The significance of actors who are difficult to over look
Actors who do not fit conventional appearance are reshaping modern cinematic story-telling. Iconic roles like The Terminator, portrayed by Arnold Schwarzenegger in the original movie of the same title, have been revisited and improved on and consequently improved motion pictures. These roles present new challenges and opportunities to film-makers, but also present disappointing pitfalls.
Characters that seem larger than life, that can readily fill a frame, and that occasionally dwarf the rest of the cast are not new to story-telling in general. Although, incorporating them on the screen without creating a misleading atmosphere or chemistry is difficult. It can be tempting to readily identify any dynamic pairing of larger and smaller or scarred and comely characters as another Beauty and the Beast or Of Mice and Men example. This could diminish an actor's ability to represent characters built on new and complex themes.
Although painted in multiple layers of violence, as expected with a summer film targeted at audiences seeking hormone-driven heroics and villainy, Pitch Black presents a complex antagonist.1 Riddick is a physically imposing and periodically psychologically intimidating character, who is subsequently dwarfed by an endless swarm of ravenous animals. During the course of this new threat's feeding frenzy, Riddick, portrayed by Vin Diesel, begins to border on anti-hero. As the attempt for escape progresses, he even reveals layers of complexity that reveal some of his own unanswered questions. In response to a suggestion of ending his violent past and finding his place in humanity, he simply replies "Truthfully, I wouldn't know how."2 By this point in the story, Vin Diesel has established Riddick as a decisive individual but with questions of vulnerabilities beyond his physical capabilities. Riddick's personal questions do not seem fully-resolved when he is unable to save Radha Mitchell's character, Fry, and arguably redeem his self. His powerlessness against the circumstances despite his physique and psyche punctuates the story in a way that might be incapable to an alternate actor.
In addition to actors of larger builds, there are actors who possess stark features without the need for make-up. Scars, brands, tattoos and piercings can hold their own stories and can be potentially difficult to work a story around. They are often attributed to sub-cultures and even then galleries of head-to-toe body art are uncommon. This does not cover actors with features attributed to injuries or surgeries. Unlike the natural graying and reduced elasticity of skin, among other expected signs of aging, noticeable injuries may not be as accessible for writers. Although a facial scar or a noticeable limp may carry credibility and wisdom, they may not be as readily received as the dignity of aging.
Here is another possibility of type-casting, perhaps by circumstance or by the intentions of the script writer. However, there is value in a character who can sell a line by virtue of something make-up alone might not induce in an actor. In Once Upon A Time In Mexico, William DaFoe portrays a Mexican crime lord who has established power and control through violence and wealth.3 This is inherently a difficult sell. Powerful positions rarely fall into someone's lap and they rarely remain unchallenged. Mickey Rourke portrays William DaFoe's enforcer and provides the credibility the plot needs. His physical presence and delivery ring with the message "behind every fortune there is a crime." Rourke leaves no doubt in the audience's mind of the events that created the plot and set the scene. Even if he is another puppet, he represents an instrument of power and his lasting scars are evidence of his effectiveness.
This is a considerable stretch from the man-machine that towered over everyday people in a black leather jacket. An argument could be made that the antagonist of the original Terminator movie was never seen.4 The threat existed in a possible future and sent the Terminator to the past to assure its survival. Although Schwarzenegger left a lasting impression in an inarguably creative movie, the Terminator could have easily been an environmental disaster. The fear surrounding a seemingly unstoppable destructive force overshadowed the fact it was a tool. For cinematic purposes, Schwarzenegger, in the original movie, was equated to a prop or part of the scenery. Although his presence on the screen still serves as a milestone for non-traditional characters.
These actors' impact challenges the current landscape of movies. These roles expand story-telling and continue to raise questions. These characters represent anachronisms, misanthropes, and personifications of carnage, as well as paradigms of failure and triumph, even if presented in an unexpected package.
1. Pitch Black, directed by David Twohy, screenplay by Jim Wheat, Ken Wheat, and David Twohy, featuring Vin Diesel and Radha Mitchell (Universal Pictures, Interscope Communications, 1999), DVD (Universal Studios Home Entertainment, 2006).
2. Pitch Black, directed by David Twohy, screenplay by Jim Wheat, Ken Wheat, and David Twohy, (Universal Pictures, Interscope Communications, 1999), DVD (Universal Studios Home Entertainment, 2006).
3. Once Upon A Time In Mexico, directed by Robert Rodriguez, screenplay by Robert Rodriguez, featuring Mickey Rourke and William DaFoe (Columbia Pictures, Dimension Films, Troublemaker Studios, 2003), DVD (Columbia Tristar Home Entertainment, Sony Pictures, Dimension Films, 2004).
4. The Terminator, directed by James Cameron, screenplay by James Cameron and Gale Anne Hurd, featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger (Hemdale, Pacific Western, 1984), DVD (MGM Home Entertainment, 2003).