When every young actor starts his fledgling career he dreams of the one role that will push him into the limelight. A role that will shower him with acclaim from critics, as
When every young actor starts his fledgling career he dreams of the one role that will push him into the limelight. A role that will shower him with acclaim from critics, as well as win him heaps of awards that will soon adorn every shelf in his home. Only after this role can he pick and choose which characters and films he desires and soon have every director, writer and producer in Hollywood calling him to request his talents.
When it happens, the roles are often varied in their size and stature. Maybe they’re a small supporting character that steals the limelight, a lead role in a low budget film that unexpectedly becomes a hit or the star of a huge action film designed to seduce the masses. Below, we take a look at 10 breakthrough roles from the current crop of leading British actors, which helped to elevate them into the king-pin position they are today.
Aaron Johnson: Kick Ass (2010)
Even though Kick Ass was yet to hold the popularity of the plethora of other comic books that have been made into movies (the rights to the film were sold before the first issue was even published!), there was still a hefty amount of pressure on Aaron Johnson when he was cast as the eponymous character. Added to this was the fact the English actor was playing an American character, and considering a new superhero film is released almost fortnightly, with every recognised actor in Hollywood attempting to play one, Aaron was always going to have to prove his worth. Which he emphatically succeeded at – Kick Ass went on to receive almost universal acclaim and gross over $100 million worldwide. Aaron more than held his own alongside Nicholas Cage and the scene stealing, foul mouthed assassin child that is Hit Girl.
Jude Law: Wilde (1997)
As every young, ambitious actor knows, the way to lure the adulation of the masses is to play a minority. And that’s exactly what Jude Law did with his role as Oscar Wilde’s lover, Lord Alfred Douglas that saw him receive the Most Promising Newcomer Award from The Evening Standard and helped to kick-start his meteoric rise to the A List. His tender yet arrogant portrayal as the young poet saw him labeled as the new Hugh Grant. However, he was able to move past this with a string of edgy roles that included 1997’s Gattaca and David Cronenberg’s 1999 horror, eXistenZ.
Tom Hardy: Rock N Rolla (2008)
Tom Hardy is quickly on his way to being Britain’s latest and greatest export. He gained a lead role in blockbuster movie, Warrior, on the back of a stunning lead role in 2008’s Bronson and a mesmerizing support role in Christopher Nolan’s 2010 blockbuster Inception. Hardy has slowly risen to become one of Hollywood’s most reliable actors. However, it was his comedic turn as Handsome Bob in Guy Ritchie’s Rock N Rolla that brought him to most people’s attention. He stole the show as a closeted gang member who had a crush on Gerard Butler’s character, and even though the film received only mixed reviews and failed to set the box office alight; Hardy was instantly recognized as a huge talent. After being cast as Bane, the main villain in 2012’s impending monster, The Dark Knight Rises, we suspect we are only going to see much more of him.
Daniel Craig: Road to Perdition (2002)
Tom Hardy may be Britain’s latest and greatest export, but that is only behind Mr. James Bond himself, Daniel Craig, of course. But everyone has to start somewhere, even 007. Despite tremendous performances in both theatre and television, Craig was still a relatively unknown commodity when he signed on to play Paul Newman’s son in Sam Mendes’ 2002 gangster epic, Road to Perdition. As Newman’s embattled offspring, Daniel was able to steal almost every scene he was in, and lest we forget he was sharing it with Tom Hanks, Stanley Tucci and Butch Cassidy! After this role, his future in Hollywood was assured and, despite some initial protest, Craig has gone on to become the most popular Bond since Connery, even if he is blonde.
Christian Bale: American Psycho (2000)
It’s very hard to pigeonhole Christian Bale. His portrayals as Bruce Wayne in both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight have brought him a dedicated and passionate following, yet he still seems destined to not reach the higher echelons of the Hollywood machine. Of course, his now infamous rant on the set of Terminator Salvation hindered his progress, but it’s probably also down to the kind of characters he portrays. They are often dark, twisted and sadistic people, none more so than Patrick Bateman in American Psycho. Bale’s performance launched him into the spotlight, and after making solid appearances in Reign of Fire and Equilibrium; he was the only man Christopher Nolan thought of when he wanted to bring Batman back to the big screen. The rest, as they say, is history. Just one note, maybe he should try a rom-com next?
