Friday, May 13, 2011

Don't Blame the Actors

Every once in a while a really good actor will make a terrible movie. Gregory Peck, Laurence Olivier and James Mason all were in Boys From Brazil. Forrest Whitaker played a role in Battlefield Earth. Jeremy Irons did Dungeons & Dragons. Hey, everyone has rent or a mortgage to pay. You have to feed your family and buy your kids shoes, right? It's understandable. No one can be brilliant ALL the time. Not the actor's fault the movie sucked. In fact, I'll go so far as to say it's not the actor's fault THEY suck in a movie. That's right, I said it.

How many times have you sat through an awards broadcast while the winner proceeds to thank everyone that "helped them win" the award? Their agent, the other actors, the director, the producers, their lawyers, their managers, the studio heads, their reiki master and pilates instructor, whoever. If actors feel obliged to thank all those that made them good, why are those same actors not allowed to blame those same people when something comes out bad? Certainly, if the actor can't point fingers - for fear of never working again - the viewing audience should certainly be understanding enough to know all the people are to ultimately blame for an awful film.

For all the cliche, film making truly is a collaborative process. So is theater, so is television. That  collaboration starts way before the camera begins to roll. It starts from the moment a writer puts pen to paper (okay, turns on his computer, get the point). This "process" then goes through an evolution that would curl Darwin's toes. Producers who have an interest in a certain property, studio heads who green light the project, directors who actually cast and make the film, casting directors, agents, managers, and finally the actors gets a call. "Hey, we got a job that pays money. Want it?" There are not a lot of actors who can make a movie based on their name alone, so you have to look at the whole process when it comes to assigning blame for a real stinker.

Actors do not work in a vacuum. They are assisted in the creative process by a whole host of creative types not the least of which is the director. It is a rare artist that can direct himself. A poor job of directing a good actor can have terrible consequences on the final product. Directing isn't just setting up the shot and pointing the camera. Sometimes even directors don't do that. The director gives shape and tempo to a film or a play. The result of poor direction can very easily be a poor performance. By the very nature of his job, an actor is dependent on a director to help him craft a performance. Magic doesn't just "happen" when the actor steps in from of the camera.

A poorly written script can  submarine the greatest actor. Did you see Catwoman? I rest my case. Actors say words. Even the greatest actor in the world cannot save a bad script. I usually love Rob Reiner as a director, but North is perhaps the worst script of all time. Good director, good cast, bad words.

Sometimes a casting director or agent is to blame, working so hard to push a particular A-list actor into a roll that he or she has no business playing -- for whatever reason. Other times it's the producer or the studio who is to blame. How many times do we have to suffer through the flavor of the week to realize the fallacy in that kind of thinking?  "Hey, let's get Hottie McHotness to be in this movie! People love her! It'll be huge!"

For the most part, actors look for work. They need to work to make money to pay for stuff. They want to do the best job possible so they can get more work. Until you get to be a Johnny Depp size star, you take what you can get and you aren't all that picky (I mean really, SyFy Channel Originals put a lot of actors to work). So the next time you see a really crappy movie cut the cast some slack. Besides, it's very possible to enjoy a terrible movie. Come on, who doesn't want Ghost Rider on DVD? Eva Mendez is hot, even in those atrocious clothes (Lizzy Gardiner) and the Ghost Rider effects are cool (SPI)!

I'll end with one exception. Two words: Green Hornet. In fact, it was this movie that got me all PO'd on this subject in the first place! I missed it when it was originally released and just got around to seeing it On Demand. When an actor is actually responsible for getting a project made and then makes most of the decisions, then he is absolutely to blame. He and the studio knuckleheads who bought into a bad idea. Just because someone has an idea, doesn't mean it a good one.*  Seth Rogan is totally to blame for what is one of the worst comic book adaptations of all time. He was a producer (okay, good property, could work), a writer (there wasn't a script to speak of so that's not good) AND the horribly miscast star (I mean really, shouldn't the Hornet be, I don't know, handsome?). Don't blame Jay Chou (Kato), he gave it his best shot. Tom Wilkinson was great for the limited screen time he had. Christoph Waltz made the best of terrible dialog. Cameron Diaz lifted every scene she was in. Oh, and don't blame my Facebook friend Jill Remez who got lots of camera time as one of the Sentinel Reporters. Rogan should have known better to cast himself and shirk on the script. His ego got in the way.

So there! Don't blame the actor -- unless the actor is also all the other guys, too.

Watkins, out. Curling up with some popcorn, Caffeine Free Diet Coke and the Special Edition DVD of Ishtar: The Director's Cut. Dustin Hoffman, right?

*More on that little notion in a later rant. Creativity is not learned nor is it just given to people in authority.

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