Saturday, November 22, 2014

What's Your Favorite Against-Type Performance?

Different looks good on them.

Movie stars tend to get typecast pretty quickly -- once we (or, more accurately, Hollywood executives) see them do something well, we can only imagine them doing that same thing over and over. Every once in a while, though, an actor is given the chance to break out and do something different. Sometimes it's great. Sometimes it's terrible. Sometimes it's terrible but hailed as great just because we're seeing them in a new way.

So what are your favorite performances by actors playing against type? Is there a current actor you'd like to see tackle a new kind of role? Who and what?

60 comments:

  1. The first time that comes to mind is Adam Sandler in Punch Drunk Love. (call me Mr Obvious)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Interesting topic because it comes down to a person's enjoyment of said actors' cast-against-type performance in a movie. Charlize Theron was great as the grotesque murderer in "Monster" and Stallone was quite good in "Copland" as a meek small-town cop, but I didn't really enjoy those movies or those performances that much. That said:

    -THE KING OF MARVIN GARDENS (1972) & FIVE EASY PIECES (1970): You have to go back to his early 70's roles to see Jack Nicholson (a) at the top of his game and (b) going completely against type by going meek and shy. Bruce Dern and Nicholson flipping against type in "Marvin Gardens" both works against type for both men and benefits the movie.

    -SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE (1978): Gene Hackman proved he could do comedy with Mel Brooks, and those chops helped him score some more laughs in this slapsticky take on super villain Lex Luthor. Ditto for Ned Beatty, who could clown here as well as he played uber-dramatic roles in "Deliverance" and "Network."

    -LOST IN TRANSLATION (2003): Even in his Wes Anderson roles there's a bit of the comedic lunacy of Bill Murray still on display, albeit buried and subdued. His work for Sofia Coppola was 100% dramatic and irony-free though, and it's frankly something I didn't know Murray could pull off because the last time he tried in 1984's "The Razor's Edge" (overshadowed by this tiny FX-driven comedy about busting ghosts, what was it called?) he seemed to be trying too hard and the movie suffered because of it. One of the best comedian-does-straight-drama performances I've seen.

    -AWAKENINGS (1990) & WHAT DREAMS MAY COME (1998): Robin Williams' best dramatic roles in which his manic energy wasn't repressed as much as channeled personal demons turned into genuine pathos for character quirks that didn't come across as showy.

    -THE USUAL SUSPECTS (1995): Kevin Spacey got only one chance at playing meek, weakling and under-the-thumb-of-the-man nobody in Bryan Singer's breakout movie. The final 5-minutes of the movie both upends that persona (to great effect for the movie's narrative, not as a cheap screenwriting stunt) and singularly gives Spacey the rest of his career. As a cast-against-type role that's convincing we'll always have Verbal, though Spacey tried again in 2000's "Pay It Forward" and failed.

    -THUNDERBOLT AND LIGHTFOOT (1974) & HONKYTONK MAN (1982): It's really hard to buy Clint Eastwood as a regular guy who's scared, not in control and out of his element (see "Play Misty For Me" to watch him fail at trying to convey those things), but in this two movies he pulls those feats rather convincingly. Neither is a great flick, but to me they're fascinating extensions of Clint's range beyond the bad-ass persona that's cemented in everybody's mind.

    -DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944): Who knew Steve Douglas could be such a hard-boiled bastard? Fred MacMurray will always be to me the father in "My Three Sons," and that image only makes his turn in this Billy Wilder noir all the more fun to watch.

    -A FACE IN THE CROWD (1957): See above, except replace Andy Griffith and his Mayberry performance for Fred's.

    -QUIZ SHOW (1995): The final act of the movie is when the beauty of Ralph Fiennes' performance as Charles Van Doren comes into focus, as the wall of self-confidence and smarmy gives way to the realization of what he's done to his and his family's name. Coming right on the heels of Fiennes' portrayal of a Nazi bastard in "Schindler's List" only makes his performance here all the more remarkable.

    -BEING THERE (1979): As a diehard "Pink Panther" series fan it's remarkable to watch Peter Sellers pull off the feat of becoming the straight man in a comedy but still getting laughs from saying/doing so little compared with his co-stars.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oops, forgot one.

