Friday Questions but first a plug: I’ll be hosting four Neil Simon movies tonight on TCM. MURDER BY DEATH, THE CHEAP DETECTIVE, PLAZA SUITE, and CALIFORNIA SUITE. It starts at 8:00 on the East and 5:00 on the West. Come for the wraparounds. Stay for the laughs. Thank goodness for DVR's. I wonder how many people on the East Coast are going to see my outro for CALIFORNIA SUITE live at around 3:00 AM.
Now to the business at hand:
One More Question gets us started.
I was having a discussion with myself in my head last night about whether certain characters could only have worked, or become iconic, with the actors who in fact played them, due to one of those cosmic convergences where the character found its soulmate actor.
For example, I feel like Diane Chambers, the Crane brothers, Urkel, and Columbo could not have become iconic with any other actors in the role. I don't know if Archie Bunker, Ralph Kramden, and Fonzie (the later version, not the first season Fonzie) could have worked at all with any other actor.
Do you think there are characters that, no matter how well-written, can only work or become iconic with just that one soulmate actor who was born to play them? Or is there always another actor out there who can give that character that special quality that makes it work or break out?
This question has sparked a lot of debate in the comments section. My answer is yes and no (Fuck Yes or No).
But for the most part, I think if a part is well-written then a multitude of actors can play it. This is especially true in the theater. For many people who grew up in the ‘60s, the ODD COUPLE is Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, who starred in the movie. But for younger generations it’s Tony Randall and Jack Klugman. And on Broadway originally it was Art Carney and Walter Matthau. And at one point they switched roles.
Now let’s take Diane Chambers. I have always contended that without Shelley Long playing her the series dies after thirteen weeks. She made a potentially unlikable character funny and adorable and real while still keeping Diane's infuriating qualities. That’s not just hard to do. It’s next to impossible.
Now that the character is established and the Sam & Diane relationship is established, if there were say a theater production of some of the episodes I could see the character working with someone else. It might be different, and you might have to put Shelley out of your mind, but who knows? It could be an interesting alternate interpretation. Not saying it would be better per se, but I'd be curious to see what someone else could do with the role.
Henry Winkler turned a supporting character (the Fonz) into a breakout star. There is a HAPPY DAYS musical. Do you really think there’s no one else who can play Fonzie? How about anyone who’s ever been in GREASE? That said, whoever plays him in the musical, no matter how capable, probably could not have made the character a breakout star the way Henry Winkler did.
Carroll O’Connor WAS Archie Bunker – in America. Another actor played him first in Great Britain.
Who IS James Bond depends on which one you grew up with... although it's really Sean Connery.
I must say that when I saw the English version of THE OFFICE I couldn’t imagine any other actor playing the Ricky Gervais part. But God bless him, Steve Carell pulled it off. So in my opinion, in most cases you can find other actors to play iconic roles. It’s bloggers you can never substitute.
Mark Solomon asks:
As great as the film is, I agree with your statement on the TCM broadcast that the TV series defines "The Odd Couple." Do you have a favorite episode?
There were a lot of great ones. I think my favorite is the flashback when they were in the service stationed at Fort Ira Epstein.
There was a Blackout episode I recall that was also hilarious.
What are some of your favorites?
Here’s one from another Mark:
I see actors leave successful shows for miserable failure (MacLean Stevenson, Katherine Heigel to name a couple) and I wonder what the problem is.
Is it that they can't read scripts and see how they would end up? Do they have bad agents steering them to bad projects? Do they have so few offers they take what they can get? Do they not have an idea of how they want their career to develop? Do they just work with the wrong people all the time? Did they have minimal talent that only looked good in certain situations but couldn't hit a curve ball if their life depended on it?
Pathetically, I've wondered about this for years and hope you could shed some light on it.
You’d have to take each one on a case-by-case basis. First off, remember there have been actors who have bolted successful TV series and made it as big movie stars. Clint Eastwood, Goldie Hawn, Chevy Chase, Bill Murray, and James Garner to name a few. But clearly they are the exception to the rule.
In a number of cases, actors who are supporting players feel it’s worth leaving a hit series for the chance to star in a vehicle. They're rolling the dice. Unfortunately, some of these actors are second bananas for a reason.
And in other cases, actors are just given bad advice from their management teams. You read all the time about actors firing managers and agents and attorneys. Although in some instances, the actor is to be blamed. Agents will often inflate an actor’s status to win their favor – telling them they’re hotter or more popular or in more demand than they really are – and if the actor believes them it’s at his own peril.
Sometimes a TV actor will do a movie that becomes a big hit and think it's because of them. This can be a costly misjudgement.
One other factor, sometimes actors just get tired playing the same character over and over and need to move on. Again, it’s a personal choice.
Personally, I feel the odds are so staggering against an actor being cast as a regular in a huge hit series that if you are you should ride that gravy train as far as it will take you. But that’s me, a guy who can’t act his way out of a hard rain.
What’s your Friday Question? See you tonight on Turner Classic Movies.