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10 Actors Hollywood Tried And Failed To Make Happen

The Playlist By The Playlist Staff | The Playlist July 31, 2013 at 1:21PM

This week, a small-scale indie Australian surfing movie called “Drift,” which details two surfing brothers struggling to overcome their debt-ridden backgrounds and avoid a descent into criminality, opens in limited release. It shares almost nothing in common with the Biggest-Movie-Of-All-Time “Avatar” except its star, Sam Worthington, who in fact plays third lead here behind two largely unknown Aussie actors as the brothers. If it seems like a far cry from Pandora for Worthington, well, that’s because it is. Nothing to do with the quality of the film, but just in terms of the whisper-quiet buzz it’s getting, which Worthington’s presence alone should have beefed up if his stock in Hollywood meant anything at all. Yet despite a concerted effort that happened back there, Worthington just hasn’t ever become a bankable studio lead, and so here we are.
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Taylor Lautner

Taylor Lautner
Attempts At The Big Time: "The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl 3D," (2005) 'The Twilight Saga' (all 5 films, 2008-2012), "Valentine's Day" (2010), "Abduction" (2011), "Grown-Ups 2" (2013, uncredited cameo)

Where Did It All Go Wrong? One image always comes to mind when we think of Taylor Lautner’s career in relation to those of his two more successful “Twilight” co-stars: a little fat wheezy kid constantly playing catch-up yelling “Hey guys! Wait up!” between blasts on his inhaler. While human protein shake Lautner is himself anything but tubby, and as far as we know, untroubled by asthma, his short resume outside the “Twilight” films really does gasp for air, and this is despite the guy’s obvious ambition and work ethic. The terrible would-be actioner “Abduction” not only starred Lautner, but was the debut production of his very own shingle Tailor Made Entertainment. Which is clever and funny because his name is Taylor!!?!! LOL.

But Lautner’s transparency about what he wants is almost endearing—not for him the auteur-driven “serious actor” path to which Robert Pattinson aspires. Lautner wants to be an action star, and for a while there, Hollywood seemed to want that too. In fact, in the faraway land of 2009/2010, Lautner caused something of a bidding war for which based-on-a-toy action star he would take on. First signed as Mattel’s “Max Steel” for Paramount, when he was still in the thick of his role as moony werewolf Jacob Black, suddenly reports of Lautner being the Next Big Thing were everywhere, and Universal, itself with Hasbro’s “Stretch Armstrong” in the cards, also took the bait. At first, it seemed like The World’s Highest-Paid Teen Actor TM might do both, but the rivalries not just between movie studios, but between the two biggest toy manufacturers made that untenable, and Lautner quietly disengaged from “Max Steel." Sadly for him, Universal then saw the numbers on “Abduction” and cooled considerably on ‘Stretch,’ which has since found a new home at Relativitysans Lautner.

Breaking Dawn Pt. 2 Kristen Stewart Robert Pattinson Taylor Lautner Mackenzie Foy

So look, Lautner’s obviously not our cup of tea, and he literally has not got a single decent film to his name (depending on how you feel about “Sharkboy and Lavagirl”), but it does seem he’s something of a victim of the weird Hollywood buzz machine. Something bright and shiny like a Hasbro movie might have been just the ticket to find him a new audience, but testing his suitability for that with the deathly dull “Abduction” seems off. That was never a film that Lautner’s established female fanbase wanted to see, and why were teen boys (presumably the core potential audience) going to flock to watch the guy who played the permanently friendzoned werewolf who fell in love with a baby in "Twilight"?

With an icy silence surrounding his erstwhile Michael Bay team-up and his next mooted YA project “Incarceron” the only thing inked on Lautner’s dance card is the upcoming Tracers" (logline: a bike messenger fleeing danger gets drawn into the world of parkour by a beautiful stranger). However he did have a potential gig with Gus Van Sant and writer Dustin Lance Black, both of whom need a hit after their last films and have the chops to maybe give Lautner an indie career. It just remains to be seen if he can show us anything other than abs and his “Blue Steel” face in terms of acting range to warrant such a chance.

Any Thoughts? "Number one, nothing comes without hard work... And two, you have to be persistent. You've got to keep pushing, keep driving, because in this business, you're going to hear 'no' a lot more than you hear 'yes... You never know, in this business, when it's going to come to an end," he said in a 2010 interview with Michigan's MLive.