      -THE DARK KNIGHT (2008):. Heath Ledger. Joker. 'Nuff said.

      Delete
    2. J.M. - you should see how slimy Fred MacMurray gets in The Apartment.

      Delete
    3. Another personal opinion: The Apartment fucking sucks. Billy Wilder fucking sucks. Some Like it Hot fucking sucks. Witness for the Prosecution is one of the worst fucking movies I've ever seen.

      Delete
    4. Billy Wilder was great in Human Centipede 2, though.

      Delete
    5. Sunset Boulevard is great, though.

      Delete
    6. Did Billy Wilder personally come to your house and kicked your dog in the nuts? :-P

      Delete
    7. For real, I've never seen so much hate for someone so good, lol. Well unrelated to the topic at hand, but I recommend checking out The Lost Weekend and Double Indemnity if you've never seen them, manwithpetgull.

      Delete
    8. The only reason Yahweh created Adolf Hitler was to exterminate Billy Wilder, and Ol' Ade fucked it up royal. Defending Billy Wilder is like defending colon cancer. I also feel it's important to tell you how important to me it is that Christopher Nolan gets sexually assaulted by lepers.

      Delete
    9. Manwithpetgull, you are a very cool dude. And I hate being this person again. I don't want to gain the reputation as the downer or person with no sense of humour. Because I struggle with a mental illness I have impulse control problems, and my Gryffindor qualities of speaking too passionately with no filter on top of that doesn't always make a good combination. So I say this with a respect for you and just a desire to keep comments a bit more friendly. I feel it is completely fine to dislike Billy Wilder's films. I love them, but if other people hate them I'd like to here why and maybe then we can have a discussion about it. What I don't like is seeing something shot down because it 'fucking sucks' and that is all. Also that someone is wrong in capital letters doesn't really do much, why not tell them why you like it instead of bashing them for their difference of opinion? As for the Hitler exterminating comment and also talking about the colon cancer is incredibly insensitive. And wishing someone to be sexually assaulted? I get that this could be a joke. But I really don't like these jokes. I'd love to hear a difference of opinion about the Billy Wilder movies you don't like. I'd love to hear why you like Monkey Business, I like it as well. I just hate seeing others torn down because of their love of something as well as some of the incredibly negative things you said. Do you understand where I'm coming from here? That maybe can we get into discussions rather than tearing down? I just hope you don't mind my thoughts here and that you might take them on board as I love having all types of opinions represented.

      Delete
    10. Why I don't like Billy Wilder movies doesn't matter. No opinion anyone has ever had about a movie has been important.

      Delete
    11. If you believe that, why are you on a movie website, reading opinions on films and commenting about your opinions on films? Come on please help me out here a bit and just think for a bit. I don't know if you're going through something difficult right now because that's how my brain sounded when I was. So if you want to talk I can lend an ear. My twitter is @GabbyFerro01.

      Delete
    12. Gabby, I appreciate that you're a good person; so I'm not going to go any farther with this conversation, since it will only be me needlessly being a bigger and bigger asshole.

      Delete
    13. Okay, fair enough. But whether or not you care about people's opinions on films, I hope you still care about the people on this site. Because I certainly do and I don't like seeing their opinions being dismissed in a somewhat aggressive manner. I'm overprotective of people I like and I know I shouldn't be but that's just who I am.

      Delete
    14. If somebody on the internet says something you don't agree with, it's best to just ignore them.

      Delete
    15. Room 237 is a great movie about how little of an impact genuinely great art actually has on people's lives.

      Delete
    16. Ignoring a simple disagreement is one thing. Ignoring someone being epically rude with their comments, that's tougher to just dismiss.

      Delete
    17. John, you would be flabbergasted if you could understand how little I care about what you think.

      Delete
    18. Can we be done now? Thanks everyone.

      Delete
    19. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
    20. I want to nominate Gabby Ferro as the most awesome person on the internet. Your calm demeanor and empathy in the face of total dickishness is really heartwarming.

