5 Actors Who Have One Very Specific Achilles Heel
Some great actors have incredible capacities to play different characters. Tom Hardy has evolved through so many moustaches and accents that he's changing how we define biology. And some actors do best when they stick to their wheelhouse: Jack Nicholson has mastered almost thirty different variations of Jack Nicholson, and we live in a better world because of it. We should applaud all actors for taking on roles and nailing them. But sometimes, actors try out roles so absurdly against their strengths, and whiff them so hard, that it defies belief. Here are five actors who deserve a moment of silence for their dearly departed dignity.
Keanu Reeves Crashes And Burns In Period Pieces
Keanu Reeves is a better actor than GIFs give him credit for, as long as he's cast in the right, semi-detached role. For example, he can play a blank-eyed murder-savant in John Wick like nobody's business, and he can embody a blank-eyed savior of humanity in The Matrix to a T. He excels in the right role, which makes it all the more painful when he tried to get outside of it. The main thing that he absolutely, totally cannot do? Historical roles.
Damn, that is worse than we ever imagined.
Anything before the 20th century turns Keanu Reeves into a hopeless slab of wood scrabbling for an accent. There was a time in 1990s Hollywood when Shakespeare adaptations were all the rage; basically, it was a great time for an up-and-coming star to shore up some "serious actor" cred by appearing in whatever Kenneth Branagh was doing at the time. Reeves tried to get in on that in Much Ado About Nothing with ... aggressively terrible results. Here's him attempting a sinister, angry monologue:
A canker in a hedge indeed, Ted.
Shakespeare is all about emoting; it was written for the stage, and requires an ability to project feelings and nuance through stilted language. Frankly, even modern English frequently sounds stilted coming from Reeves, let alone this. And it really doesn't help that he completely stopped even attempting the accent at 1:10 in that clip. Go on, listen to it again. They couldn't have tried for another take? Which raises a worse possibility: They did try over and over again to get a better take, and at a certain point each time, the part of Reeves' brain that controls his accents went from "Shakespearean" to "Can I get medium fries, please?"
But it's not just Shakespeare. Transport Reeves out of the comforting confines of the turn of the millennium, and he inherits all of the dramatic chops of a waffle. In the otherwise largely solid Francis Ford Coppola's Bram Stoker's Dracula, a terrible decision was made to put him up against Gary Oldman, and not just any Gary Oldman -- weird Transylvanian Gary Oldman:
Oldman's reaction at 1:18 is not part of the character. It's just him responding to Reeves' piss-poor accent. And frankly, he may have deserved it.
And then there was his small but distracting role in Dangerous Liaisons, where he was up against two of the greatest actors of their generation. We'll just leave this right here:
Kevin Costner Keeps Trying To Be An Action Star
Liam Neeson has a lot to answer for. The surprising success of the Taken series has made a lot of people that look like your Dad feel that they should give action movies a shot. After all, if Oskar Schindler could step into a wildly xenophobic French thriller and bust some skulls to the tune of almost a billion dollars, why couldn't someone else?
This is not a bad CGI rendering of Travolta. He has just physically entered the Uncanny Valley.
Kevin Costner was one of those actors, and absolutely should not have been. I'm not sure if he has handlers of some kind filtering out the worst ideas in the world from arriving on his desk, but if so, they're asleep at the wheel, and Costner is grinning from ear to ear as he reads that he's going to be able to run AND carry a gun in this one.
The sheer idea of Costner as an action star, particularly at this later phase of his career, is mind-boggling. There are few less threatening people in the world than the guy who built a baseball field in Iowa so he could talk to his dead father. He built his early career out of being equal parts down-home American good guy who loves the national pastime, and slightly roguish American good guy who loves the national pastime.
Costner and baseball, the peanut butter and chocolate of Middle America.
And then there's this, from 3 Days To Kill:
He lurches in a fight scene like what he is: a 59-year-old man attempting to look mysterious, but in actuality looking like the Xanax is kicking in.
It would also be easy to blame this on subpar European production, but he also recently starred in Criminal, a movie so terrible that even watching it for free seems like something that should be reserved as punishment for mass murderers and Kevin Costner's agent. He basically tries to pull a Forrest Gump as a violent felon, which doesn't even include the main plot in which he has Ryan Reynolds' dead memories implanted so he can figure out some bullshit. Anyway, here's Costner being tough:
It's not Costner's fault that he's not Liam Neeson. But for god's sake, if you want to make someone look intimidating, don't put him in a shot that is 90 percent neck roll:
Tom Hanks Can't Play An Upper-Class Snob
Tom Hanks can do a lot of things well -- like, for example, charm the pants off all of America for decades. Part of that has to do with his uncanny ability to project an air of the Everyman. He's been called the new Jimmy Stewart, such is his ability to connect with audiences on a deep emotional level. Deep down, we are all Tom Hanks. Even you. EVEN YOU.
Hanks is the heir apparent to this, the natural expression of the Common Man.
Hanks plays an ordinary guy like nobody's business. It's what's made him the star he is, whether he's playing an ordinary guy who dresses as a woman for cheaper rent, an ordinary guy who deals with another toy muscling in on his turf, or an ordinary astronaut dealing with some tough, everyday decisions.
