Yesterday, there was almost an audible gasp heard around the world as news of the death of actor Robin Williams made its way through news stations. I found out about his death while at my actor survival gig. Literally just twenty-four hours before I found out, I was talking to a co-worker about The Birdcage, and mentioned that it is one of my favorite movies: top three. I mentioned that it was like watching a masterclass in comic timing. Fast forward to a day later, and the person who helped teach that very masterclass on film was gone. Like many of my friends and colleagues in the industry, this celebrity loss seems to be much more than that. It’s as if parts of our hearts are ripped out because Robin Williams had such a monumental impact on us. Whether he was part of our childhoods with movies like Aladdin and Mrs. Doubtfire, part of our pubescent years with Dead Poet’s Society and Hook, or part of our adult-hoods with The Birdcage or Good Will Hunting, we all have different points of reference for Williams. He was part of my parent’s generation, and they knew of that shining light from his start on Happy Days and Mork & Mindy and through his stand-up. His slew of movies and television credits top the 100 mark, he was everywhere. I think it is safe to say, that no single actor’s work has had as great an impact on me as Robin Williams’ has from a human aspect. He made me feel deep emotions of light and dark. Like many, I’ve watched him be funny and serious, sometimes in the same moment. He made us feel something deep inside ourselves. He made that laugh that may have stayed hidden burst out, he made the tears that we were too afraid to show anyone, flow like a river. Robin Williams suffered from depression, and what that was like for him, we will never know. Rather than speculate and make generalizations about why and how he died, all I will say is that it’s tragic. Depression is tragic, suicide the same. That being said, those two things do not change the fact that Williams made us feel what most actors try to all their lives: He made us feel human.
I believe in destiny. There must be a reason that I am as I am. There must be.–Robin Williams
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
Ever since the birth of drama, actors have worn costumes. In Shakespeare’s day, men dressed in drag and played women. Today, Superman vs. Batman director, Zach Snyder, released the first photo of actor Ben Affleck donning the famous bat suit. Lots of actors have played Batman. Most recently, Christian Bale played the dark knight in the Christopher Nolan films. George Clooney played the caped crusader in the now infamous box-office bomb Batman & Robin. Clooney was also famous for pointing out that the costume for his version had nipples on it. Former heartthrobs Val Kilmer and Michael Keaton also tried to save Gotham City from disaster. So, what makes Ben Affleck so different? Why are people freaking out? Is it is his famous Boston accent? Is it that Affleck playing the famous comic book hero can make a great hashtag? #Batffleck
I have a theory. In theater, when a play is originated, it has the actors who created those roles. Oftentimes, they are so iconic that it is unfathomable that other actors could do the role justice. Take Marlon Brando in Tennessee Willilams’ A Streetcar Named Desire for example. Brando took the role which he originated in Stanley Kowalski, and brought him to the big screen. Since it premiered in 1947, dozens of actors have portrayed Brando’s iconic role on stage ( i.e. Gary Sinise, Aidan Quinn, Blair Underwood, & John C. Riley) and film (Treat Williams in 1984 and Alec Baldwin in 1995 made for TV adaptations.) However, the only actor that has become synonymous with the famous “STELLA!!” line has been Brando. All of the other actors could have done damn fine jobs in the role, but it was overshadowed by one performance.
In the case of the Batman character and its portrayal on film, I think it comes down to one key point at the present moment. The current cinematic landscape has recently become over-saturated with the character–and not just Batman, Spider-man and Superman as well. Many actors have played those roles on film. There have been SO many versions, sequels and “reboots” that I think as an audience, we’re getting a little sick of the same thing over and over. Unlike the theater, where people are used to seeing different actors play the same roles in various productions, film forever encapsulates a particular character. This might make it hard for an audience to believe several different actors playing the same character. It’s been done time and time again, and it’s not all bad; it does beg the question as to whether or not so many adaptations are needed so soon after each other. Granted, they are money-makers, but I think we are sacrificing quality of the work for quantity of sales and box-office. But who knows? Batffleck’s portrayal might be the best one yet. We’ll just have to wait and see. For now, he’s just an actor wearing a costume. Oh, Did you see those biceps? Good work Ben Affleck. Good work.
Improvisation has always been an essential tool for an actor whether you are in a comedy or a drama. Known for films that only have an outline instead of a set script, Christopher Guest has helped revolutionize the movie-going experience with the “mockumentary” film. Movies like Best in Show, A Mighty Wind, and Waiting for Guffman, all use a core group of actors known for their improvisational skills. Actors like Bob Balaban, Michael McKean, Harry Shearer, Eugene Levy, Parker Posey, Jane Lynch, Jennifer Coolidge, Fred Willard, and even Christopher Guest himself, all have made regular appearances in these films. Their improvisations skills have been put to use in both comedic and dramatic films. One of the most interesting films of Christopher Guest’s is For Your Consideration. Ironically, there was Oscar buzz for Catherine O’Hara’s performance in which she plays an actress vying for an statue of her own. Honestly, I think this movie SHOULD have gotten an Oscar for O’Hara and the movie itself. Catherine O’Hara’s abilities as an actor of both dramatic and comedic caliber are so high that even the apparent face-lift that her character, Marilyn Hack, has, was not done with use of makeup or special effects. As an actor, she had the ability to use her physicality and enhance the performance in an honest way. Take a look at the clip:
Put this DVD in your queue and watch the pure genius of the cast as they improvise their way through one of the funniest films to parody the film industry. There is more truth to this comedy about drama than in actual documentaries about the industry. I would love to be in a movie like the ones that Christopher Guest produces and directs. I think they are intelligent, funny and pure entertainment. I love seeing skilled actors at work.