Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Another case of Hollywood nonsense-speak

I read a recent article in ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY about the upcoming live version of Disney’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. Director Bill Condon was asked why he chose Emma Watson to play the plum role of Belle. He said, “With actors who got to choose their roles, you look at their resumes and you start to see a kind of autobiography emerge.” He goes on to say that Emma was involved in quite a few women’s equality causes and then: “From what I’d seen of Emma, she seemed to be the person, both on screen and off, who best reflected the qualities that Belle embodied.”

How lovely. What bullshit. Not that Emma doesn’t have all those marvelous qualities, but is that really what a director is looking for in an actor – that he or she personally mirrors the character they are hoping to play? Because for every actor hired for that reason, there is an equal number who get hired because they play against their real personality. Actors who play villains aren’t necessarily scary. Actresses who portray innocent young waifs nowadays have sex tapes about to go viral. Did Condon hire Luke Evans to play Gaston because he’s a narcissistic blowhard in real life?

And not to be too cynical but had the part already been offered to Anne Hathaway and Anna Kendrick who turned it down?

The truth is there is no real answer to why an actor is hired. But that doesn’t stop directors and producers and studios from waxing poetic on the intrinsic courage and spiritual honesty their stars embody that make them so perfect for Aquaman.

Casting is an inexact science. It’s subjective at best. And commercial at worst. Studio movies need stars. If you can’t get Damon get Denzel, and if you can’t get Denzel get Eastwood. So what if the age range and ethnicity are totally different? If you wrote a movie based on the life of Teddy Roosevelt and the studio could get Julia Roberts you have to somehow change the script to make it work. When the studio says “We’re looking for a project for Kate McKinnon” that could mean your COOL HAND LUKE remake.

And otherwise, quite simply, the actor just has to be right for the role. He brings an impossible-to-define quality to a part that the other hundred actors didn’t have. He just felt… right. Then, once you hire him you make up bullshit rationales to tell the press.

Is an actor’s actual personality and worldview important in casting? Sure. It’s a factor. But so are his looks. His age. His hair color. His voice. His chemistry with his co-star. His ability to be funny, or sing, or be scary or whatever the role calls for. His level of exposure. His price. His TMZ baggage. His reputation. His ethnicity. His believability in the role. His global appeal. His recent boxoffice performance. His availability. His previous awards. His previous relationship with the director. His experience riding a horse.

Any one or several of these could be the determining factor in why one actor gets the gig over a hundred equally talented colleagues.

I’m guessing Emma Watson will be fabulous as Belle. Not because of her emerging autobiography, but because she’s a talented actress, can sing and dance, is very pretty, and has a big fan base from the Harry Potter movies – the same audience this film is trying to attract. Or Condon really wanted Emma Stone but the casting director fucked up and offered it to Emma Watson instead.

Just once I’d love to hear a director say, “I hired her because the studio made me.” Or “Meryl Streep wasn’t available” or “She gives the greatest blowjobs in Hollywood” or “They love her in China” or “She came cheap.” At least those explanations I could buy.

30 comments :

Jim S said...

Interesting piece about casting. Some Friday questions.

How did you learn how to do it? What was the best bit of casting you did? The worst?

Were you ever forced to take someone that turned out to be great? Terrible?

Did you ever consult with your wife? Your rabbi, your bowling buddies?

Thanks

Mitchell Hundred said...

I know that writing the title as Beauty and the Beat is a typo, but now I kind of want to see a movie about a beautiful woman who's super into house music.

Unknown said...

Now I'm trying to imagine Cool Hand Luke starring Kate McKinnon and I think I want to watch that.

Brian Phillips said...

The story I about Bruce Weitz was that he auditioned for "Hill Street Blues", but there was some doubt and then when he was made to look like Mick Belker and came back to set, looking mean, disheveled and snarling, one producer said to the other, "OK, YOU tell him he doesn't have the part!"

Terrence Moss said...

Damon to Denzel??

Peter said...

But that doesn’t stop directors and producers and studios from waxing poetic on the intrinsic courage and spiritual honesty their stars embody

What I love are the pretentious speeches at Oscar time in which actors talk about the "journey" they went on making the movie. You could make a drinking game for every time the word journey is said over the course of the show.

Equally cringe inducing is winners talking about how "brave" their co-stars were or how brave their industry is. Hey, I love actors, but sitting in make-up, delivering lines, being served a free lunch and picking up a fat paycheck do not require bravery. Bravery is a cop going to work every day not knowing if this will be the day he or she gets killed in the line of duty. Bravery is a victim of domestic violence having the courage to take her children and escape a brutal home environment and start afresh. Bravery is not Brad Pitt collecting $20m to make Mr & Mrs Smith.

Jeff said...

For the record, I would watch the absolute hell out of a Cool Hand Luke remake starring Kate McKinnon.

Covarr said...

I'm really not excited for Emma Watson in this movie. She's a fine actress, and the movie mostly looks good, but her singing is... well, judging by the trailers, she needs lessons. She sings rather nasally, and off-pitch enough that they need to use noticeable amounts of autotune, a tech that is generally doing its job when you can't tell it's there.

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

AMEN Peter!

Smug is perfect to describe how actors love to pat themselves on the back and make themselves feel as they are worthy of the money/adulation/supermodels/clothing/vacations.

Aren't we all tired of actors telling us how hard their lives are, and how they know about all our shit better than we do?

Writers/Stunt folks...all the people who get no acclaim on the other hand work hard, and don't shove it in our faces.