Sam Worthington

Sam Worthington
Attempts At The Big Time: "The Great Raid" (2005), "Terminator Salvation" (2009), "Avatar" (2009), "Clash Of The Titans" (2010), "The Debt" (2010), "Last Night" (2010), "Man On A Ledge" (2012), "Wrath Of The Titans" (2012), "Drift" (2013)

Where Did It All Go Wrong? It might seem a touch unfair for the star of the biggest-grossing movie of all time, James Cameron's "Avatar," to make this list. And indeed, for about six months in 2010, it looked like Sam Worthington might be on the way to being a legitimate box-office draw. But when you compare his career path to that of the male lead of Cameron's previous billion-dollar grosser "Titanic," it's clear that Worthington is not going to be the next Leonardo DiCaprio. The Australian actor started out with a few small roles in Southern Hemisphere-shot pictures like "Hart's War" and "Dirty Deeds" before legitimately impressing in the indie "Somersault." A small role in the WWII picture "The Great Raid" followed, along with the lead in a not-so-great contemporary version of "Macbeth," but then along came Cameron.

"Avatar" was in post for years, but Hollywood didn't wait to cast Worthington in some of their biggest tentpoles, with the actor wrapping both "Terminator: Salvation" and "Clash of the Titans" ahead of the release of "Avatar." The 'Terminator' picture was actually released six months ahead of it and while it didn't perform badly, few were particularly enthusiastic about the movie, or the actor's turn as secret robot Marcus Wright. He was better in "Avatar," if not immediately making a case for all the hype and only a few months later, 'Clash' surfed the 'Avatar' 3D wave to big box office numbers too. It was about as solid a start to an A-list career as you could ask for, but things have been tougher since.

Wrath Of The Titans Sam Worthington

To his credit, Worthington moved towards tougher fare but while "The Debt" was a modest hit (and features one of his better turns), "Texas Killing Fields" and "Last Night" both mostly disappeared on the festival circuit and Worthington never seemed at home in either. 2012 was worse, with the actor leading two studio pictures in the first few months of the year, "Man On A Ledge" that tanked and sequel "Wrath Of The Titans" which significantly undergrossed its predecessor and pretty much killed the franchise (if anything, Worthington had gotten worse in the second film). He flirted with various other big projects in the intervening years—a "Dan Dare" reboot, "Quatermain," "Dracula: Year Zero," comic book adaptation "The Last Days Of American Crime"—but few materialized (including a pair of more recent sci-fi actioners) and his only movie this year is this week's surfing movie "Drift."

Now, he looks to be returning to the kind of indie fare he got his start in, with civil war drama "The Keeping Room" and Philip Noyce's "For The Dogs" coming up, but it's a mark of how his star has fallen that his next studio flick is playing second fiddle to Arnold Schwarzenegger in David Ayer's "Sabotage." Worthington's competent enough, but he's never seemed entirely comfortable with the American accent, and can come across as bland. Still, there's always future "Avatar" movies, although any profile boost from those will be negligible.

Any Thoughts? Worthington expressed regrets over "Clash Of The Titans" in 2012 to the Daily Telegraph: "I was disappointed with my performance. I was a fucking bland action dude. I don’t think I created a character and I screwed up. When it comes to 3D, I’ve been in the movie that got revered the most [Avatar] and the movie that got slated the most.”

Alex Pettyfer

Alex Pettyfer
Attempts At The Big Time: "Stormbreaker" (2006), "Wild Child" (2008), "Tormented" (2009), "I Am Number Four" (2011), "Beastly" (2011), "In Time" (2011), "Magic Mike" (2012)

Where Did It All Go Wrong? After the success of 'Harry Potter,' and with a swathe of young adult adaptations brewing, the end of the last decade saw cheekboned English public schoolboys being shipped to the U.S. in volume. Some became instant pin-ups (see: R-Patz), some barely seemed to get off the starting blocks (spare a thought, and ideally some change, for "Eragon" lead Ed Speleers), but few appeared to have the world at their feet in the way that Alex Pettyfer did. The actor was just fifteen when he filmed junior-James-Bond British actioner "Stormbreaker," a modest hit at home, which was followed by Emma Roberts teen-com "Wild Child" and horror "Tormented," before he was snapped up by DreamWorks to star in hotly-tipped young-adult sci-fi "I Am Number Four."

