The Transformers: 'Invisible' Acting
Could Doug Jones become a movie star? It seems unlikely. In a business in which name recognition is everything and your face is your fortune, Jones has worked steadily for ten years in high profile film and TV shows - including CSI, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Men in Black II, Adaptation and Hellboy - but it's doubtful one-in-twenty could point him out in a police line-up. You might know him better as Abe Sapien in Hellboy, Pencilhead in Mystery Men, or assorted aliens, clowns and contortionists... He was the spy morlock in The Time Machine, the Yeti in Monkeybone, and Auggie the Octopus in Rock Me, Baby.
As recently as last year he was accepting such decidedly unsexy roles as Number 7 Robot in The Benchwarmers and Tartutic #4 in Lady in the Water. But he also played a pivotal part in one of the best-reviewed films of last year - the Pale Man in Pan's Labyrinth - and now he's a graceful, gleaming chrome Silver Surfer in the Fantastic Four sequel: Rise of the Silver Surfer, though typically, it's difficult to say where Jones ends, and the make up and special effects begin. This isn't an actor who calls attention to himself, but an integral element of a larger design.
Does Jones' amorphous quality make him any less of an actor than, say, Bruce Willis, or Tom Cruise? More to the point, does his anonymity? We pay so much lip service to actors' ability to transform themselves, yet most movie stars adopt the same persona in film after film, and that's just how we like them.
Of course we applaud them when they break from type, too, but there's a paradox here. When an established star is involved, the more complete the transformation, the more aware we are of the artifice. If it's a comedy (with Eddie Murphy doing multiple roles, or Alec Guinness) the actor's versatility becomes a kind of universal in-joke.
In a serious drama, theoretically filmmakers want us to forget the work that goes into a movie, but on some level it boosts the credibility of a project if an audience is aware that, for instance, in real life Charlize Theron looks nothing like the serial killer Aileen Wuornos she played in Monster, or that Robert De Niro gained 60 lbs to play the middle aged Jake La Motta in Raging Bull.
If an actor starves himself in the interests of authenticity - think of Tom Hanks (Cast Away), Adrien Brody (The Pianist) and Christian Bale (The Machinist) - their labours are always well publicized and awards are often forthcoming. This is a straightforward measure of great acting, after all: extreme physical exertion. No pain, no gain - as Jane Fonda used to say. But can we really separate the actor from the role? Do we admire the realism, or the actor's dedication to his process?
It will be interesting to see how the advance of digital effects impacts on what we understand to be great acting. At a time when Celine Dion can sing a duet with Elvis Presley on prime time, Gerald Butler can battle it out with 'uber immortals' and a reanimated Laurence Olivier can co-star with Jude Law, will authenticity come to seem out-moded, or more important than ever? Perhaps in the virtual Hollywood of tomorrow, Doug Jones' protean skills - his delicate and balletic body language - will be held in greater esteem than the earnest and self-important breast-beating of today's method men.
10 Fantastic 'Unrecognised' Performances
Faun/Pale Man, Pan's Labyrinth: Doug Jones
Not one, but two indelible performances in the same movie. Jones' wheedling faun, with his curved ram's horns and goatish legs is dark and mysterious and easily the most intriguing element in Del Toro's anti-fascist fantasy. The blank, baby-eating Pale Man, with hands in his palms, is an unforgettable creature of nightmares.
The Phantom of the Opera: Lon Chaney
Silent film star Chaney was called 'the man of a thousand faces'. He was the son of a deaf-mute couple and had learned to express himself through pantomime. A master of make up, he played so many disfigured monsters and anti-heroes audiences weren't sure what he really looked like. His interpretation of the phantom in 1925 still carries a charge.
Cowardly Lion, The Wizard of Oz: Bert Lahr
A star in vaudeville and burlesque, Irving Lahrheim never made much impression in the movies except for the one time he dressed up as a moth-eaten lion with a curly mane, whiskers, and a red bow on top. The Cowardly Lion released whatever inhibitions and neuroses Lahr may have had and indulge them in their most playful form. Generations of kids have loved every minute.
Davy Jones, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest: Bill Nighy
The great bonus in the trilogy was the arrival at the halfway mark of Davy Jones. Bill Nighy is unrecognizable behind a computer generated cephalopod face and a Scottish accent. It takes state of the art technology and a wicked imagination to combine for such a creature, and then an inspired showman to conceive of Davy playing an organ in the bowels of the Flying Dutchman with the tentacles that make up his 'beard'.
Monster, Frankenstein: Boris Karloff
Karloff - aka William Henry Pratt - was a soft-spoken Englishman who might have played butlers and diplomats all his life, except that director James Whale rejected the idea of Bela Lugosi playing Frankenstein's monster and offered it to Karloff instead. Flat, square head; big, clunky boots and oversize suit. The look owes virtually nothing to Mary Shelley, and everything to make up man Jack Pierce. But it's Karloff's gentle touch which makes this such an iconic character; all the more remarkable for the dated emoting of the film's supposed leads.
Gollum, The Lord Of The Rings: Andy Serkis
For all its astonishing epic range - and those battalions of orcs - it was the whimpering, festering fall of Gollum to the power of the ring that held the trilogy together. Andy Serkis was barely on camera, but it was obvious that this was no computer-generated creature: Gollum had a a brain and a heart, too, once upon a time...
The beast, La belle et la bete: Jean Marais
Jean Cocteau's lover, Jean Marais, actually plays three roles here, but it's only as the beast that he seems to come to life. An elegant furball on two legs, with fangs and ruffles and finery, he's a cuddly feline with a bad temper. Greta Garbo is supposed to have remarked, after his transformation into the prince, 'Give me back my beast!'
Marv, Sin City: Mickey Rourke
It's sort of true that you can recognise Mickey Rourke in the two-bit hood, Marv. More than you might in Animal Factory, for instance, or indeed, if you had the misfortune to run into the real Mickey in the street these days - a broken, waxy shell of the charismatic hotshot from the early 80s. Damn it, Marv is how Mickey should look: a big, knuckle-headed lupine brute with a tender drawl and luminous bandages. In black and white to boot.
The Invisible Man: Claude Rains
Well into his 40s, Claude Rains made his screen debut at the behest of Frankenstein director James Whale, who appreciated his cultivated voice. As the invisible man, Rains is on screen the whole movie, and then again, he isn't. Most of the time he's either wrapped under layers of bandages, dark glasses, a hat and coat. Or he's negative space, playing merry hell with the props, making us see more than we believe possible.
Darth Vader, Star Wars: David Prowse and James Earl Jones
'Someone's snoring in there,' my kid observed, the first time he made the acquaintance of Darth. But like almost all kids, it seems, he soon succumbed to the dark lord's charms. It was a Brit, weight-lifting champion David Prowse, who strode through the pictures, six foot seven inches tall and black as thunder. But African-American theatre actor James Earl Jones talked the talk. They made a great double act.
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