Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Hollywood Babble On & On #421: Rue Brittania! Brittania Rules the Stage!

Welcome to the show folks...

Web site Cinematical recently posted a question: Why are British actors so versatile? And while the example they used was a German-Irish actor, he is still British trained and British based, which shows that what makes an actor "British" and "versatile" is not so much ethnicity, but

You see the British Attitude toward acting is that it's a job, or a skill, like being a plumber, or an electrician, it is not a birthright, an elevation to some state of nobility, or even royalty. The British attitude is all about the work, the Hollywood Attitude is that it's all about fame and money.

This attitude and the versatility that goes with it, derives from a very primal instinct, and that instinct is survival.

Being a British "star" is not like being an American "star." The money isn't anywhere near as big, hit British films are rare, and even if you have a hit TV show in Britain, you're only going to do about 8-10 episodes a season, not the Hollywood standard of 25 episodes a season. If you're a British "star" you're going to need to keep working to make a decent living, and that means doing whatever movie parts you can get, TV guest spots, theater roles, and anything else that comes your way, even commercials.

When you're a Hollywood movie "star" that is your full time job, and not only that, being a Hollywood star comes with an "image" that must be maintained at all costs. Doing television is considered "slumming" or a "come down" no matter how successful the show may be. Doing low budget independent films are not considered slumming, as long as they fit some narrow "art house" mold, and help give themselves some "street cred." And don't talk about a "movie star" doing commercials, unless it's safely done far away and in another language.

For a British actor, there's no such thing as slumming above amateur porn, there's only
working. When they're feeling insecure career-wise, they take whatever work they can get, once they feel secure, they then become more selective, aiming for creative challenges, or working with people they like, over big paychecks. What I call the "Michael Caine Path."

A compressed example of this is
Harry Potter starlet Emma Watson, who, thanks to the franchise, was the top money making actress of the past decade, and yet she's doing a British television movie called Ballet Shoes, airing in America on PBS. Now there's a good reason for her doing television, it's work, and British actors like work.

Then there's the very practical acknowledgment that she does not carry the Harry Potter franchise on her own star power, is just an extremely lucky actor, and has to show the sort of versatility and professionalism a British actor needs to survive in the long term, even though she probably has way more financial security than other actors her age, and can afford to be more choosy about the parts, who she works with, and has even publicly contemplated retiring from movies entirely if faced with working in the Hollywood style.

If she had the Hollywood attitude, she'd be demanding $20 million a picture, luxury trailers for each member of her entourage, a personal drug dealer, and trying to get an Academy Award for playing a mentally handicapped hemophiliac quadriplegic with terminal leukemia who teaches the stuffy stockbroker how to loosen his tie and feel alive.* And no one can dare say no to this person, because they were the "star" and thus their every brain-fart is pure genius, until they crash and burn, and quickly forgotten.

I've been reading Peter Biskind's Down and Dirty Pictures, about the indie film boom and bust of the 1990s and 2000s, and found what I consider the prime example of the Hollywood Attitude, and it's the one actor that everyone cites as the "un-Hollywood" guy: Robert Redford. One of the recurring tropes of the books are people complaining about how impossible it is to do business with Redford, because everything has to run on "Redford Time." Which means that your schedule and finances don't mean anything, but his whims mean everything, and you're the villain if you dare to call the star on their behavior when it threatens your livelihood.

Anyone who tries that in British pop culture finds themselves savaged in the press, who are way more aggressive than the publicist dependent US media, and finds themselves having a hard time finding work.

That's my theory, what's yours?

*Just watch, someone at Universal is probably copying and pasting that idea as a log-line for the company's next Oscar season tent-pole pic starring Charlize Theron and Ben Affleck.


  1. What the brits attitude have with acting I call "professionalism" something that is lacking with the A-list here in the USA.

    Only a few of young hollywood I can say has a sense of professionalism. One of them is HSM's own Ashley Tisdale. I do not see her in the tabloids or on tmz wandering the streets trashed to acting like her demanding bitch Sharpay Evans character on set.

    Another Disney product Lindsay Lohan acted like that and look where it led her.


  2. Only a few of young hollywood I can say has a sense of professionalism. One of them is HSM's own Ashley Tisdale. I do not see her in the tabloids or on tmz wandering the streets trashed to acting like her demanding bitch Sharpay Evans character on set.

    That's one of the things I like about Supernatural is every report I've read and heard on the two leads (both from Texas) is that they are "professionals". Robert Downey Jr seems to have turned a corner and become a professional now.

    Hmm... any other American actors we can think of fitting this? (it's like a new game!)

  3. Blast Hardcheese30/12/09 12:21 pm

    I was going to say Gene Hackman, but he's not doing movies anymore (alas).

    How about Christopher Walken? The story I've heard is that, if you pay him his fee, he will show up and act in your movie. Period. Doesn't matter what the movie is about, or how good or bad the script is. Pay the money, and he'll show up and do his best.

  4. Nate Winchester30/12/09 6:23 pm

    Christopher Walken does seem like a good worker. Jon Voight too maybe?

    The worst part is some actors I thought of (Michael Caine? Christian Bale?) I soon realized were all English actors.

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  6. I am American and I have loved British entertainment since I was a child. I am more of a fan of British comedy than American to be quite honest. I have such high respect for British actors. In fact I am working on a special series of articles on my own blog dedicated to one of my favorite British actors, Rik Mayall.

    I couldn't have said it better myself Mr.D! They care more about their craft then fame and they're not afraid to take risks. That is why I'd admire them so much.

    Michael Caine and Sir Lawrence Olivier are just two out of many high profiled, well respected actors that were not afraid to risk their reputation by starring in low brow trash. The American masses would call that selling out while the British would call it disciplined hard work. I call it someone who is an honorable and dedicated actor.

  7. Puts me in mind of a comment I once heard Jay Leno make while interviewing Patrick Stewart. (This was before he was Sir Patrick.)

    Jay observed, "You British actors...you're always busy. An American actor, he'll do a blockbuster and wait six months for the next one to come along. But a British actor will do a major high-profile movie, then a smaller independent one, then a run onstage in Drury Lane, then a miniseries for the BBC...you guys just never seem to stop working!"

    Which ties into your observation...for the Brits, it's not about the fame and money but about the work and the art. That's also why (besides the fact they have sensible parents) that I think the Harry Potter actors will be just fine.