Remember that old game of taking a little trinket and holding it in the palm of one of your hands and then putting both of your hands behind your back and forcing someone to choose one? You had a 50/50 chance of coming up with what you were looking for.
Keep On Keeping On, Boys
That concept is more prominent in the music scene, dominated with people either wanting a band to reproduce what made them worth listening to on their last album or coming up with a product that is completely the opposite of what they'd previously released. Some people like one. Some people prefer the other. Both sides think the other is f*cking nuts for accepting the hand that they choose.
This same deal exists in the movie industry, what with actors getting pigeonholed into representing a certain type of character. Some audience members go into movies hoping that they'll see a variation of the last role the actor was in. Others want to see that thespian do some proverbial "stretching." I say it's not the warm-up before a sprint. Getting into the profession of acting is supposed to be more of a marathon.
So I have to ask... what's so wrong with pigeonholing an actor? To paraphrase the late, great Mitch Hedberg, it's like commenting on the quality of a chef's cooking and then asking them if they can farm. You're great at comedy... can you get ugly and do a drama? You're a stellar action star... wanna do a voice for a cartoon character?
To use my prime example, let's look back through Ben Affleck's career. Mention his name and most people conjure up the image of him posturing in DAREDEVIL or ARMAGEDDON. And that's without bringing up the painful reminder of movies like PAYCHECK and REINDEER GAMES. It's no wonder why he's become a laughing stock.
The thing is, one of the first movies that Ben was in was the fantastic DAZED AND CONFUSED. Cast as the monumental douchebag on a mission, Ben owned the role of O'Bannion. There are exactly two roles that most people will recall from that movie and they weren't the leads. One was the smarmy older dude with the womb broom (played by the perfectly slimy Texan boy Matthew McConaughey) and the other is Ben.
Since that role, Ben's made the mistake of trying to fly out of his little hole; trying his hand at comedy, drama, action and even - gasp! - Kevin Smith's idea of a family flick. In the end, the best performances by our honorable Mr Affleck have always been when he was a dick. Think MALLRATS and screwing girls in uncomfortable places. Think
BOILER ROOM and that ear to ear grin.
Celebrating the inked deal to star in GIGLI 2
Perfect pigeonholing isn't just achieved by men, though. One of my favorite little birds is a bird. That's the wonderfully ditzy Goldie Hawn. From winning an Oscar in CACTUS FLOWER to getting the Army confused with a posh resort in PRIVATE BENJAMIN to aging gracefully into elderly idiots like her jilted wife role in THE FIRST WIVES CLUB.
While the darling Hawn has managed to turn in a serious role (SUGARLAND EXPRESS) and a deliciously deviant role (DEATH BECOMES HER), it is in playing the silly, giggly California blonde that she excels. What I love best about Goldie is that she seems delighted to be in that hole of hers, chirping away in movie after movie with a sunny disposition. It's refreshing when an actor realizes which side of the gourmet bread they've opted not to spread the fattening butter on.
(As a sidenote, please keep reminding her daughter that she's better in roles similar to her mother's. While RAISING HELEN isn't anything to write home about, I most certainly don't want to be subjected to another SKELETON KEY.)
There are very few actors who can crank out different roles every time they step in front of the camera. Johnny Depp is one that comes to mind. Sweet and caring in EDWARD SCISSORHANDS, wonderfully strange in ED WOOD, Johnny just knows what inner well to tap into. There's only one thing standing in his way since he decided to apply that eyeliner and sashay onto that pier. It's the plague that more actors suffer from than the dreaded pigeonholing.
Being known as themselves.
A fate that shouldn't be considered all that awful if you're in the profession for pocketbook reasons but apparently disastrous for those who do it "for the craft," getting signature roles and becoming a favorite of movie goers the world round is worse than being consistently thought of as a dick or a ditz.
Some of my favorite actors are ones that you can never see as anything but themselves. You watch a John Cusack movie where he's a detective, you think... "Cool, John Cusack is a detective." You watch a romantic comedy that he's in and the thoughts begin to swirl about whether or not John is going to get the girl. Aside from knowing that his character's name was Lloyd Dobbler in SAY ANYTHING, can you tell me the names of any of his other characters?
Don't worry, I'll wait......
Nicolas Cage, a guy who can add a dash of coolness to whatever movie he is in suffers from the same affliction. You watch his
movies knowing that you're watching Nic Cage. He's been able to play quirky comedic roles, mainstream action roles and even the astoundingly good dramas (I highly recommend THE WEATHERMAN and LORDS OF WAR). Still, you know that you're watching Cage. You go to see (or avoid) a movie based on his name power alone.
I'd love a shot at making that man's stick go BOOM.
One of the actors whom I've embraced over the years who has never truly profited from this problem is the B-conic Bruce Campbell. His entire career is based on playing a variation of Ash, the signature character from the EVIL DEAD series. When Bruce isn't riffing on that role, what is he? (Word of warning, I discovered what it was. THE WOODS. *shudder*) This is a man that has been profited from, with upcoming actors trying to mimic his deadpan delivery and raised eyebrow approach to ludicrous situations, but has never monetarily prospered for himself.
I will at least throw a bone to Cusack and Cage. These are guys who might want to break out of their respective niches, but they also amicably accept the fact that they are who they are. There's nothing worse than an actor or actress who spits in the face of their fame. Grimacing through press junkets and feigning interest in being asked the same questions over and over, it's that look on their faces that I wish I could slap off. What? You're not happy with your $20 million a picture? Poor f*cking baby!
The prime example who comes to mind is Julia Roberts. Embraced by our nation as being the smiling little whore darling of PRETTY WOMAN, she's spent the remainder of her career profiting mainly from playing mutations of that role and clunking back down to Earth whenever she indulges her sullen side. (MARY REILLY, anyone?) It's evident in the majority of the photographs taken of her at awards ceremonies and film premieres where she looks frostier than the ice sculptures at Elton John's after-bash.
Whenever someone plays the "pick a hand, any hand" game with me, I always pick the left. My insistence on always going with the same side, even when it's clear that there's nothing in it, showcases my stubbornness to allow people to "stretch." However, there are times when I come up empty handed and after seeing what the intended trinket was, I'm actually pleasantly surprised with my chosen result.
Be careful what you wish for. And never try to kill two birds with one stone. Because that's just mean.
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