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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Gretchen Mol

In 3:10 to YUMA, Gretchen Mol plays Christian Bale’s pretty but hardworking wife. It’s a small role relative to Bale and of course Russel Crowe, but it is a necessary and a good one. But it struck me – Gretchen Mol is pretty and she most certainly can act – but she’s most definitely on the B-list. Probably that’s a combinations of things - she isn’t into the same embarrassing antics as Lindsay Lohan or Britney Spears and she just hasn’t had that much big screen exposure. Maybe she's discerning. Maybe the box office doesn't love her as much as it loves say, Rene Zellwegger or Angelina Jolie. But - is that a bad thing?

Whatever the reason, her B-list status is exactly what made her perfectly cast in 3:10. She’s didn't cost the production several, absurdly inflated million dollars and her celebrity did not precede her and overshadow the part.*

It goes without saying that more and more as studios hedge their bets around a big opening weekend, A-list stars are in demand. But does that strategy always benefit the movie? No matter what movie I see, if Julia Roberts is in it, I think oh - that's Julia as Charlie Wilson's wife. That's Julia as that Brockovich lady. That's Julia as a hooker. Not going to say a bad word about Julia - she's a good actress. But I don't see the character. I see Julia. Or Reese. Or Angelina. I mean, seriously, who can watch anything with Angelina Jolie in it and not wonder about all those kids and what Brad's like to wake up to?

But as a writer breaking in, of course you want to write a part that is Big Star Aphrodisiac; it can be the slam dunk in packaging and therefore making your movie. But what if your script really is very character driven, and isn't Big Star bait? Will this prevent you from packaging or selling your project?

Not necessarily. A smallish part in your script can cut both ways – on the one hand, a less expensive actor can make your script more expedient to produce – but at the same time, a big name actor attached to the material is obviously a huge plus for the project if you're looking for a studio sale. A six-figure studio sale is what most aspiring writers imagine. But - what if you could get your movie made with a budget that did not include twenty million dollars for one role? What if there's a B-lister out there just dying to lay down some acting chops?

In a way, it’s sad that we no longer live in a world of understated performers like Mol, or say, in yesteryear, of Jean Arthur, Olivia De Havilland, Gene Tierney – actors willing to take supporting roles and subjugate their celebrity for the sake of the role. Gretchen Mol did a great job in 3:10 and the movie benefited by her presence – she didn’t overwhelm the part and she came at a great price. Kind of makes you miss the studio system.

*Irrelevant side story: My son was visiting a movie set with me once; Mol was one of the leads. She asked his name and said he was cute. Remember the scene from Amelie? When she melts/turns into water and hits the floor? That was my son. But you didn't just hear that story.

ShowHype: hype it up!

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Christian M. Howell said...

Interestign and timely as I am up against this very issue. I have a script which has received good feedback, especially dialogue-wise and I'm doing everything I can to get it into the hands of an actress who should be A-List (I'd tell you but.....).

Anyway, what I find is that the better you write the less you need "Big Names." And on the flip side it would be easier to attract names to parts with some meat on them.
I definitely agree with the "actress-syndrome." They do seem to play themselves rather than a character. Or at least you see them and not a separate psyche.

Jodie Foster is probably the best at inhabiting a character, followed by my favorite actress (OK it's a toss-up) who shall remain nameless for now.

I can say that I am preparing a script that should attract Ms. Foster. Now all I need to do is relocate and get a new job in LA and track down a manager or agent or lawyer who loves female driven dramas as much as I do.

But then I am working on my first spoof (thx to Craig Mazin) and several high-concept adventures so I shouldn't be pigeon-holed.
Well, that's it for now.

And to all who enter:

Keep Writing as Writing is the Revealing of the Soul

The Other Pete said...

I wish I could remember where I saw it, but I remember a discussion about the difference between a great actor and a "star." They were talking about the scene in The Great Santini where Robert Duvall is playing basketball with his son. By the end of that scene, Duvall's character winds up looking pretty much like a monster. Their point was that no "star" would ever allow himself to come off looking as badly as Duvall's character did in that scene, being far more concerned with their "brand identity" as a "major star."

In that context, I would rather write a powerful character drama and see it cast entirely with "B-listers" like Gretchen Mol and Robert Duvall. While the results may be less than blockbuster box office, I can't imagine anything more artistically meaningful.

Anonymous said...

steverino, the silly one, says,

Understated maybe, but the photo shows a bit of nip!