Today: April 23, 2024

Actors Who Improve Movies

By Alex Moss

Over the next weeks we’re going to be looking at how we think Hollywood can increase the success rate of any film. Whether it’s adding a particular actor to the cast list, getting a specific writer to add his touch of magic or maybe a director who has a knack for injecting something a little bit special into a story.

It is not about increasing box-office receipts, few names on this list are going to draw the punters in. There is no questioning the pulling power of a Will Smith of a Michael Bay but these people bring something else, a certain je ne sais quoi.

This week we’re looking at actors who can make a film that much more appealing to the more discernable viewer. The kind of name that rarely headlines, but never fails to draw a smile when they grace the screen.

Stanley Tucci
Tucci is one of Hollywood’s most natural character actors, someone who is rarely, if ever, the lead but has the ability to make you yearn to see more scenes with him in. One minute he can be the creepy villain, the next a loveable mentor figure for the hero. See his turns in The Terminal and this year’s Captain America as contrasting levels of smarmy and charming. Either way he will increase the success of any film he lends his mercurial talents to.
Defining Moment: As the coolest of Dad’s in Easy A
Next Up: Will appear as Caesar in The Hunger Games.

Jason Bateman
Bateman has come a long way since his Teen Wolf 2 days. Thanks to a series-stealing role in Arrested Development, Bateman has turned his put-upon straight man act to wonderful effect. Although he has dabbled in leading man credentials he is always at his best in the supporting role. For all its flashy effects Hancock would have been half as good if it weren’t for Bateman’s deadpan reactions to the god-like super hero. These days he’s still stealing the limelight from his other cast members by reigning in his performances while others over-egg the comedy.
Defining Moment: As a seedy bail bondsman in Smoking Aces, creepy rabbit outfit and all.
Next Up: Whisper it, but it looks like the Arrested Development Movie could finally happen.

J K Simmons
It doesn’t matter if he’s playing a shouting newspaper editor in the Spiderman movies or if he’s playing Juno’s dad, Simmons has a voice and presence that leap off the screen. There is always a dry whit behind every delivery that never fails to draw a smile. That he is sparingly used in films makes him all the more desirable.
Defining Moment: Being fired by George Clooney in Up In The Air with enough venom and emotion to make it heartfelt and funny in one hit.
Next Up: In a blistering all star cast, including Olivia Wilde and Bradley Cooper, in The Words

Matt Damon
One of the few out and out leading men on the list, Damon has the talent to turn his hand to any genre. Damon has the acting chops to dazzle while never feeling like he is playing a version of himself. The brilliance of Damon means that even if the material he is acting in is bad, see Clint Eastwood’s Hereafter, he still shines the brightest and makes you long for more screen time from the former Will Hunting. More than anything though Damon is an actor who has never taken what he does too seriously. It is often forgotten that when his Team America doll collapsed in the making process, hence making the creators decide to make him stupid, Damon still offered to come and voice the role if only to say ‘Matt Damon’ over and over again. Now that’s dedication to your art. If you’ve ever doubted how brightly his star shines just watch as he manages to usurp the likes of Clooney and Pitt in the Ocean’s Eleven films.
Defining Moment: It’s a tough one, and probably a controversial one, but his flirting with Emily Blunt in The Adjustment Bureau is so utterly warm and real it just beats out the overly sentimental Will Hunting and the all too cold killer of The Bourne Franchise.
Next Up: In Cameron ‘Almost Famous’ Crowe’s We Bought A Zoo

Sam Rockwell
From early on in his career, we’re going as far back as Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles, Rockwell has stood out from the crowd. He has that manic quality about his ever-darting eyes and jittery nature that make him a mercurial talent to revel in and behold. The kind of talent that seems to fit into any supporting role and always makes it more than the sum of its parts. Crucially though he can do subdued and pensive as well as over-the-top, bat-poop crazy.
Defining Moment: Showing others how its done by playing two very different versions of himself in Duncan Jones’ brilliant Moon.
Next Up: Playing another show-stealing supporting role in Cowboys And Aliens before joining the frankly pant-wettingly good cast of Seven Psychopaths, which will pit him alongside Colin Farrell, Mickey Rourke and Christopher Walken.

