When Actors Get Weird
Watching the trailer for Lawless, there’s not a whole lot for me to look forward to. There’s Gary Oldman, which is always good. The usually-enjoyable Tom Hardy is co-starring with Shia Labeouf, so that’s a wash. But then there’s Guy Pearce. With no eyebrows, cackling about what a Tommy Gun does to a “mortal.” The whole performance seems weird. Delightfully weird. It’s not always a good thing, but a lot of time when actors allow themselves to make bold choices and get weird, it results in some classics.
Val Kilmer as Doc Holiday in Tombstone. Kilmer’s never-ending-drawl combined with his ability to become one of the coolest film characters ever who is constantly coughing into a napkin is extraordinary. He manages to swish with total masculinity. He saves the day a few times while appearing totally disinterested in the proceedings. He gets a little weird, but always feels right on the money.
Christian Bale as Patrick Bateman in American Psycho. Most acting is covering. In real life, when you feel angry you act calm, wanting to stay in control. So anger, usually, looks like someone trying to be calm. Good acting is usually feeling something and then playing the opposite. As Bateman, Bale had to take this idea to the extreme as someone who has to act every moment of his life (except when he’s hacking into Paul Allen or breaking down for his lawyer) to hide his true impulses. The choices were bold and the performance one of the best (and weirdest) ever.
Nicolas Cage as Damon Macready/Big Daddy in Kick-Ass. When it comes to Cage, you’re probably thinking I threw a dart with a blindfold on at a list of his performances and this one came up. I certainly wouldn’t argue that his performances in Matchstick Men, Adaptation, Bringing Out The Dead, Face/Off, or Raising Arizona are just as strange (and yeah, I’m still leaving out a handful) and some are just as good. But something about his Adam West interpretation as a serious character choice seemed like the perfect film for this list.
Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs. This one in particular has become classic and maybe its because of that that we forget just how strange is was. Hopkins’ accent is unidentifiable and his voice pitched much higher than normal. Oh and he doesn’t blink for the entire movie. He went pretty far out on a limb to distinguish himself. Just take a look at Brian Cox’s Hannibal performance in Manhunter for and idea of what a more normal Lecter might look like. Hopkins not only weirder but more memorable.
George Clooney as Lyn Cassady in Men Who Stare At Goats. A thoroughly forgettable movie that only sticks in my mind because of Clooney. He’d played fools before (usually for the Coen Brothers) and he’d played intense guys before but he’d never combined those elements quite as manically as he did for director (and sometimes writing partner) Grant Heslov in this comedy. Clooney is unwavering in his intensity from start to finish but its an intensity marred by his being delusional. He takes it as far as he can but never falls off the edge. A testament to his own directorial eye, if not his restraint. It would be hard to call any of this restrained.
Johnny Depp as Edward Scissorhands in Edward Scissorhands. Like Cage, there are a number of Depp performances that could’ve made the list. Jack Sparrow made his a megastar because of how off-the-wall he made the pirate. Edward is something of a sentimental choice, then, because it set Depp along his course of Tim Burton collaborations in which he is thoroughly weird. Let this be a placeholder for all of those odd little movies.
Tom Hanks as G.H. Dorr in The Ladykillers. If you’re really paying attention, you’ll note this is the third Coen reference on the list and there are probably a few performances that could’ve warranted a spot, but this one bests them all. Hanks is a much-revered actor so it’s no small proclamation to call this his best work. Why is it usually forgotten? It comes via one of the Coens’ few missteps. Even an ardent Coen lover who will argue with people at length about the merits of Burn After Reading (as I do) has a hard time defending the film. But Hanks’ performance is too charmingly slimy and hilarious to ignore. And given what Hanks normally produces, it’s pretty weird.
So who did I miss?