      Delete
  3. Henry Fonda in Once Upon a Time in the West has to be one of the best against type casting choices ever. Also, Jim Carrey in The Truman Show and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society and Good Will Hunting.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Bruce Willis in 'Death Becomes Her'. His henpecked undertaker, Ernest Menville, made forget there was ever a John McClane. There was no 'Yipee-ki-ay, motherfucker' in sight. Even if there were, Ernest Menvile would've said it like this: 'Um, yippee-ki-um-ay, morhereffer'.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Because it came up in a previous column. I will vote for Tom cruise. Usually I find him not very likeable. A bit smug and slightly annoying. In Jack Reacher I thought he played against type and was none of the above. Also the same can be said for All you need is kill. Aka Edge of tomorrow . Im becoming quite the Tom Cruise Appologist

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Tom Cruise in Magnolia remains my favorite of his roles.

      Delete
  6. Marlon Wayans in Requiem for a Dream.

    Mostly known for doing moronic comedies (Don't Be a Menace, White Chicks, Little Man) with his brother Shawn, seeing him play a haunted drug addict really shines through on how things could've been if he had followed a different career path like other comedic actors alternating between that and drama, but alas, we went back to seeing dumb crap from him after that (Dungeons and Dragons, G.I. Joe, A Haunted House 1 & 2).

    ReplyDelete
  7. Spoiler warning:


    Kurt Russell's turn at the end of Death Proof.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Steve Martin in The Spanish Prisoner and Albert Brooks in Drive. Both memorable villains, both surprisingly dark turns from their respective performers. Honorable mention to Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson for being the only good thing about Be Cool (he wasn't a movie star yet, but his persona was still pretty well established).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Good call on the Rock's role in Be Cool--he played a gay bouncer who wanted to be a singer, and he was funny too. He also did another distinctive change of pace role in the 2010 dark thriller Faster, in which he plays (for him) a rare straight-up bad guy role---he's actually pretty scary at times in it,too, plus it's not a bad movie, either.

      Another notable change of pace role that's been overlooked some is John Cusack's turn as a racist accused killer in Lee Daniels' 2011 Southern gothic drama The Paperboy----even though JC's always tried to go against type for most of his career, this was still quite an eye-opener for me,having been a longtime Cusack fan. It's also a good but underrated film, and frankly, pretty damn hard to watch at times. He also went against type in The Butler by playing Richard Nixon--I just knew he was gonna play John Kennedy, but I was surprised how he actually switched it up there, which was interesting.

      Delete
  9. Chris Evans' Captain America is his most iconic role, but at first it was very out-of-type for him.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I feel like there's a bunch better than this....but all I can think of is Leo in Django Unchained.

    ReplyDelete
  11. I'm really looking forward to Steve Carell in Foxcatcher... Nose and all!

    ReplyDelete
  12. I'm looking forward to Patrick Stewart going all crazy skinhead in Jeremy Saulniers' Green Room next year. High hopes because Blue Ruin is my shit

    ReplyDelete
  13. well i never thought of peter weller as a robot cop before robocop...

    ReplyDelete
  14. Looking over the comments, I immediately noticed that one female performance was mentioned in passing, and all other mentions were male performances. That's not a criticism of the comments. I think the comments are primarily reflective of the reality of differences in role availability and selection among prominent male and female movie actors as they move through the various stages of their careers. Meryl Streep avoided cast-typing with a series of roles from 1989 to 1994 which got her out of the "serious drama" shell she was stuck in for most of her career up to that point. So although she's been great in a number of different types of roles, none can be said to have been "against type", because she avoided being typed. Many other actresses who have been cast-typed have been good or fine in against-type roles, but I'm stuck trying to think of a few great against-type female performances. The only one I can think of in all sincerity (and it took me a while) is Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor in "Terminator 2". Less seriously, Jennifer Connelly as Josie McClellan in "Career Opportunities" (she's not sad, and other reasons). Some male performances not mentioned: Dustin Hoffman in "Tootsie", Sean Penn in "Carlito's Way", and Matt Damon in "The Informant!"

