Top Ten… Roles Against Type
By Gavin Burke from Cinerama at Phantom 105.2, Dublin’s Indie Rock
Next week Zac Efron ditches the basketballs, the dancing and the singing (well, kind of) to play an actor struggling with his first role in Orson Welles’ adaptation of Caesar. He plays the ‘Me’ in Richard Linklater’s Me and Orson Welles and although the film works better when it’s ‘Orson Welles’ than when it’s ‘Me’, the boy Efron does okay.
The following is when actors do better than just ‘okay’ when subverting their screen personas…
10. Jimmy Stewart in Vertigo
Where Jimmy loses the plot. Completely. Stewart was America’s everyman – a war hero and an Oscar winner – and then he turns up as an acrophobic cop struggling to get over the death of his loved one, Kim Novak. He then spots another Kim Novak and sets about changing her into the original Kim Novak. ‘You’re safe with me.’ Not any more, Jimmy.
9. Matt Damon in The Bourne Identity
‘I always thought that Matt Damon was like a Streisand, but he’s rockin’ the s**t in this one.’ Paul Rudd was never more on the money than this line in The 40-Year-Old Virgin. Damon was slowly coming good with Good Will Hunting and The Talented Mr Ripley but no one guessed he could pull off an action hero. This movie, and this performance, even made dinosaur Bond rethink his approach.
8. James Dean in Giant
He invented the teenager in East of Eden and honed it in Rebel Without A Cause, but in only his third movie he threw it all out the window with this mature turn. His Jett Rink is a lonely, disgruntled oilman, frustrated that rich boy Rock Hudson has landed Elizabeth Taylor. He never gets over it. And he doesn’t live to see it.
7. Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind
Russell Crowe is ‘all man’ in every movie. If he’s not jumping on your head in Romper Stomper, he’s threatening to send you to San Quentin on a kiddie-rapper beef in LA Confidential. Here, Crowe turns into himself and even looks weak as a paranoid maths professor. ‘I’m only here tonight because of you. You are the only reason I am… you are all my reasons.’
6. John Travolta in Pulp Fiction
We have to remember that before this Travolta was either in a bubble, on the dancefloor, in a T-Bird, in crap sequels (Staying Alive, anyone?) or in family movies about talking babies. Here he gives a great turn as a stoned hitman determined not to bed Marcellus Wallace’s wife. ‘Aw, man – I just shot Marvin in the face.’
5. Will Ferrell in Stranger Than Fiction
Ferrell stems his I-don’t-need-a-script-because-the-first-thing-I-think-of-is-always-genius, booming, larger than life antics of Anchorman, Talladega Nights and Old School for the quiet and reserved IRS man too shy to ask Maggie Gyllenhaal out on a date. He may also die. It all depends on Emma Thompson. ‘This may sound like gibberish to you, but I think I’m in a tragedy.’
4. John Cusack in The Grifters
Cusack made his name in wacky ’80s chase-the-girls movies like Better Off Dead, The Sure Thing, Hot Pursuit, One Crazy Summer and the sublime Say Anything, but in Jim Thompson’s The Grifters he plays a conman who may or may not enjoy a bit of how’s-your-father with his mother (Anjelica Huston). The Cusack we knew never came back: ‘Maybe I like it where I am.’
3. Pierce Brosnan in The Matador
Pierce was always a bit suave even before he donned 007’s tux, but no sooner had he quit that contract did he attempt to burn down everything James Bond is by playing the mentally unhinged and lonely hitman in The Matador. He even tries to hide his face behind a ridiculous moustache. ‘I wouldn’t do that for all the teenage t**t in Thailand.’
2. Robert De Niro in Midnight Run
De Niro flirted with black comedy before in The King Of Comedy and played the love interest in the soppy Falling In Love – not roles we associated with the method actor – but it’s Midnight Run that shows what a talent for comic timing the man has. And his determination not to put a cigarette out. ‘So here come two words for you: Shut the f*** up.”
1. Adam Sandler in Punch-Drunk Love
Sandler’s angry comic persona was given a makeover for Paul Thomas Anderson’s slow-burning drama. Sandler plays Barry Egan, a shy businessman who is so emasculated by his sisters he can’t even allow himself to fancy Emily Watson. Then he straps on a pair and decides he’s not taking it anymore. ‘I have a love in my life that makes me stronger than anything you can imagine.’
Honourable mentions: Robin Williams – Dead Poets Society, Owen Wilson – Behind Enemy Lines, Bette Davis – Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?, Jim Carrey – The Truman Show.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
For more movie chat from Gavin and Cinerama, click HERE.