You know that moment when you’re watching a movie and an actor delivers a line in that really annoying voice they do. Or that time when a person in a movie commits to a stupid action such as the idiot teenagers of slasher horror flicks. Sometimes we can attribute such scenes with joy, a point of mockery against a specific actor or character, or even the poor execution of the acting can lead to those great, if awkward “so bad it’s good” moments. But often we see a performance, or a character action that frustrates us, and a natural response will be “that actor sucks”. This was the mindset I had for a number of actors in the many years of watching movies throughout my life. However, over time as more actors kept popping up in unexpected places and delivering varied performances, I decided I hated the simple idea that a movie fails because of an actor’s performance.
Of course there are a lot of caveats to this thought, acting is an art after all and some people do it well and others not so well. That’s why you have auditioning taking place in pre-production for any storytelling medium that involves actors, so it’s not as if anyone is thrust in front of a camera, action, go! I truly believe that actors are picked for their abilities as an actor. Unless you’re a rich prick who decides they can act because of their deep pockets of wealth, or you suddenly ended up in a small independent film your friend is making, an actor is picked from a handful of people with talent.
So what are some of the actors that I used to avoid and I know people in the wider space of pop culture tend to avoid when watching a movie? My number one was Tom Cruise, the tent-pole action movie leading man who seemed to be in every movie, over 50 years old and he’s still going. Tom Cruise was so dull and annoying to me, because he was everywhere, he always had similar performances and played the same characters over and over. His career of archetypical good guy characters, his recycled intensity, the same attitude in all his characters, it pointlessly annoyed me and it was silly to think that way.
Especially when I understood that Tom Cruise is a professional actor. Why did I change my mind about him? It happened when I actually watched some movies of his, and I don’t mean his usual Mission: Impossible ventures, or the other movies he’s most famous for. Rain Man, Born on the Fourth of July, sure he had his intensity he had some of his usual qualities but for once I cared about his character and if not, I was interested in where his character’s journey would go. He was also spectacular at playing villains, it can be easy to forget he did so and those few times were almost iconic, such as his Vincent character in Collateral. His turn as a vampire in Interview with the Vampire, his egotistical but tragic character in Magnolia. Even in action movies like Edge of Tomorrow, even Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol, those were movies where I enjoyed his acting way more than I thought I would before going in to see them.
Perhaps time has changed my attitude towards films, perhaps I’ve learned more but for a while in my life I couldn’t stand Tom Cruise, now I don’t mind him and sometimes look forward to seeing a great performance from him. When I came to that understanding I realized something, that an actor is merely a tool that sits along with the camera and the lights as a device to engage story. It is how you utilize that tool to tell a narrative. That’s when I realized that those times when I blamed Tom Cruise for a film that told a conventional story with archetypical characters, that was the fault of the script, or it was the fault of the direction. Actually no it can all come down to direction, if Tom Cruise isn’t changing up his abilities as an actor it’s because the director hasn’t given him the correct direction, he hasn’t pushed Tom in the way he wants him, in order to best play out a scene of dialogue.
There were many actors that I avoided just like Tom Cruise and once I understood that it wasn’t necessarily his fault, that if you’re not engaged with a movie it can be a whole number of other factors crumbling in the background. The same goes for those other actors. I used to groan whenever Ben Affleck’s name was heard, looked the other way when I saw Matthew McConaughey on the poster of some crappy rom-com, George Clooney in his usual smug handsome man roles. Even the awful films those actors have been in cannot be attributed exclusively to their performances. Affleck proved that with some older roles like his appearances in Kevin Smith movies, and newer roles including the ones he performed for his own directed features. I haven’t seen Batman v Superman, but I hear he does a decent Batman as well. McConaughey was always a capable actor but was endlessly typecast for years until he finally started appearing in smaller roles like in Mud, his brilliant work in the first season of True Detective further revitalizing his career in great future roles. And George Clooney, like any actor can be perfectly utilized for his specific traits as an actor, Three Kings, Solaris, his acting in Coen Brothers films, there’s good stuff.
Another point worth mentioning even though it should go without saying, but there are people who won’t go see an actor’s performance based on who they are personally, another problem that made me angry at Tom Cruise for his Scientology beliefs. Of course that should not factor into your enjoyment of a movie, just because of one actor’s appearance. It’s fine if you don’t want to watch a movie because an actor is say a complete ass in real life, that’s your decision I guess. Consider however the evidence in so many actor’s filmography’s that shows they do have talent, they can play great, excellent roles. Their personality in real life has nothing to do with the act of playing pretend in a wide release film that loads of people will see anyway. Completely remove the image, the idea that you have of an actor, of who they are, of how good an actor they are, and just watch the movie. If there’s something you don’t like, remember, check the dialogue, the cutting of the action, the direction these things are way more important to the narrative the film is telling than some actors rubbish performance, it’s still a factor, but it shouldn’t be a personal issue tied to that person.
If you’re still not convinced that an actor can’t entirely be blamed for a bad movie, and you’re going to continue ignoring all the Tom Cruise flicks, all the George Clooney flicks, consider this. Adam Sandler once delivered a hilarious, dramatic performance in a little film called Punch-Drunk Love, a film completely unlike anything he has ever done, and ever worked on since. This was made possible by Paul Thomas Anderson’s direction and writing, reigning in Sandler while still making use of his comedic talents. If Adam Sandler can transcend his typical screen presence from past films and become the pathetic, angry, darkly humorous man in Punch-Drunk Love, then so can anyone else.