Richard Jenkins
Like his elder statesmen of Simmons and Tucci, Jenkins is one of the always-dependable actors. He turns up in a movie and your spirits are immediately lifted. It’s like a blinking light that says ‘for a little while you’re going to love this movie’. He can be that cuddly father figure, as seen in his Oscar nominated role in The Visitor, or that sinister man who lurks in the shadows, as one of the only high points to better the original in Let Me In. Suffice to say Jenkins has a gravity to his screen presence that manages to pull the rest of the cast and plot up to heights the film would otherwise have failed to reach.
Defining Moment: The Visitor, it has to be seen to be believed how astonishing he is in that film.
Next Up: So much to chose from but, Cabin In The Woods has been teasing us with its brilliant cast for so long it’s hard not to get excited.

Christopher Walken
There’s something about that voice. It’s got so much gravitas yet has the ability to be wonderfully tongue in cheek. Unlike his Deer Hunter co-star De Niro, Walken has made the transition from serious character actor to out and out comedy genius. And it all started with a Fatboy Slim video. For some reason he is often cast as the villain but he is equally adept at playing the mentor, just see his brief role in Man On Fire to see how much you would want this guy’s advice.
Defining Moment: In a career this long it’s tough to pick just one, but it’s hard to argue with his one scene stealing the show moment of…oh sod it, it’s a tie between True Romance and Pulp Fiction. It seems that if Tarantino scripted it, Walken should be in it.
Next Up: He’s hooking up with other favorite Sam Rockwell for Seven Psychopaths.

Michael Fassbender
Some will argue it’s too soon to include the still burgeoning talents of Mr. Fassbender, but the fact remains that he has been the best thing about every film he has starred in to date. From his staggering portrayal in Hunger to his fleeting cameo in Taratino’s (seriously it pays to get a small part in this man’s movies) Inglorious Basterds, Fassbender is seldom anything but hypnotic. Maybe it’s the piercing eyes or the stern look but Fassbender has proved he can do warm and charming, if a little questionable, in Fish Tank. Furthermore if there was ever any doubt how huge Fassbender can be just revel as he out-Bonds Daniel Craig in a fleeting moment in X-Men; First Class.
Defining Moment: Guiding that scene in Inglorious Basterds with such ease and whit it’s hard not to route for him.
Next Up: Playing Carl Jung in David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method, but more importantly appearing in Ridley Scott’s Alien prequel Prometheus.

John Turturro
Arguably the greatest character actor to ever grace the silver screen, Turturro is the kind of actor that never fails to make you smile. He’s got that odd look, all gangly arms and legs, and yet he is the very definition of a chameleon. It’s his endless versatility that makes Turturro so uplifting. One minute he can be the eccentric cartoonish character of a Coen Brothers film, the next a withdrawn and mature hustler in The Colour Of Money. Whatever, or who ever he plays, he is invariably the best thing in the movie.
Defining Moment: So many to chose but it’s got to be Barton Fink. The way his eyes are at some points so dead with writers block and then frantically alive with apprehension sums Turturro up to a capital T.
Next Up: In Gods Behaving Badly he’ll play forgotten Greek God Hades living in New York. Colour us over excited.


Tom Hardy
Hardy is one of those actors that quietly goes about his job without making too much of a fanfare about it. Always at his best when playing slightly eccentric supporting characters alongside ‘Star’ names, Hardy has the ability to shine brightest without ever feeling like he is trying to steel the show. More than anything it is Hardy’s bravery for playing characters that other actors would shy away from. His role as Handsome Bob, the straightest gay man in cinema history in RocknRolla, was a delight to behold. But it was in last year’s Inception that Hardy proved his quality as the endlessly enigmatic Eames.
Defining Moment: The obvious choice is his stunning turn as Bronson in Nicolas Winding Refn’s Bronson.
Next Up: Hardy’s a bit of a rising star so as well as playing Bane in The Dark Knight Rises we are also going to be treated to him in Tinker Taylor Soldier Spy and The Wettest County In The World.

Alex Moss Editor

Alex Moss’ obsession with film began the moment he witnessed the Alien burst forth from John Hurt’s stomach. It was perhaps ill-advised to witness this aged 6 but much like the beast within Hurt, he became infected by a parasite called ‘Movies’. Rarely away from his computer or a big screen, as he muses on Cinematic Deities, Alex is “more machine now than man. His mind is twisted and evil”. Email: alex.moss@filmjuice.com

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