I saw Jason Bateman in THE SWITCH last week. Cute little movie but he was really impressive. Okay, Jeff Goldbum stole it but Jason held his own. The point is Jason Bateman is a long-time television actor finally getting a chance to star in movies. Will he become a movie star? Too soon to tell. His co-star, Jennifer Aniston (playing Rachel for the ninth film in a row) so far is not. For all the hoopla in fan magazines and TMZ, Jennifer Aniston still can’t open a movie. THE SWITCHED is not doing well in the boxoffice… although it is worth seeing. But I can almost hear you. “I’ll Netflix it.” “Cable fodder.” “Maybe if I get a screener”. And I contend it’s more because you can’t channel surf and not see Jason and/or Jennifer on at least six channels any time of the day or night. Seeing them on a big screen is no big whoop.
But it got me thinking about other TV vets who crossed the great divide and made it big in features. The one that jumps to mind immediately is James Cromwell. Terrific actor. Can play anything. But for years he just knocked around as a goofy character actor on TV. He was “Jamey” Cromwell then. We used him a couple of times on MASH and he was terrific. But I remember once when casting a pilot his name came up and my partner and I said, “he’s good but Jesus, haven’t we seen him like a million times? Isn’t there anyone else more fresh?”. Today we’d be lucky if he’d read one of our scripts.
Anyway, there are many other examples from George Clooney to Morgan Freeman, Clint Eastwood, Steve McQueen, Goldie Hawn, Thomas Hayden Church, Woody Harrelson, and I'm sure you can list ten others. But for every one who makes it, there are also a hundred David Caruso's and Matt LeBlanc's who don't. Why?
I don’t know. The X-Factor. Movie stars have a presence, a danger, a glow. There is something riveting about them. They can surprise you. They can command the big screen.
And they’re incredibly lucky. They happened to be in a hit. Again, going back to Jamey Cromwell. He gets a call from his agent:
Agent: Listen, I think I got something for you.
Jamey: (excited) A guest spot on WEBSTER?
Jamey: Wow! What?
Agent: A movie.
Jamey: Really! Fantastic!
Agent: Yeah, it’s a great story. There’s this pig that wants to be a sheepdog and he goes to live with this…
Jamey: Wait, wait. Back up a minute. A pig?
Agent: Cutest one you’ve ever seen.
Jamey: Brother. And what do I play?
Agent: The farmer.
Jamey: Who does what?
Agent: Who enters the pig in a sheepdog contest.
Jamey: Do I have a lot of lines?
Agent: Yes, but not as many as the pig.
Jamey: See if you can get me a callback on that WEBSTER.
Agent: No, no, you’re not hearing me. This could be a huge mainstream movie. And of the humans, you have the most to do.
Jamey (wavering): Well… it would be good to be in a big summer blockbuster.
Agent: Great. They film in Australia.
Jamey: Huh? How mainstream can this be if we film it in Australia?
Agent: I dunno. They got a deal on the pigs.
Jamey: Don’t Levine & Isaacs have a pilot? I mean, if I’m going to stoop…
Agent: Sorry. Nothing this season. I think the industry is starting to wise up about those two hacks. And I’m afraid WEBSTER isn’t going to happen. I’ve been holding this from you but Alex Karras doesn’t think you’re a good actor.
Jamey: Alex Karras? I’m not good enough for Alex Karras? Okay. Fine. I’ll do the fucking pig movie.
Agent: That’s great! Fantastic! Except…
Jamey: Except what? I lose the audience’s sympathy by eating my co-star?
Agent: No, it’s just that… you don’t have it yet. They’re going to want a screen test
Jamey: A screen test?! Why? They know what I’ve done. Just watch any episode of LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE. I must’ve played eighteen farmers.
Agent: Yeah, but they… they kinda want to see if there’s any chemistry between you and the uh… your little pink co-star… who by the way, would get billing under you. I negotiated that. It wasn’t easy but I got it. (Off Jamey’s silence) Look, you’re right. I’ll find something else. Let me check the cop shows. See which ones you weren’t killed in and I’ll call them again.
Jamey: (resigned) No, no. What the hell? Set up a meeting with the pig.
Cromwell was nominated for an Academy Award for his role in BABE and went on to terrific roles in many top movies including L.A. CONFIDENTIAL.
I don’t think THE SWITCH is going to do the same for Jason Bateman. But who knows? He’s very talented, has a ton of promise and given the right pig, I have a feeling he’s got a good chance.
Tomorrow: An audience participation game!!! ... if it works.