Showing posts with label movie roles. Show all posts
Showing posts with label movie roles. Show all posts

24 May 2014

No More Mr. Nice Guy

by John M. Floyd

I love movies. Always have and always will. Timewise and expensewise, I probably love them too much--but I console myself with the knowledge that I receive more from movies than mere entertainment. I often learn from them as well. The writer part of me tries to figure out why certain things in a story work and why certain things don't, and I consider that information helpful when I sit down to write my own fiction.

One of the things I enjoy most about films is that now and then they deliver something totally unexpected. A plot reversal, a fascinating location, a twist ending, a quirky theme, an outrageous character. I once heard someone say that anytime we watch a movie--or read a short story or novel--we make a silent deal with the creator of the piece: we agree to give him our attention and he agrees to give us surprise.

Risky business

A guaranteed eye-opener happens when the producer/director/whoever chooses to cast someone who's usually a protagonist in the role of an antagonist. This kind of thing--angels playing devils--happens more often than you might suspect, presumably because many actors fear being stereotyped, but I figure it's always a bit tense and chancy for both the actors and the filmmakers. Sometimes straying from the norm pays off, and sometimes it doesn't.

I recently found an interview on YouTube in which the late Henry Fonda, who was always cast as the hero, talked about his one-and-only role as a bad guy. Italian director Sergio Leone had approached him about playing a villain in one of Leone's spaghetti Westerns, and after being advised by old friend Eli Wallach to accept the role, Fonda traveled to Rome to meet Leone for the first time. Before their meeting--and wanting to look more sinister and less recognizable--Fonda said he let his beard grow a bit and put in brown contact lenses to hide his famous blue eyes. But when Leone saw him, the director said, "No, no!"--he wanted those baby blues, and did not want any disguises. Fonda was later told that in the scene that introduced his villain to the audience, when he's about to murder a child in cold blood, and the camera swings slowly around to reveal his face for the first time, Leone wanted viewers to gasp and drop their popcorn and say, "Jesus Christ!--that's Henry Fonda!!"

Good guys who have played bad guys

My favorite examples:

Chuck Connors -- The Big Country
Denzel Washington -- Training Day
Michael Douglas -- Wall Street
Steve Martin -- The Spanish Prisoner
Glenn Close -- Fatal Attraction
James Cromwell -- L.A. Confidential
Russell Crowe -- 3:10 to Yuma (2007)
Tommy Lee Jones -- Under Siege
Henry Fonda -- Once Upon a Time in the West
Danny Glover -- Witness
Arnold Schwarzenegger -- The Terminator
Gene Hackman -- Unforgiven

Other memorable examples (good guys in villain roles that worked):

Robin Williams -- Insomnia
Fred MacMurray -- Double Indemnity
Leonardo DiCaprio -- Django Unchained
Matt Damon -- The Talented Mr. Ripley
Laurence Olivier -- Marathon Man
Glenn Ford -- 3:10 to Yuma (1957)
Stephen Boyd -- Ben-Hur
Orson Welles -- The Third Man
Humphrey Bogart -- The Petrified Forest
Raymond Burr -- Rear Window
Marlon Brando -- Apocalypse Now
Joseph Cotten -- Shadow of a Doubt
Heath Ledger -- The Dark Knight
Morgan Freeman -- Lucky Number Slevin
Spencer Tracy -- Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Kiefer Sutherland -- Stand By Me
Daniel Day-Lewis -- Gangs of New York
Alec Baldwin -- The Cooler
Angela Lansbury -- The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
Meryl Streep -- The Manchurian Candidate (2004)
Burt Lancaster -- Sweet Smell of Success

Forgettable examples (not great but not terrible):

Bruce Willis -- The Jackal
Timothy Dalton -- The Rocketeer
Kirk Douglas -- There Was a Crooked Man
Walter Matthau -- Charade
Anthony Quinn -- Last Train From Gun Hill
Richard Gere -- Arbitrage
Walter Brennan -- How the West Was Won
Tom Cruise -- Collateral
Gary Sinise -- Ransom
Ronald Reagan -- The Killers
Robert Duvall -- True Grit (1969)
Wilford Brimley -- The Firm
Ed Harris -- The Rock
Albert Brooks -- Drive
John Goodman -- In the Electric Mist
Christopher Reeve -- Deathtrap
Greg Kinnear -- The Gift
Tony Curtis -- The Boston Strangler
Richard Crenna -- Wait Until Dark

Regrettable examples (good guys in villain roles that didn't work):

Gregory Peck -- The Boys From Brazil
Andy Griffith -- Savages
Sean Connery -- The Avengers
John Travolta -- Broken Arrow
Harrison Ford -- What Lies Beneath
Julia Roberts -- Mirror, Mirror
Elijah Wood -- Pawn Shop Chronicles
Kevin Costner -- Mr. Brooks
Sylvester Stallone -- Death Race 2000
Daryl Hannah -- Kill Bill
John Lithgow -- Cliffhanger
Robert Redford -- Indecent Proposal
George Clooney -- From Dusk Till Dawn
Jamie Lee Curtis -- Mother's Boys
James Earl Jones -- Conan the Barbarian
Nicole Kidman -- To Die For

NOTE: All these lists include only those performances that I've actually seen with my own peepers. I had to therefore leave out Kate Winslet in Divergent, Sidney Poitier in The Long Ships, Frank Sinatra in Suddenly, etc. (Don't worry, they're in my Netflix queue . . .)

