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C'MON HOLLYWOOD: Give us more outside the box casting

12.09.2011

Every time a big action role comes up, whether it's a new superhero franchise being cast, or a “reboot” of a popular film/franchise, it seems like the same group of actors is always bandied about. You know the names: Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy, Chris Pine, Chris Hemsworth, and of course, Jeremy Renner, who made such as splash with THE HURT LOCKER, that he's already got himself three action franchises going- MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, THE BOURNE LEGACY, THE AVENGERS, and maybe even HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS, if it does well.

I have nothing against these guys, and in one way or another they've all proved themselves. LaBeouf is way more charismatic then people give him credit for. Hardy owned in BRONSON, INCEPTION, & WARRIOR, and is poised to dominate as Bane in the next Batman, as well as the MAD MAX reboot if it ever gets going. Pine nailed Captain Kirk. Hemsworth made an awesome Thor, and Renner was incredible in HURT LOCKER, and THE TOWN.

But, with the exception of maybe LaBeouf, each and every one of these guys looks every bit the action hero. Ya know the type- six pack abs, intense, matinee idol good looks, etc. Certainly there's room for them in action movies, but to keep things interesting, don't we need a bit more variety?


When is the last time we really saw an action hero cast against type? I'm scratching my head right now thinking about it, but the last one that really sticks out is Matt Damon in THE BOURNE IDENTITY. Nowadays, Damon would fit right in with the new action ideal (brawny is out, lean and clean-cut seems to be in) but in 2001, people were sure that BOURNE, with Damon in the lead would be the box-office flop of the summer. Sure enough, opening weekend it got trounced by SCOOBY DOO of all films, but as word began to get out, suddenly Damon's action credibility shot way up, and now people have a hard time remembering that in the late nineties he was mostly a Miramax, indie-guy, known for GOOD WILL HUNTING and THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY.

Before that, I'd have to say Nicolas Cage. Like Damon, now he's an action hero- but before THE ROCK, he was known for quirky roles like RAISING ARIZONA, & WILD AT HEART, comedies like HONEYMOON IN VEGAS, and his Oscar-winning turn in LEAVING LAS VEGAS. When he was cast in THE ROCK, everyone assumed he'd just be Sean Connery's sidekick, but by the time he shoved a ball of poison gas in a villain's mouth at the climax, before giving himself an adrenaline shot in the heart, a new action icon was born. By the next year, Cage was all muscled out to play hero in CON AIR, a role in which a critic at the time said Cage looked like Jesus on steroids (due to the wild wig- the first of MANY). Now he's almost a parody of himself having done action role after action role, and like Damon, we forget that he was once a quirky character actor.


When an “against-type” piece of casting is particularly successful, usually the audience totally forgets what the actor was like before his reinvention. Consider Robert Downey Jr., who, pre-IRON MAN was mostly known for his scrapes with the law, in-between the occasional dose of critical acclaim (I'd wager KISS, KISS, BANG, BANG is the film that's truly responsible for his resurgence, even if it took years to catch on). Now, he's a superstar- despite his small-stature, and slight build. You see, Downey doesn't need forty pounds of muscle- he has charisma.

Ditto Johnny Depp. Pre-2003, he was known for zany character roles like EDWARD SCISSORHANDS, FEAR & LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS, & BLOW. Since PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN, he's become such a huge star that he's single-handedly kept Disney's live-action division afloat through his slew of billion dollar grossing films (truth be told, I miss the old Depp).

How about Denzel Washington. Now he's an icon of “badassitude”, but in the nineties, he was a “serious actor”- who, one day decided to make a few action movies (CRIMSON TIDE & VIRTUOSITY) to entertain his son, who complained about his father doing roles that were too “wimpy”. Really, Denzel didn't hit his stride as an action hero until around MAN ON FIRE, but his gravitas has made him an icon of the genre.

It helps that guys like Denzel, RDJ, and Depp are all in their forties, as their world-weariness and experience adds immensely to their roles. Guys like LaBeouf, Hemsworth, and Pine are all still in their twenties.


My favorite example of against-type casting is when Michael Keaton signed on to play BATMAN back in '89. At that point he was known as a comedian, and not a great one at that (BEETLEJUICE was great- THE DREAM TEAM, THE SQUEEZE, and JOHNNY DANGEROUSLY- not so much). When he was announced as the caped crusader, everyone assumed Tim Burton was going to make BATMAN into a comedy. Once the film opened and broke box-office records, everyone forgot that Keaton was ever a comedian, and other that THE OTHER GUYS, and the flop MULTIPLICITY, he hasn't made a comedy since.

The most successful “against-type” castings have actually been on the small-screen. One example is Michael Chiklis, who in the nineties was known as the nice-guy, pudgy, balding guy from THE COMMISH, and a bunch of bad sitcoms. After hitting the gym, and shaving his head, Chiklis did THE SHIELD, and the rest is history.

How about Bryan Cranston? Before BREAKING BAD he was famous for playing the wacky dad in MALCOLM IN THE MIDDLE. What made his role in BREAKING BAD so powerful is that he starts the show off playing “to type”, and then begins to shift more and more into dark territory, to the point that watching MALCOLM IN THE MIDDLE reruns, you'd never guess that it's the same guy.

To me, it seems that these outside-the-box casting choices go right more than they go wrong, so the next time a big action role comes up, why not look at someone outside the usual shortlist? Who knows, the next action icon might be someone we'd never expect.

Extra Tidbit: Who do you think should get a shot at the next big action role?
Source: JoBlo.com

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