I am like you, audience member.
He does this incredibly well, even though he's a multiple-Oscar-winning multimillionaire who has been in the upper echelon of society for most of his life. And this isn't a knock against Hanks; he's an actor, he's supposed to play people that aren't exactly like him. By all accounts, he even seems to be a pretty cool dude. And if he invited me to one of his barbecues, it'd be cool. Just a thought, Tom.
Strangely, the thing that he really can't play is what's closest to him, a super rich guy:
In the above clip from the 1985 movie Volunteers, Hanks just can't pull off being a snobby Yale graduate, not even while wearing a white dinner jacket (the universal sign for a person who COULD BUY AND SELL YOU, STAN).
The guy in the red hat is Stan.
Maybe an actor who didn't project geniality from every pore could, but as it is, Hanks (not particularly known as a master of accents) is overloaded by an over-the-top Mid-Atlantic accent. It's like that absurd Italian accent Brad Pitt pulls in Inglourious Basterds, except that that's not the joke. The joke is that this guy just doesn't like poor people. Or foreign people. Or respect women.
Also, in this film, Hanks' father is played by George Plimpton, first editor of The Paris Review and living embodiment of East Coast snobbery. If they thought it would boost Hanks' characterization as an Ivy League blue blood, that's about on par with "well, if we put this unicorn next to a donkey, it'll make the donkey look fancier."
The lack of resemblance between Hanks and Plimpton is not part of the comedy.
A different, snobbier actor, like Chevy Chase or James Spader, could have pulled it off, especially for a National Lampoon-style film. But for the record, it wasn't a one-off. Hanks couldn't handle it in Bonfire Of The Vanities either:
"Ah, yes. Wealth. Umm, money. Yes. Yes to the money. Yes. Um."
Tyler Perry Just Isn't A Gritty Cop
First off, fast-forward this clip to about 1:05:
That's Tyler Perry. He is a man of many talents. He's one of the most popular playwrights of the modern age, a job title that generally doesn't have "popular" attached to it. He found success in a medium that many think has gone the way of the candle-maker and the guy who made those wheels that old-timey children ran alongside.
But he's also an incredibly successful filmmaker; directing, writing, producing, and starring in his own series of hit films. He's basically a one-man movie machine, churning out films that consistently make money and have a devoted fan base. He's also Madea:
Not a figure of Greek mythology, surprisingly.
So, just to be absolutely clear, that's Tyler Perry. And that's Tyler Perry, struggling to get conviction into his voice as he bellows, "I want a name!"
At this point in his career, Perry had literally never starred in a movie that he didn't have some behind-the-scenes role in as well. His only other acting role, outside of his own films, was a brief cameo in JJ Abrams' Star Trek, as The Admiral Of Space:
No further commentary.
But then, bewilderingly, he thought the best role he could jump-off a mainstream career from would be ... a grim, tough-as-nails cop? He must have truly, sincerely thought that audiences who loved him in slapstick comedies about the importance of families wanted to watch him battle it out with a serial killer played by Jack from Lost.
Between the gun barrel and his biceps, this image has no sense of proportion.
And this isn't a tossed-off generic cop he's playing; the last time this character was on screen, he was being played by Morgan Freeman. There's a certain difference in gravitas there. It took a lot of misguided confidence for Perry to think that audiences looked at him and thought, Hmm, this seems like the young version of the Voice Of God.
It seems almost unfair to bring up that the role was intended for Idris Elba, an actor known to be a little more intimidating-looking than this:
Vince Vaughn Can't Be (The Right Kind Of) Creepy
A crucial element of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho that is too often overlooked is that, when the film was made, Anthony Perkins was pretty much seen as a soft, gentle little guy. He had even made a number of light pop albums. Part of the shock of the reveal of the movie is this friendly-looking young man being, well, psycho.
He's the kind of guy you take home to mom. Until he starts pretending to be mom.
He looks so kind and boyish, not the guy you would ever expect to slash the hell out of a blonde in a shower.
And then there's Vince Vaughn:
No sane person would ever wear that shirt.
Jesus, he looks ready to tear the cameraman apart, let alone an unwary person seeking a motel room for the night. In Gus Van Sant's remake of Hitchcock's classic, Vaughn basically looks like a murderer from the get-go. The film could have been a great examination of a classic, except that the main character is already a hulking giant with a sinister smile; there's no sensitivity or gentleness to his characterization. Just watch the creep:
Vaughn can definitely pull off creepy, when he's being a weird bully or a humorous sex addict, but he can't make it seem surprising that he might be a crazy person. It doesn't help that he's weirdly sexualized in Van Sant's Psycho, with plenty of porn tapes in the background and some queasy masturbation:
"IT'S NECESSARY FOR THE PLOT!" -- Gus Van Sant, probably.
And it couldn't have been an attempt to subvert the original role, either; it's nearly a shot-for-shot remake, with Anne Heche, Viggo Mortensen, and Julianne Moore all playing it straight and successfully. Just not the linchpin of the movie, who looks like he's ready to start stabbing at any moment.
The turtleneck of psychosis.
Nathan Kamal lives in Oregon and writes. He co-founded Asymmetry Fiction for all your fiction needs.
Also follow us on Facebook, Old Bean.