Comedic goodie-plays-baddie examples (these don't really count):

Jack Lemmon -- The Great Race
Danny De Vito -- Romancing the Stone
Sigourney Weaver -- Ghostbusters
Tom Hanks -- The Ladykillers
Jon Voight -- Holes
Max Von Sydow -- Flash Gordon
Matt Dillon -- There's Something About Mary
Jennifer Anniston -- Horrible Bosses
Slim Pickens -- Blazing Saddles
Dick Van Dyke -- Dick Tracy
Patrick McGoohan -- Silver Streak
Ned Beatty -- Superman
Dabney Coleman -- Nine to Five
Ted Knight -- Caddyshack
Michael Caine -- Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
Dustin Hoffman -- Hook

Others that don't count, in my opinion, are movies about prisoners, gangsters, outlaws, anti-heroes, etc., where most of the main characters are already less-than-model citizens: Goodfellas, The Usual Suspects, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Godfather, A History of Violence, Bonnie and Clyde, Get Shorty, Papillon, The Shawshank Redemption, Cool Hand Luke, Blood Simple, The Road to Perdition, In Bruges, Miller's Crossing, The Thomas Crown Affair, The Getaway, Jackie Brown, Escape From Alcatraz, Out of Sight, Pulp Fiction, The Sting, Reservoir Dogs, and many more.

There are also many more roles in all the above categories that I've not mentioned. Help me out, here, if you can think of them.

Forever respectable

Not everyone, of course, is corruptible. To my knowledge, the following male actors have never played true villains: Tom Selleck, James Garner, John Wayne, Cary Grant, Paul Newman, Gary Cooper, Jackie Chan, Steve McQueen, Mel Gibson, Tom Hanks, Charlton Heston, and Clint Eastwood. (I started to put James Stewart in this squeaky-clean list until I remembered After the Thin Man. And here's my disclaimer: Wayne was pseudo-villainlike in the roles of Genghis Khan and the Ringo Kid, and Eastwood came close in both Tightrope and Beguiled.)

Even more fun than watching good guys go bad is watching conventional villains occasionally play decent, law-abiding folks: Jack Palance in Monte Walsh, Bruce Dern in Nebraska, Gary Busey in Silver Bullet, Michael Ironside in Top Gun, Robert J. Wilke in Stripes, Dennis Hopper in True Romance, Lee Van Cleef in For a Few Dollars More, L.Q. Jones in The Edge, Lee Marvin in The Dirty Dozen, Christopher Lee in The Devil Rides Out, Peter Cushing in The Horror of Dracula, Alan Rickman in Galaxy Quest, Steve Buscemi in The Abyss, Gary Oldman in Immortal Beloved, Christopher Walken in The Dead Zone, Donald Pleasance in The Great Escape, etc.

Okay, enough of this. That's my analysis and these are my opinions. By now you have probably diagnosed me as a certified, raving, dreamworld-addicted maniac. If so, you are incorrect. I am perfectly normal and sane.

In fact, I am Spartacus.

10 December 2011

Square Pegs, Round Holes

by John M. Floyd

Much has been said, in writers' magazines and at writers' blogs, about choosing names for fictional characters. But what about choosing actors for fictional characters?

Question: Have you ever gone to a movie that was adapted from a book or story you liked, and found that the hero/heroine didn't look or behave the way you had expected him or her to? Most of us have. I tend to be pretty lenient on that subject--give 'em a chance, right?--but now and then it just doesn't work. Miscasting does happen, and when it does I think the disappointment is even worse for those moviegoers who are also writers. My "belief" in the characters can make or break a piece of fiction for me, whether it's on the page or on the screen.

Worth a thousand words

I've heard that you should be careful watching music videos, for one simple reason: if it turns out you don't like the video, you'll never again enjoy the song quite as much, because the video will stay in your mind forever. The same thing can apply to books and movies. If you read the novel first, your imagination can roam free. If you see the film first, you're limited. Faces and settings have already been supplied, and by someone else. I remember having my own image of Vito Corleone in my mind when I read The Godfather; if I had seen the film first I would almost certainly have pictured Brando instead.

Bottom line is, I usually prefer to read the book before seeing the film version. But not always. I watched Lonesome Dove when it first aired on TV, and when I then decided to read the McMurtry novel, I enjoyed it just as much. But in this instance, the movie was so well done (and so true to the novel) I think it actually helped to later have the actors' faces (Duvall, Jones, Glover, etc.) in my head when I read the book.

Rockin' roles

I should mention that I think some actors were probably born to play certain characters, whether you happen to have read the book first or not. Examples: Gable and Leigh as Rhett and Scarlett, Peck as Atticus Finch, Sharif as Yuri Zhivago, Fonda as Tom Joad. It's hard to imagine anyone else in those parts.

