Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Hall of Actors I Will Watch In Pretty Much Anything

I am sure I am not the only person with a list like this.

But first, I should clarify what it means to be included. This isn't just a list of good actors (although I would say everyone on this list is a good actor). It’s a list of actors I find particularly compelling, and yes, that is an intentionally vague descriptor.

There is a certain uncritical-ness at work here, something hard to explain. I could sum it up by saying I just plain like these actors. I like “hanging out” with them while I am watching the movie or show; they project an innate charm or something. (I suppose that’s almost a condemnation, because an actor is supposed to make you forget he or she is acting and accept the role completely. Hm.)

There should also be something personal about your own list -- the actors on it should seem unusual choices to most, prompting a reaction on the order of “Yeah, I think I’ve seen him in a couple of things, I guess, but I wouldn't say I'm a fan...” I’m not including obvious choices because they’re just that -- obvious. I like Jack Black because he’s usually funny in whatever he’s in, but he’s not on this list. I like Johnny Depp because he always gives an idiosyncratic performance, but he’s not on the list. Sean Connery and Bruce Campbell are geek icons, and Gregory Peck is just straight-up a really talented actor, but none of them are on this list.

So who is on this list?

Here are the inaugural inductees into the Hall of Actors I Will Watch In Pretty Much Anything:

Malcolm McDowell: This guy is the perfect example of what I’m talking about. McDowell has been in some really good movies, but he has also been in a lot of terrible movies and TV shows. And yet, I always want to watch him. Maybe it’s that I want to listen to him; he’s got such an icy, sinister voice. He gets typecast as a villain because of it -- in Tank Girl, Blue Thunder, Star Trek: Generations, and he was Metallo in the Superman cartoon, remember. I watched this really crummy made-for-TV Disney movie called Princess of Thieves about Robin Hood’s daughter (played by Keira Knightley when she was like sixteen or something) where he’s the Sheriff of Nottingham, and he’s awesome. Every time I hear they’re making a new James Bond, I always hope they’ll cast him as the bad guy. A lot of actors would feel bad about that, but from what I’ve read he just enjoys working. So he’ll do some really neat British indie, and then he’ll do a slasher movie, just because they asked. I respect that.

John Glover: You never go to the video store and go, “Oh, I need to get a movie with John Glover in it.” But you’re flipping through the TV Guide and you see he’s in something and you’re like, “I should watch that.” I first saw him in Gremlins 2, which was one of my favorite movies as a kid, so maybe that imprinted on me. I love the smarmy, intellectual Riddler he played on Batman: The Animated Series, his mad scientist in Batman & Robin was the only thing I really enjoyed about that movie, and there was a time in college where I was only watching Smallville because John Glover is awesome as Lionel Luthor, and because Allison Mack is pretty. Also, he was really good in Love! Valour! Compassion!, which is pretty much a 180 from those comic book projects.

Ian McShane: He is a new addition, and it's funny because I’ve never seen Deadwood. Josh pointed him out to me, and all of a sudden I see (and hear) him in all sorts of stuff. I’m really not digging NBC’s Kings, but even if his character’s not very compelling, he is.

Ian McKellen: He just seems like a cool guy. People call him the greatest living Shakespearian actor, and yet he’ll do X-Men and give it some dignity and look like he’s having a fun time. Also, he hosted Saturday Night Live once and it was amazing. You know how Ben Affleck will be in, like, maybe six sketches when he does the show? McKellen was almost in every single one, including "Weekend Update," where he dressed up as Maggie Smith and kissed Jimmy Fallon. It was rad.

Kenneth Branagh: I like that he does these “Shakespeare for the masses” movies, but whenever I find he’s in something that doesn’t involve the Bard, I’m compelled to see it. I wish Wild Wild West had been a better movie, and I remember being really disappointed when I heard he’d dropped out of the villain role in Mission: Impossible III.

Emma Thompson: Y’know, I’ve never seen Dead Again, which has Branagh and Thompson and my mom even owns a copy of it on VHS. Where is my head at?

