I went to see a movie last night, which shall remain nameless to avoid spoilers, and an actor I've always enjoyed as an all around good guy, sweet, often starring as a bit of a schmuck at the beginning of a film, only to come out top dog without having compromised his good guy qualities, surprised me by playing a bad guy. I realized, when it happened, that I actually feel a little bit deceived and like I've been let down when a favorite "good guy" actor or actress turns around and does something like that. I realize that's not fair, but that's the way it is.
Andrew, at Strange Pegs posted about the pigeon-holing of actors a few weeks ago on his blog, with a post titled "Harrison Ford and the Raw Deal," which you can access by clicking on his blog name above. He said this occurred because the audience made it so. I agree with him that we pigeonhole favorites in the roles we like to see them in, and commented such. I imagine it's hard for actors to be stuck in certain types of roles, because, to my mind, it must be more fun to play all different types of characters. Otherwise, acting would get stale, would it not? If you're just playing the same role over and over again, what's the point? You may as well turn to TV and play the same guy once per week! When actors quit a TV series, they often indicate it is partially because they want to explore other characters. Their character has become a bore.
Some of my favorite actors have played bad guys. Kevin Bacon comes to mind immediately, because he plays villainous or unsympathetic characters well, despite the fact that he'll always be Ren to me (Footloose). Jeff Bridges, Harrison Ford, Sigourney Weaver, Kiefer Sutherland, Danny Glover, and others have all gone from beloved to bad at some point in time.
I started thinking about this again when I read Michael J. Fox's book Always Looking Up: The Adventures of an Incurable Optimist about a week ago, and he mentioned a list that exists for companies to buy. This list, which is updated annually, uses a scoring system to determine who the most trusted celebrities are. Companies can purchase this list to determine who people would react to most favorably in commercials. If people trust an actor or actress, they may just listen up when that person is peddling a product. Obviously, Michael J. Fox was on the list, as were Tom Hanks and Bill Cosby. You can't dispute that these are people we, the audience, have come to love and trust over the years.
What happens, though, when someone has set themselves up to be loved by the people? We, the audience, may stick them in a handy little labeled box, but when you look at the flipside of this, didn't they, by taking specific roles, set the audience up to love and trust them? Didn't they partially put themselves in this role, this typecast? They wanted us to like them so that we would come back for more, buy tickets, buy DVD's, buy posters or whatever other merchandise there is. If we, the audience, like them, we will see any movie that comes along with them in it. Collecting an audience is part of how they make it so big, and they allow this to happen. So some of the fault lies with them, right? Not to mention the directors who seek them in these roles in order to guarantee ticket sales for the movie they've been dreaming up.
Not only that but, at times, a director uses this likeability to string the audience along in a mystery. Look at What Lies Beneath, which was also cited in Andrew's post. We trust Harrison Ford. After all, he IS Indy. He IS Han. We have been brought up to trust this man's face, his intentions. Therefore, we are unwilling to assume he might actually be a very bad man. "No way," we say. "He can't possibly be a villain, not Harrison!" They use our complete trust to lead us on, to plant red herrings that we will desperately grasp at just to avoid the facts that overwhelmingly lead to our beloved actor as a bad guy. They paint a picture in the beginning that we are more than willing to accept, a picture of this beloved person as a great guy. He takes care of his wife, works to provide for her, makes a wonderful home for her. Why should we question this? Well, we just won't! Those sinister neighbors are far more likely to be the culprits. Of course it's them!
So you see, when someone who has made me trust them completely over the years turns to the dark side, I just can't help but feel they've wronged me in some way. That's the initial reaction, at least, though so far I've always been able to come around and enjoy their role as a villain. I'm not sure I'll ever get to the point where I won't feel a little dejected in those initial seconds, though, when one of my favorites flips my impression of them right up onto its head. That sense of disappointment will always at least wink at me momentarily, before skipping merrily off. It's the way I've been taught to think by those trustworthy faces. It would seem the relationship works in several different directions, with actors and directors using a likable character to springboard the next movie into a high grosser, and with the audience continuing to develop said trust, thus perpetuating the typecasting of certain actors. It certainly is a vicious circle.
Do you ever feel disappointed upon discovering a favorite trusted actor as a villain? Can you ultimately accept them in this role or does it ruin the movie for you? What favorites did I miss who have turned to the dark side, even if only in one role?