. I stumbled across her on a time wasting tear on Hulu, in a show called Smack the Pony.

She was apparently in Rescue Me, a show of which I have never been able to stomach an entire episode, and she was one of the underutilized friends in Bridget Jones Diary.

British humor, yeah. The combination of subtle, realistic, character based sketches that remind me of long form improv and Chicago (excellent) mixed with broad absurdist moments (hit or miss). A tendency to linger too long, and always sort of meandering. When I watch British TV shows, I am generally struck with how much easier it is to get on TV in the UK than in the US. It’s a nice change. The kinds of things that would never last past episode two in the US can go a full season in the UK.  Which is seven episodes. So that might explain something, too.

Regardless, I was watching, and I was enjoying the whole show, laughing gently as one is wont to do watching British comedies, and one actress really stood out to me. Sally Phillips. I had to hunt up her name, but it is Sally Phillips.

I could use her.

I mean, if I was casting a project right now, which I am not, and if I had the budget for hauling over actors from the UK, which I am not currently working with (wink, wink, nudge, nudge) or if I had a role that fit her type, which I could have, someday.

But if those three things lined up, I want Sally Phillips.

Let me tell you why. Sally Phillips is an actress with a wide range of skills. She can do a number of characters, and most of them don’t feel like “characters”, they feel like people.  She has terrific timing, and she can pace a reaction to take full advantage of an awkward situation. She is a wonderful actress.

But there are other wonderful actresses. What makes Sally so special is that she is innately appealing. And what you need to have, particularly in a lead, is someone who can win over an audience without trying. She could be a sympathetic lead.  Give this actress cancer, and there won’t be a dry eye in the theater. I mean, theatre. Cause she’s a Brit. Ha, ha.

So she’s going on my wish list. And if I’m really good this year, maybe Santa will leave her in my stocking.