Gerard Butler: 300 (2007)
It’s impossible to imagine 300 without Gerard Butler. It’s hard to imagine any other actor in the world who would have played King Leonidas with as much gusto and strength, for which Butler had to take part in a high-intensity workout programme for four months prior to the film’s shoot. And boy does it show! His “This Is Sparta” line has been the most quotable one of the last decade and its various spoofs have only enhanced its popularity. After years in the acting wilderness, 300 enabled Butler to establish himself and he has since gone on to star as the leading man in several summer blockbusters including The Ugly Truth and Law Abiding Citizen, although to a mixed reception. However, thanks to Zack Snyder’s film his position in Hollywood folklore is assured and damn, doesn’t he look good in a loincloth?
Hugh Grant: Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994)
It’s hard for people to admit they like Hugh Grant. Yes, each character he portrays personifies every single characteristic that our country seems to loathe. However, even if they’re rich, handsome, upper class, a toff or all of the above, Grant is able to transcend these to make them eternally likeable. His bumbling and uncomfortable nature allows us to care for him deeply and there is no more a perfect role than Charles in Four Weddings and a Funeral that shows this. Grant’s performance was integral to the films resounding success and for a decade it seemed like he could do no wrong. Roles in Notting Hill, Nine Months and About a Boy have earned him as many scathing reviews as good, but having grossed over $2.4 billion at the international box office, some one clearly loves him.
Ewan McGregor: Trainspotting (1996)
It’s hard to decide when Ewan McGregor came into the public consciousness. Was Shallow Grave Ewan’s breakout role? Or maybe even the Phantom Menace? Trainspotting seems like the safest option, and probably the right one. Despite Shallow Grave’s popularity and influence, the film was regarded as more of an ensemble and showcase for Danny Boyle’s incredible talents. The Phantom Menace only conjures up images of lost youth and a taste of bitter disappointment. Trainspotting, however, was a revelation. McGregor and Boyle revitalized the British Film Industry almost single handedly, with a story and characters that were unique to our fair island, yet still globally accessible. Of course, Ewan went on to star as Obi Wan and Boyle continues to make the most original films in Hollywood, but will they ever top the tales of Renton and Co?
Daniel Day Lewis: My Left Foot (1989)
Sometimes it’s easy to forget that Daniel Day Lewis is English. In fact, sometimes it’s easy to forget that Daniel Day Lewis is an actor he’s in so few films. His earlier performances in My Beautiful Launderette and A Room with a View, ear marked Daniel as one of the best actors around, but it was his personal version of method acting that he used to portray Christy Brown in Jim Sheridan’s My Left Foot which separated him from the masses as one of the greatest actors of our generation. During filming, Day Lewis refused to break character, despite playing some one who was severely paralyzed and even broke two ribs due to being hunched in a wheel chair for so many weeks. The sporadic nature of his work, has made every film he stars in a must see picture, none more so than There Will Be Blood, which saw him join Brando, Pacino, Nicholson and De Niro as being regarded as one of the greatest actors of all time, despite starring in only a fraction of the amount of films.
Alan Rickman: Die Hard (1988)
Hans Gruber is as synonymous with Die Hard as John McLane. The fact that he isn’t instantly forgotten like the hoard of other villains in 80’s action movies is down to only one reason, Alan Rickman. There has never been a baddie so likeable, devilish and charming. Rickman owns every scene he is in, and when he’s off screen, you’re dying for more. The relationship he develops with Bruce Willis is what makes the film so timeless. After this and the success of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Rickman found himself being asked to play every pantomime villain in Hollywood. Rickman has since forged a wonderfully eclectic career and is now seen as one of the elder statesman of the British Film Industry. And all of these seeds were sewn from playing a German.