Actors Playing Actors

Watching Men in Black III, I found myself struck by Josh Brolin. I enjoyed the whole movie, but Brolin especially held my attention. I had to keep reminding myself that he was not actually a younger Tommy Lee Jones.

Brolin stepped into the character of K so seamlessly, that the persona Jones spent the last fifteen years crafting completely enveloped him. He interacted with Will Smith just like Jones. He captured the nuances and mannerisms that others might miss. That’s great acting.

Brolin not only had the test of portraying a beloved character, but of stepping into those polished black shoes that Jones had already broken in. He chose to play the character as another actor playing the character. He did it perfectly.

His role in MiB III got me thinking about how often actors take on the challenge of playing a real person with lack-luster effort.

A few years ago I watched The Aviator, about the legendary Howard Hughes, and was torn. The movie spans the time from the golden age of Hollywood through the 1970’s. Hughes was involved with many of the greatest Hollywood legends. Some of the actors poured themselves into their parts, portraying the people in Hughes’ life with great vigor. Others seemed to get their parts based on looks alone. They simply showed up and smiled—a cardboard cut-out might have sufficed. Their inability or unwillingness to let go of their own personality distracted from an otherwise intriguing film.

The Aviator is not the only movie that suffers from this brand of hiccups. Often movies fail completely because a talented actor refuses to release themselves fully into the heart of the person they are hired to play.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed for Hitchcock, due for 2013 release. Anthony Hopkins will play the title character, and I know full well that his talents are sufficient for the task. The rest of the cast has a high standard to meet, but I’m hoping for the best.

That’s a wrap for this Toast to Cinema. Thanks for reading.

Hitchcock’s Fear of Falling

I love Alfred Hitchcock. I got excited when I heard there was to be a movie about him—Hitchcock, scheduled for 2013 release. I looked up everything I could on IMDb.com to see what it was all about. It stars Anthony Hopkins as the man himself, Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh, Jessica Biel as Vera Miles, and James D’Arcy as Anthony Perkins. From this information, I assume the story revolves around the making of Psycho (1960).

I suppose that’s appropriate, considering that film is most closely associated with the legendary director. Psycho is not my favorite Hitchcock film. It scared me the first time I saw it… and the second and third, and every time since. Hitch was a master of inducing the fight-or-flight reaction.

At first, I was a little disappointed that a film about Hitchcock wasn’t going to include anything about Vertigo (1958). That’s the motion picture that I most associate with the “real life” of Alfred Hitchcock. I’ve since come to grips with the idea that there needn’t be a movie about that bizarre story, because he told it as he made that picture.

Vertigo begins with detective Scottie Ferguson, played by Jimmy Stewart, losing his partner in a fall. The shock and horror of the incident leaves Scottie with a terrible case of acrophobia. This overwhelming fear of falling isn’t the driving force behind the story, though. This is a tale about obsession.

In the movie, Scottie becomes obsessed with a beautiful woman that he is hired to follow. He falls in love with the woman, played by Kim Novak, and to his horror, he witnesses her suicide. His fear of falling kept him from stopping her as she jumped to her death.

He later sees her walking about the streets of San Francisco, but she looks different. Her name, her hair, and clothes are different, but her face and voice are the same. He befriends her, and sets about changing her. He gradually makes her over into the woman who died before his eyes.

What’s incredible about the film is that Vertigo is Hitchcock’s own story. He had a favorite leading-lady—Grace Kelly. She was everything Hitch loved. She was beautiful, innocent, seductive, mysterious and talented. Kelly had starred in Dial M for Murder, Rear Window, and To Catch a Thief, which were huge hits for Hitchcock. A few years after making To Catch a Thief, Kelly retired from Hollywood to marry the prince of Monaco. She was lost to Hitchcock, and he couldn’t woo her back.

Watch Vertigo and you’ll see how Kim Novak’s character is completely styled to resemble Grace Kelly. Look at the character of Midge, played by Barbara Bel Geddes, and you’ll see Kelly’s signature hairstyle in her, too. In fact, nearly all of Hitchcock’s leading ladies after Vertigo are Kelly-ish in their appearance, including Eva Marie Saint, Janet Leigh, Vera Miles, and Tippi Hedren. He truly had a magnificent obsession.

I always wondered if this parade of dazzling blondes was his desperate attempt to reconstruct what Kelly produced effortlessly, or if it was a subliminal message to her. “I created you, and I can recreate you at will.” I’ll never know for sure, but wondering is half the fun of watching.

That’s a wrap for this Toast to Cinema. Thanks for reading!