Tom Jolliffe on films stars who re-invent themselves after career decline…
Hollywood is unforgiving. You find a degree of success and get to the top. Maybe a string of flops send you crashing back to anonymity. You may still work solidly. Mickey Rourke for example, perceived to have disappeared around the beginning of the 90’s before his resurrection in The Wrestler a decade ago was actually working fairly solidly, but in swathes of underachieving duds, or by the numbers straight to video films. No one watches, no one cares. That’s kind of the default setting in film which runs from studios down through to the general public (who may only watch the pop-culture films of the year). At the same time these exiles can, and this was partially the case with Rourke, come from getting a bad boy reputation. He was essentially blacklisted.
What if you’re pretty red hot though? What if you’re Robert Pattinson or Kristen Stewart? You’ve been involved in Twilight. It grosses bazillions. To the audience it aims for, more au fait with the source material, it’s the bees bollocks. To most others it’s a head scratching mess of po-faced wistful stares, dialogue that’s clunkier than your dads fashion growing up, and sub-par CGI. There’s two unbearably (pale, pasty, gaunt) pretty leads. Then there’s a beefy guy with abs to form a kind of relentlessly un-gripping and haphazardly (ham-fistedly) sketched love triangle. They’re kind of just there. They could be anyone.
The trouble is, while millions loved the Twilight series despite its hollow imperfections, just as many derided the series, and the two principal leads in particular took a huge portion of the hammering. Probably none more so than Stewart, who conformed to that image in the film of having an innate inability to smile or seem vaguely human. For a time after she did a couple of blockbusters, and had yet more scorn fired her way (and her box office appeal seemed to dive). She was thoroughly bored by the super stardom that came with it. The brief relationship with Pattinson in real life, also fizzled out, and painted her as the villain in their separation. The trouble is, box office of that level gives the ticket buyers the feeling they are invested in the lives of their heroes and for that, you get no loyalty.
For Pattinson, he did one or two standard studio romance films, but aside, pretty quickly tried to divert his career down the indie path. Stewart inevitably went the same way and both remain there. I don’t think it’s simply that studios have lost interest. As a consequence of leaving the table you’ve been invited to dine at, yes, perhaps studios in turn have unofficially put the nix on the pair, but both appear to have grown quickly weary of Twilight infamy. Pattinson for one often bemoans (I know, the natural reaction to that may be, boo hoo) his fame. What more recent CV history for both suggests though, is a passion and seriousness for the craft itself. Lets face it, for half a decade or so of making dreadful vampire films, they probably made enough big bucks. So they now have a certain luxury to explore the art. To do interesting, challenging independent cinema. Inevitably, if you garner enough notice from critical circles, it can just nudge Hollywood again. Stewart now finds herself headlining a Charlies Angels reboot (which will undoubtedly go edgier and forgo the incessant giggling of the McG films).
When you look at Stewart’s post Twilight gigs. They’re fairly brave choices and she’s working with interesting directors too. It doesn’t always work, and sometimes even when critics love a film, like Personal Shopper, audiences are more split. It’s the nature of indie films with a deeper, more glacially paced focus compared to the pew pew theatrics of blockbuster franchises. To some, understandably, the first desire for a viewing experience is pure escapism. At the same time, Stewart is still playing largely true to her on and off screen image.
Pattinson in particular appears to be carefully choosing gigs based on well established, or exciting up and coming directors. Among those, he’s worked with include David Cronenberg, Claire Denis, James Gray, Werner Herzog and the Safdie brothers. As such he’s forged a path well away from the big budget spectacle of . Granted he may not have starred in the best Cronenberg or Herzog films, but when either comes to call an actor who is a serious cinephile, you don’t turn them down. Good Time (the Safdie brothers) was a great display of his talents. A non-stop, pulsating one night film in which Pattinson displays perpetual energy and edginess as a perennial fuck up who drags his mentally challenged brother down with him (And tries to put things right). A character that should be inherently unlikeable, made oddly sympathetic, evening charming, is something only gifted actors can pull off. Pattinson did.
Recently the trailer for High Life dropped. Having gained great festival reviews last year, the film (directed by Claire Denis) seems to nod toward vintage space set art-house drama. A love letter to Kubrick (2001) and Andrei Tarkovsky (Solaris). It would seem the trailer itself may misinform as the build up and frantic cutting and crescendo-ing music may suggest something akin to Event Horizon, but reviews say the film is more slow burning, more considered as it looks to dissect humanity at its base core. Still, having heard nothing prior about it, the trailer arrived and knocked me out my shoes somewhat. In part, it’s a film that looks exceptionally well cast (Add in the always exquisite Juliette Binoche and Mia Goth) but also under the gaze of a director who really excels in cutting to the core. There’s a few potentially great films to look forward to this year, but this has moved high up my list.
Whether it’s Stewart, or Pattinson, a reformulation of career goals often comes after the system chews you up and spits you out. Ask Matthew McConaughey. He started as a promising actor, and slowly became more known for taking his shirt off in romantic comedies. Running jokes formed about a recurring theme on a McConaughey rom-com poster, that always seemed to have him leaning back against something or someone, nonchalantly. He also got dubbed on occasion, Matthew Mahogany. Between films like Killer Joe, Mud, Dallas Buyers Club and a barnstorming Wolf of Wall Street cameo, he soon established himself as a Thespian again. Bankable enough to headline a Christopher Nolan Science Fiction epic too (Interstellar). Still, the fact was, McConaughey took a gamble on a couple of smaller films (Mud in particular). He’s almost wiped clean the memory of a string of mediocre romantic comedies.
Almost as difficult as attaining new found box office relevance (like say, Tom Cruise with the rejuvenated Mission: Impossible Franchise), is becoming respected for your craft again, having (often their own doing) slumped into career auto-drive or a cycle of bad choices.
Let us know in the comments below. Which actors career turnarounds have impressed you the most? Have you gained new found respect for any actors over the years?
Tom Jolliffe is an award winning screenwriter and passionate cinephile. He has three features due out on DVD/VOD in 2019 and a number of shorts hitting festivals. Find more info at the best personal site you’ll ever see… http://tomjolliffe.wordpress.com/films/