A. L. Crivaro said...

So I wake up, make my coffee, get in front of the computer and am literally staring at the Feed Me page of the HowardAshman.com site, wondering if I should start a thread about the new Beauty and the Beast movie, the clear miscasting of Emma Watson (who CAN'T sing, hence the obvious auto tuning), and the way Howard would be spinning in his grave. I decide against it and click instead over to "ByKenLevine" where the first thing I see is this. Getting back in bed now... wake me up when the rights finally become available for a Princess Bride remake, so I can blow my brains out.

Curt Alliaume said...

I would hope Disney decided not to offer the role to Anna Kendrick (who plays much younger than her actual age) after already been Cinderella in Into the Woods (too many fairy tale musicals). That's a better story than Kendrick getting offered the role and saying, "No, I'd rather do Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates."

Douglas Trapasso said...

Not really germane to this post, but when I first heard about the live action BATB, I had Jack Black locked in as Gaston. Anyone else?

Kosmo13 said...

I dislike it, too, when a movie star who stops working when still popular and in demand gets described as having "bravely turned away from their Hollywood career." When anyone in any other profession makes enough money to retire young, we call them "smart" or "lucky" and envy them. If an actor does it, we're supposed to applaud their nobility and be moved by the alleged sacrifice they've made.

blinky said...

Friday question: I loved the Good Wife but had a hard time with The Good Fight because I kept wondering when Alicia was going to show up. Do you think The Good Fight has some parallels with After M*A*S*H? Were people wondering when Hawkeye was going to make an appearance?

Bill Avena said...

@Unknown: Yeah, we've all had our fantasies about Joy Harmon's car wash (after BAD TEACHER I want to see Cameron Diaz). I still love Paul Newman's blue eyes in ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST.

Daniel said...

Not sure if you saw this:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/early-lead/wp/2017/02/22/the-simpsons-are-headed-to-cooperstown/?utm_term=.b395ba428b4a


‘The Simpsons’ are headed to Cooperstown

Now in its 28th season, “The Simpsons” has had its share of episodes devoted to baseball, but the one everyone remembers most fondly is “Homer at the Bat,” the 1992 episode that features a bevy of MLB stars. And now that episode is headed to Cooperstown.

DaveMB said...

Your general point is well taken, but I was still pleased and reassured to learn that Scott Glenn is a badass in real life.

Vince said...

"She gives the greatest blowjobs in Hollywood”


Ha Ha Ha Haaaaaaaa superb Ken. No seriously.... do actresses do that anymore?

Peter said...

Vince, I don't know if any actresses still do that, but back in the day apparently Nancy Reagan, when she was young actress Nancy Davis, earned a reputation for giving the best head in Hollywood.

Tom said...

Any point in asking who if anyone is known as today's Nancy Reagan, in "that way"? Female or male, I'm just curious but not choosy....

MikeN said...

If Emma is like Belle, then how is it 'acting'?

Chris Rock,"There's only 5 real stars in Hollywood. If you can't get a star, WAIT! If you can't get Russell Crowe, WAIT! Don't hire Colin Farrell."

I just got a picture click where I had to click on every square.

Mike said...

No, I'm siding with Director Condon here. Contractually obliged to try to sell his God awful film on these gruelling press junkets where a queue of interviewers from magazines/TV/radio ask the same mundane questions over & over in a futile quest for something interesting, Herr Director attempts to construct a narrative. Possible answers:
a) Beauty? I thought she was playing The Beast.
b) She's a younger version of Amy Adams from Enchanted.
c) Her autobiography's trajectory intersected with the role.

Donald Benson said...

Way back, in SPY Magazine I think, there was an article about the modern "casting couch". The writer, who had some casting authority on a TV show, said executives would require them to audition girlfriends of the moment, not caring that the girlfriends were often completely wrong and would never get cast. Whatever quid pro quo was made on the couch was evidently fulfilled by the fact the girl got an audition; it was left to guys actually casting a show to waste time and then reject unsuitable / untalented actresses who thought they'd slept to the top.

cadavra said...

Wait, Paul Newman was in ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST?

Andrew said...

Paul Newman looks so much like Henry Fonda, it's uncanny.

Jahn Ghalt said...

If a director (producer, casting maven) EVER said the actor got the role because they couldn't get ________________, it better be in a commentary on the DVD (and involving a successful movie). Undercutting your actors like that would be unkind at best.

Matt Weiner did at least one hundred hours of commentaries for Mad Men and seemed candid about casting decisions for his "low budget" show (91 episodes at $3-million a pop is $270-million). At the start he was lucky in that his was AMC's very first show - so he got a great deal of autonomy with most aspects of the show. Later, he battled the suits to cut the deal for the last three seasons - was apparently willing to walk away than budge very much.

Anne Hathaway in that role? Seems as unlikely as Natalie Wood.

Jahn Ghalt said...

@Vince, Peter (who opened the door)

I hear that Robert Blake dished on Marilyn Monroe in his memoir. Said that when she announced her production company (Marilyn Monroe Productions) she said something like "Gentlemen, I've given my last B!#Wj#B"

MikeN said...

Still waiting for special edition of Godfather Part 3 with Sofia Coppola's scenes played by Anne Hathaway.

Cap'n Bob said...

I heard that June Allyson and Judy Garland were also "hot sex girls." I think in Judy's case it was to get out of doing a movie, the way they enslaved her.

Mark Fearing said...

She seems a somewhat odd choice. Not the top of my list for Belle. I was surprised and NOT surprised when they announced the casting. I think it was a marketing decision vs. an artistic decisions...if there are any articles decisions in a tentpole film...