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ryan, I didn't overlook the ladies. I gave it serious thought, but in the end the few against-type female performances I could think of (like Helen Mirren in "Shadowboxer," for example) just weren't my personal favorites. You're right that women roles are few and actresses get easily typecast leading to fewer chances to play against type, and that's a damn shame. Still, gotta be true to myself and my F-head brethren and list what I like and not throw a female performance just for PC's sake. You make a great, sad point though.

      Delete
    2. I agree Ryan. I think that it is very sad that there aren't very many women mentioned in these comments. I also agree with J.M though you can't have them there for PC's sake. But I do think at the same time it is a comment on our culture the fact that the representation of women on subjects like this just feels normal and otherwise it would be PC. It is a very hard issue. Hopefully this will change more over time as we see more women writing and directing ect.

      Delete
    3. I think we all agree.

      Delete
    4. One performance by an actress that went against type (for her,anyway) is Sandra Bullock' in the 1999 film Force Of Nature playing a free spirit who causes no end of trouble for Ben Affleck's straight-laced character. It's a different role for her because she dosen't play the good dependable woman for a change----her character's unpredictable, troubled,, and seems to attract trouble simply by existing. The movie's really good, and very underrated,too---it's not your typical rom-com in a lot of ways, which is why I liked it.

      Delete
  15. Cary Grant is usually such a smooth operator, it's a treat to see him play a bumbling scientist in Bringing Up Baby.

    Grant and director Howard Hawks tried this again later in Monkey Business - it did not turn out well, but watch it anyway for Marilyn Monroe.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ex-fucking-scuse me? Monkey Business didn't work out well?? WRONG

      Delete
  16. I agree with most of the aforementioned answers, especially Cruise in Edge of Tomorrow and Chris Evans as Captain America; there are some actors, Cruise (Tropic Thunder), The Rock (Southland Tales, Be Cool), Robin Williams (One Hour Photo, Insomnia, World's Greatest Dad), Elijah Wood (everything after Sin City), and Schwarzenegger (half his movies), who seem to have made a second career out of playing "against type."

    Personal picks not previously mentioned by other commenters ITT: DeNiro in The King of Comedy, David Carradine as a tranny mommy in Sonny Boy

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. ...And DeNiro and Bill Murray in "Mad Dog and Glory"! DeNiro basically playing how he really is and looks and Murray playing a gangster.

      Delete
  17. I know Owen Wilson's acting takes a lot of crap(rightfully), but I think he gave one of his best(and unusual) performances in "The Minus Man".

    ReplyDelete
  18. Maybe not my favorite b,ut Richard Pryor's brief appearance in "Lost Highway" comes to mind. Especially seeing his name in the opening credits for the first time and being like "what the hell?"

    ReplyDelete
  19. My #1 hasn't happened - I'm still waiting for Tom "take no risks" Hanks to do it.

    I loved Phillip Seymour Hoffman as the villain in "MI3" - He was ice cold and I loved it.

    I didn't much care for the film, but I was really impressed with Charlize Theron in "Monster" playing against type given the "sex-symbol" status she had established at the time. That can also be said for Julie Andrews in "S.O.B", Salma Hayek in "Frida".

    I love Gary Oldman in "True Romance", no one saw that coming.

    I also have to mention my love for Bruce becoming John McClane. Having been a fan of Moonlighting, Blind Date and Sunset before this - talk about against type?! NO ONE saw that happening!

    I think there should be attention paid to the great Jean Seberg, who played against type in almost every role after Breathless because that's all she was given. If you aren't familiar with her life, see or read "From the Journals of Jean Seberg" - Completely F-ed up what happened to her.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wow, I also have to mention that I had not read any of the comments about the lack of women represented. Amazing because my comment was honestly the first things that came to mind with no thought of gender.

      Delete
    2. Seberg was playing against type every time she was alive... OH!!!

      Delete
    3. Cuz she killed herself, get it??

      Delete
    4. Damn - SPOILER!

      Oooooh. Ouch :)

      Delete
  20. Shocked no one has mentioned Jimmy being a creep in Rear Window and Vertigo. Also equally great in the lesser talked-about The Naked Spur. He's cinema's most cuddly sociopath.

    Hayworth is pretty fun in The Lady From Shanghai as well.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Samual Jackson in Django Unchained.

    ReplyDelete