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Five Actors I’d Watch in Anything

November 23, 2009

Some actors transcend even the worst of scripts and become masters of the art of transformation in specific roles.  There will always be those actors who seem to be terrible in absolutely EVERYTHING, but it takes a rare talent to bring life and meaning to a role that would be bland in another performer’s hands.

So, let’s start with the actors:

5.) Sean Penn

Penn Ultimate


Penn is one of those actors whose personal life has luckily never overshadowed his talent.  He’s come a long way from Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High.  Penn wisely began easing away from mainstream pictures in the late 80s and came into his prime with such films as Carlito’s Way and Sweet and Lowdown.  Yet, the 200os have been his most productive decade, where he proved his worth to Hollywood in Mystic River and Milk.  Penn is never over the top – when playing a role he inhabits it completely without making it seem as if he is putting on a “mask”.


Check outFast Times at Ridgemont High, Carlito’s Way, Sweet and Lowdown

 Must See:  Mystic River

4.) Edward Norton

 Edward Norton’s big break came as the unhinged antagonist in Primal Fear.  He was the best thing about that film.  After a surprise lead in The People Vs. Larry Flynt, Norton had become a rarity in Hollywood – a strong male lead who wasn’t a traditional movie star.  Since then, he’s  been the understated saving grace in cult hits such as Fight Club and American History X, and has gone mainstream without “selling out” in The Incredible Hulk and The Illusionist.   He’s an everyman that audiences can relate to – which is what keeps him working when other actors have LONG overstayed their welcome.

Check outThe People Vs. Larry Flynt, Fight Club, Keeping the Faith, Red Dragon, The Italian Job, The Painted Veil

Must SeeAmerican History X

3.) Ralph Fiennes

The man best known these days for playing Voldemort is definitely a force to be reckoned with on multiple levels.   Ralph’s first major role was as Heathcliff in a U.S. version of Wuthering Heights.  In the early 90s he mastered an American accent  in such diverse roles as the techno-dealing ex-cop in Strange Days and mild-mannered game show cheater Charles Van Doren in Quiz Show.  It was 1996’s The English Patient that first got the ladies swooning over this Brit’s charms.   Yet this was by far one of his least intersting roles.  Perhaps the most complex role Fiennes has played is the deeply emotional Anglican preist Oscar Hopkins, in love with both gambling and a Lucinda (a fellow gambler) in Gillian Armstrong’s Oscar and Lucinda.  Fiennes is currently directing an adaptation of Shakespeare’s  Coriolanus, due in theaters in 2010.

Check OutStrange Days,  Quiz Show, Red Dragon, Onegin, The White Countess, The Duchess, In Bruges

Must SeeThe Constant Gardener,  Oscar and Lucinda                        

2.) Robert Downey, Jr.

Ironman is more than just Downey’s great “comeback” role, it could describe his entire career trajectory.  Downey began in the early 80s in “sidekick/friend” roles in films such as Weird Science and Less Than Zero.   In the early 90s, he tackled comedy with ease, stealing scenes in Soapdish and the otherwise lackluster Chances Are.  In 1992, he made the Academy sit up and take notice when he embodied Hollywood legend Charlie Chaplin in Chaplin.  Unfortunately, personal problems (divorce, drug abuse) led to poor choices of material in the late 90s (Only You, Heart and Souls).  Wisely choosing to stick to low profile supporting roles in the early 2000s (Wonder Boys, Good Night and Good Luck), he finally hit it big with both critics and mainstream audiences in Ironman. 

Check out:  Less Than Zero, Soapdish, Wonder Boys, Restoration, Good Night and Good Luck, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Ironman                                   

Must See:  Chaplin

 1.) Daniel Day Lewis

Daniel Day Lewis is the son of Cecil Day Lewis, Poet Laureate of England, and perhaps the most appropriate adjective to describe his career would be “poetic”.  Lewis is known for being one of the most successful (and unusual) method actors working today.  Married to American playwright Arthur Miller’s daughter Rebecca, Lewis is meticulous about choosing his roles.  Ten years could go by without him on the screen and he would have no regrets if the material available wasn’t up to his standards.  Lewis first caught the eye of the media in 1985’s My Beautiful Laundrette.  That very same year, he played that character’s polar opposite – the uptight turn of the century aristocrat Cecil Vyse in Merchant Ivory’s production of A Room With

View. In 1989, he won his first Oscar as poet Christy Brown in My Left Foot.  In the 90s he tackled Michael Mann’s lush and vibrant adaptation of The Last of the Mohicans, and then went back to classic lit territory with Scorsese in 1992’s The Age of Innocence.    To close out the 90s he was at his most productive, starring in an adaptation of The Crucible (his father-in- law’s masterpiece) and the Irish tearjerker In the Name of the Father.  After disappearing in the early 200os to do, among all things, apprentice with a shoemaker, Lewis began accepting more discriminating roles in powerful films, beginning with the scenery-chewing part of Bill the Butcher in Scorsese’s Gangs of New York.  It’s his seminal performance as Daniel Plainview (never a more accurately named character in all of film) in There Will Be Blood that is a must see for any cinemaphile.

Check outMy Beautiful Laundrette, A Room With a View, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, My Left Foot, The Last of the Mohicans, The Crucible,  In the Name of the Father, Gangs of New York

Must See:  There Will Be Blood, The Age of Innocence

I’m taking a break for the Thanksgiving holiday, but look for a new blog sometime the week of Nov. 30th!

Coming Soon:  The Five Actresses I’d Watch in Anything

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