Today: July 19, 2024

Models Turned Movie Stars

Do actresses get annoyed with the fashion models who stomp stiletto-shaped holes into their turf? It happens on a frequent basis in the movie world. This year we’ve already seen two Cara Delevingne films (Face Of An Angel, Paper Towns); Agyness Deyn’s first starring role (Electricity, on DVD April); Lily Cole continue her preference for paranormal movie outings (The Messenger, London Fields); and Milla Jovovich kick butt – again – in Survivor. On the flipside, do models get irked when actresses front fashion and perfume campaigns?

As more and more models and actresses launch clothing lines, scents, cook books and kids books, does this mean that being successful in one art form automatically guarantees you ‘an in’ in another? Is success, in fact, just dependent on the ‘sacred geometry’ of your face and how good you are at finding the light and knowing your angles? Are we, the consumers of both material product and intangible art, really that shallow? The money men seem to think so. Yet occasionally, talent really does shine through like a glittering beacon in the swamp of materialism and one of these women shows us that she really does have acting chops. So much so that we forget she was ever anything but an actress.

It’s logical that, in an industry built around vision – the word ‘cinema’ has origins in Greek and French meaning to ‘write movement’ – looks are important. And if ‘cinema is an improvement on life,’ as François Truffaut said, it would make sense to cast people with the best genes, putting the ‘ideal’ woman in the picture. In some ways, models get a head start because they know how to work with light, how to hold themselves and how the camera picks up the most subtle detail in a face. But they absolutely can’t rely on this alone – obviously they’ll need to open their mouths at some point, and this is where many models-turned-actresses fall down in a Naomi Campbell-esque crumpled mess.

Actresses and former models, such as Anjelica Huston, Marilyn Monroe, Brigitte Bardot, Kim Basinger and Uma Thurman captured our attention with their unique looks and allure and had the smarts to use these assets to build impressive careers in front of the movie camera, often becoming muses for the top directors of their day. These women took their new direction seriously and won awards and acclaim for their performances. For them, it wasn’t about selling themselves anymore, it was about becoming someone else. Famously, Monroe signed up to New York’s Actors Studio to widen her range, and set up her own production company to take better control of her career. Other models focus on becoming a ‘genre’ poster girl and forge a niche for themselves using their physicality, such as Milla Jovovich as an action heroine; Cameron Diaz as a rom-com funny girl; Famke Janssen as a mysterious femme fatale; and Tyra Banks as an… um, ‘fierce’ dancing barmaid?

You’re either a stunning leading lady with star quality, a character actor (read: not classically attractive) or you’re somewhere in between, which makes you ideal supporting actor material. This is a broad generalisation of course, but in such a competitive, male-dominated, world it’s surely not a bad thing to find your place in it, inhabit it with gusto and defend your turf against wannabes using all of your strengths. And if one of your strengths is your looks, and they’re exactly what pulled our eyes in your direction in the first place, then the smart woman will brandish them like a WMD. But whereas on the magazine page sex sells, on the cinema screen personality counts. There’s nothing wrong with being a pretty face – just don’t expect smart audiences to settle for just that.

Face Of An Angel is in cinemas 27 March.

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