Gene Hackman: What an awesome dude. I forget he’s in a lot of things because he’s so versatile. Superman and The Royal Tenenbaums are two of my favorite movies, and he’s in both of ‘em. He was in Heartbreakers and Welcome to Mooseport, but don't hold it against him because he was enjoyable in both. His Lex Luthor bears almost no resemblance to one of my favorite comics characters, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Jane Lynch: I actually haven’t seen her in all that much, but she always takes me by surprise by appearing in things I was not expecting. You can just be watching some random X-Files or Frasier one day, and she’ll be doing a guest role in that episode. It is always a pleasant surprise.

Alan Cumming: He is just an adorable fellow. I would almost watch Son of the Mask. Almost.

So who’s in your Hall of Actors I Will Watch In Pretty Much Anything?


plok said...

I believe it's actually Christopher Plummer they call that "greatest Shakespearean actor" doubt, though, that if you told him or Ian McKellan that they'd both say something like "what, was there a big fire at the RSC? Is everybody else dead? Quick, turn on the news...!"

My list would have quite a few of the same folks on it as yours...although Gene Hackman, for all he's Gene Hackman, has made movies I won't watch...

I can't make a list like this without putting Patrick McGoohan on it, so I'm afraid I can't restrict myself to the living: although it makes it a lot harder to pick the lesser-known and the underrated. How do you make a list like this without putting Cary Grant or Humphrey Bogart on it? You can't, but I'll in addition to McGoohan, who hopefully just plain doesn't need explaining...I mean, could anyone ever deliver a line like him? I think not...

I'll try for four more.

Elizabeth Pena: sure, I've had a starry-eyed schoolboy crush on her for about twenty years, but that's only because I'm the discriminating type -- you can see her thinking when she's playing a part, even if it's a small part.

Howard Hesseman: like Ray Walston a generation earlier and Paul Giamatti about a generation later, he can play anything from frenetic to slimy to world-weary and wise, and you just can't look away from the guy's face while he's doing it, and he's always somehow himself into the bargain. And, he's been doing it for a hell of a long time: just take a look at his filmography sometime, it's insane...oh, and also he was Johnny Fever.

J.T. Walsh: I think he was a Method man, anyway he seemed to disappear into roles absolutely effortlessly...except. There was always a creepy, disturbing edge around him that you couldn't quite put your finger on: like the guy down the street, who has his own secrets you'll never find out.

Woody Allen: Put simply, nobody can play Woody like Woody.

Wow, that was harder than it looked: I'm glad I gave myself an arbitrary limit, or I'd be sitting here 'til midnight.

Justin said...

Yeah, McGoohan is self-evident.

I'm looking forward to the cable TV remake of the Prisoner (mostly, of course, for Sir Ian as Number Two!) but I'm highly suspicious of Jim Caviezel in the Number Six role. I suppose he might be able to tap into the same kind of almost smug independence McGoohan brought to the role, but he's lacking that nervy, threatening *energy*.

It's not easy to convey sheer *willpower* in acting, but McGoohan did somehow. In the alternate universe where the Richard Donner Superman movies featured a Lex Luthor that hewed a little closer to the comics, I like to think Patrick McGoohan was cast in the role.

plok said...

I envy you your optimism -- the idea of a Prisoner remake horrifies me.

I did want to elaborate on picking Woody Allen, though, because it seems to me that before he started making movies there was absolutely no need for any movie to include a Woody Allen-type character...because there was no character type like that. And now there is!


Anonymous said...

Technology really is an inescapable aspect of our daily lives, and I am 99% certain that we have passed the point of no return in our relationship with technology.

I don't mean this in a bad way, of course! Ethical concerns aside... I just hope that as memory becomes cheaper, the possibility of downloading our brains onto a digital medium becomes a true reality. It's a fantasy that I daydream about every once in a while.

(Posted on Nintendo DS running [url=]R4i[/url] DS SPPost)