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C'mon Hollywood: Where is the next generation of great actors?

10.30.2012

Throughout Hollywood’s history there have always been the go-to names in the industry. Stars who reign for an extended period of time, claiming the throne to superstardom and leaving a strong mark on society and the industry. John Wayne, James Stewart, Humphrey Bogart, Cary Grant, Steve McQueen, amongst others forged an early alliance of stars who became known not just for their films, but as personalities that embodied the art and their generation as a whole, be it genre specific or not.

Then, the next crop of actors came along, including DeNiro, Newman, Redford, Pacino, Nicholson, Connery, Hoffman, Freeman, Eastwood, and Brando. These weren’t just names in front of a movie or faces on the screen, but men who crossed the barrier from actor to star to icon. The next wave washed over Hollywood as time went on, crashing the shore with the likes of Schwarzenegger, Gibson, Stallone, Denzel, Willis, Tom Hanks, Johnny Depp, and Russell Crowe, all of them branching out from niche performances and into the collective halls of cinematic history.

Now, I’m not talking about worshipping celebrities. Let’s be clear on that. What I’m talking about are celebrated artists of their craft, not celebritants like Ashton Kutcher. Men who have taken their work to the next level and achieved something that will be immortalized long past their deaths. Each have contributed to their profession in a manner that signifies the highest level of performance, art, and charisma that makes them more than just a memorable face. Like it or not, we will always celebrate those who embody what we liken to be the best of our world, be it films stars, athletes, or politicians (and rarely teachers, soldiers, or firemen, sadly).

In the last decade or so, a few names have joined the list of viable stars, but nowhere near the caliber of those before them. Certainly the work of Leonardo DiCaprio, Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman, Jamie Foxx, George Clooney, Robert Downey Jr., or Mark Wahlberg will cross the barrier to icon status (if they haven’t already), but looking at the current crop of “stars” isn’t exactly getting it done. That’s not to say that there aren’t actors working today with admirable talent and skill, but the power, passion, and intensity of today’s most oft-seen crop is lacking in a big way.

The highest paid actor is still Tom Cruise, who has more than forged his way into icon status, both for his professional work and personal life. And, let’s face it, despite a few muddling duds, he mostly delivers, although he’s become more of an action star than dramatic performer in the last decade. The other actors bringing in the most money (and screen time) are guys like Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner, Adam Sandler, Dwayne Johnson, Will Smith, Ben Stiller, and Sacha Baron Cohen, as well as the aforementioned DiCaprio. Do all those names feel like they have the same type of caliber as those that have come before? Depends on your taste, I suppose.

I've enjoyed movies from all of those actors. I own many of them, although to be honest, the majority of them are Cruise or DiCaprio films (man, would I love to see those guys team up in a movie, but I digress…). The problem, in my mind, is that the next generation seems to be lacking in actors of diverse skill with a high level of intensity who can match that of the DeNiro’s, Pacino’s, Crowe’s, Nicholson’s, and Eastwood’s. Could you imagine Taylor Lautner, Chris Hemsworth, or Dwayne Johnson tackling a role like GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS, GLADIATOR, or DOG DAY AFTERNOON? What about genre pics like COMMANDO, DIE HARD, or LETHAL WEAPON? Not in this PG-13 centric environment.

The point isn’t that these actors are terrible, but that they haven’t shown or broken through in a role that truly makes them a star of formidable skill. They do exceptional work for what’s needed, but don’t expect Oscar nominations for it. So what’s to blame for that? Is it the material? Should we blame the popularity of specific genres? Should we blame directors?

The solution is simple, really. Today’s up-and-coming stars, such as Chris Hemsworth, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ryan Gosling, Anthony Mackie, Chris Evans, Channing Tatum, Tom Hardy, Garrett Hedlund, Joel Edgerton, amongst many others, need to step up their game. Some of them already have and they need to remain on that course; Gosling in DRIVE, Hardy in BRONSON, Edgerton in WARRIOR, Hedlund in ON THE ROAD, and even Pattinson in COSMOPOLIS are examples of taking on roles outside their type or well within it that allows them to branch out. For the others, it’s time to bring the heat.

To me, an iconic actor, one that I get excited to see on screen, is someone who lays it all out there. They rip their heart out of their chest and slam it on the table and let the blood pump out as the credits roll. By whatever means they can, each and every one of today’s “cream of the crop” should be striving to achieve the same kind of stature that those who have come before worked so tirelessly to create. Settling for every franchise pic and one-note indie that comes their way isn’t the way to get there. They’ve got to diversify and push for something that goes above and beyond what has come before or sadly they’ll be stuck in a cinematic rut, leaving us all starved for performances that can transcend the screen.

Extra Tidbit: Which up-and-coming actors do you think could emerge as iconic performers? My money is on Gosling and Gordon-Levitt as two actors who can bring some ferociously great performances to the screen and have the most potential to cross that barrier.
Source: JoBlo.com

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