Sometimes--not often--my thinking actually changes during the course of the movie. I had already read Robert Ludlum's three Bourne novels before I saw The Bourne Identity, and at first glance I just couldn't buy Matt Damon in the title role (he looked far too young, for one thing)--but he was so good at it, he won me over. The same thing goes for Alan Ladd, in Shane. Having read the novel in high school, I had a pretty clear picture in my mind of the way Shane would look: tall, slim, dark, sinister. I didn't see the movie until I was a freshman in college, and I remember sitting there in the theatre and thinking Whoa, this friendly little blond guy with the fringe outfit and fancy beltbuckle looked like some kind of sissy compared to the image I already had in my imagination. But the story and the acting were so good it made me a believer, and as a result I now think that Ladd (all five-foot-six of him) was the right choice. The same thing happened with Christopher Walken as Johnny Smith in The Dead Zone: I started out doubting him and ended up liking him.

Here, read these lines, and don't look at the camera . . .

Casting is an interesting topic in itself. It was a thrill for me, several years ago, to attend some of the auditions for the roles in a film adaptation of one of my short stories. (The movie never got made, but that's a column for another day.) One of the many things I learned was that it's far easier to try to cast someone "safe" in a certain part--a Sam Elliott in a western, let's say, or a Lee Marvin in a war movie--than to go against type and take a chance. But occasionally that risk can pay off. Who would've thought George Clooney would be convincing as a swordboat captain, or that Charlize Theron could be a Monster, or that Disney child star Kurt Russell could be believable as a scowling, eyepatched convict who rescues the President and escapes from a futuristic New York? Well, the filmmakers did, and I'm glad they did.

Sometimes, of course, that kind of close-your-eyes-and-leap innovation can backfire. It was hard for me to believe John Wayne as Genghis Khan in The Conqueror, Charlton Heston as a Mexican detective in Touch of Evil, and Mickey Rooney as a Japanese landlord in Breakfast at Tiffany's.

But I digress. If we focus only on characters in novels who later become characters in movies, there are a lot of examples of what I think were good/bad casting decisions. The good ones many of us might agree on: Connery as James Bond, Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter, Scheider as police chief Martin Brody, and so on. But the not-so-good ones . . . ?

The bad and the ugly

Since this is an opinion column, here are some examples of what I thought were poor casting decisions:
  • Roger Moore as James Bond
  • Tom Hanks as Sherman McCoy (Bonfire of the Vanities)
  • Jamey Sheridan as Randall Flagg (The Stand)
  • Gregory Peck as Josef Mengele (The Boys From Brazil)
  • Eriq La Salle as Lucas Davenport (Mind Prey)
  • Dean Martin as Vernon Demerest (Airport)
  • Tony Randall as Hercule Poirot (The Alphabet Murders)
  • Joe Mantegna as Spenser (Small Vices)
  • Keanu Reeves as Jonathan Harker (Dracula)
  • Renee Zellwegger as Allison French (Appaloosa)
  • Orlando Bloom as Legolas (the Lord of the Rings trilogy)
  • Leo DiCaprio as Howard Hughes (The Aviator)
  • Glen Campbell as Le Boeuf (True Grit)
  • Marlon Brando as Sakini (The Teahouse of the August Moon)
  • Ben Affleck as Jack Ryan (The Sum of All Fears)
And I honestly haven't made up my mind on some: Downey and Jude Law as Holmes and Watson, for instance--or Travolta as Chili Palmer. They weren't bad choices, but I think they could've been better.

A shorter reach

I will confess that I have doubts about the decision to cast Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher in the upcoming movie version of Lee Child's One Shot. Since I've read almost all the Reacher novels, I know that good ole Jack is supposed to be six-five and two-fifty--and his size is actually a factor, in what he can do and not do in the books. Cruise can play a tough guy, no question about that, but for me he just doesn't fit the image. I think I'm going to find myself wondering how Jerry Maguire could possibly overcome all the incredible hulks that cross Jack Reacher's path.

I'm also not convinced that Katherine Heigl will be an effective Stephanie Plum in 2012's One for the Money--I had always pictured somebody more like Sandra Bullock. (And I've heard Debbie Reynolds will play Grandma Mazur, which I'm hoping was just an unfortunate dream I had after eating too many chili dogs.) On the other hand, the actors in the trailers I've seen for the upcoming version of Suzanne Collins's The Hunger Games look terrific. I loved that novel, so I hope the producers/directors get it right.

More questions

For those of you who are writers, do you usually have an image of a real actor's face in your mind when you create a character? (I don't.) Do you picture an actor's face for a character when you read about him or her in someone else's novel or story? (I do.) Not that it matters a whit, but the person I usually see as Jack Reacher is Russell Crowe, and Miss Plum's boyfriend Joe Morelli has always been actor John Stamos. I have no idea why, but those are the faces that first popped into my brain when I encountered those characters.

What are your thoughts, on this earthshakingly-important subject? Are there any actor/role matchups that you think are motion-picture perfect? Are there any that you wish you'd never even heard about, much less seen with your own eyes? Are you beginning to wish you'd never seen this article?

At least it won't be made into a movie.