With that film in the can, and supernatural romance "Beastly" also on the way, he suddenly became the toast of Hollywood: DreamWorks were developing a biopic of racing driver James Hunt (soon to be played by Chris Hemsworth in Ron Howard's "Rush"), and Pettyfer was offered the lead in YA adaptation "The Mortal Instruments," with Screen Gems allegedly so high on him that they wouldn't greenlight the film without him. Pettyfer soon bailed on the project (which got made anyway) in favor of the film that became "The Seventh Son," and was linked with a host of other high-profile gigs, including "Jack The Giant Slayer," "The Bourne Legacy," "The Hunger Games," and even the chance get peed on by Nicole Kidman in "The Paperboy."

Alex Pettyfer, Channing Tatum, Magic Mike

But suddenly, whispers started, culminating in a hit piece in The Hollywood Reporter that, essentially, said Pettyfer was a bit of a dick. Bad behavior on the set of "I Am Number Four," and on the marketing trail for "Beastly" was reported, as well as Pettyfer allegedly asking for a $10 million payday for 'Mortal Instruments,' and most of the other gigs dried up, including "The Seventh Son." Steven Soderbergh came to the rescue, offering Pettyfer a co-lead in stripper picture "Magic Mike," alongside Channing Tatum. But Pettyfer seemed to blow it. He's fine in the movie, but rumor has it he alienated both Soderbergh and Tatum on set, to the extent that he was excluded from the later stages of the press tour. The story's not necessarily over: Pettyfer has a few gigs coming up, including a supporting turn in Lee Daniels' "Lee Daniels' The Butler" and the lead in the "Endless Love" remake, but they're not quite the world-beating offers he was getting a couple of years back. Lesson to prospective A-listers: don't let it go to your head too fast.

Any Thoughts? Pettyfer told VMan Magazine, around the time of the release of "Beastly": "L.A. is growing on me a little bit but it's still a shit hole. I think it's this insidious pool where nearly everyone lives in fear. Geographically it's fantastic, but socially it's disgusting. I wish they'd run all of the cunts out... Being an actor is like being in prison. You go, you serve your time, you try and replicate Johnny Depp's career and then you move to Paris."

Skeet Ulrich

Skeet Ulrich
Attempts At The Big Time: "The Craft" (1996), "Scream" (1996), "The Newton Boys" (1998), "Chill Factor" (1999), "Ride With The Devil" (1999)

Where Did It All Go Wrong? Something of a blast from the past, but Skeet Ulrich (now principally a TV face most recently seen on "Law & Order: Los Angeles," and featured in a pilot from "Homeland" creators Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa called "Anatomy Of Violence" that wasn't picked up) was in many ways the Taylor Kitsch of his day. He started off as an extra before studying at NYU and landing with the Atlantic Theater Company. After a CBS special, Ulrich had a clutch of roles in 1996 that got him noticed: as Winona Ryder's boyfriend in "Boys," Sharon Stone's brother in death row drama "Last Dance," a role in Kevin Spacey's directorial debut "Albino Alligator," and most memorably, he figured as sinister love interest in two big horror hits, "The Craft" and "Scream."

It was the latter in particular, where Ulrich played boyfriend/eventual killer Billy Loomis, that really got him heat, and after featuring on the famous Vanity Fair Hollywood cover of that year (albeit relegated behind the second fold with fellow never-quite Jonathan Schaech and some guy called Will Smith), landed a couple of roles the following year. First came Paul Schrader's undervalued "Touch," then a smaller role in the Oscar-winning "As Good As It Gets." These seemed to confirm Ulrich's rising star, and he was soon stacking up leads—joining Matthew McConaughey and Ethan Hawke in Richard Linklater's Western "The Newton Boys," and reteaming with Cuba Gooding Jr. for "Chill Factor."

Skeet Ulrich Jericho

But neither film landed: Linklater's picture was a famous flop, and "Chill Factor" did about as well as you'd hope a movie best described as "'Speed' in an ice-cream van" would. There was one more big picture to come, alongside fellow rising star Tobey Maguire as the co-lead in Ang Lee's Civil War movie "Ride With The Devil." Again, Ulrich is decent in the film, which is undervalued, but it failed to connect with any kind of audience after lukewarm reviews (making only $635,000 on a $40 million budget).

Since then, Ulrich's movie roles have been scarce ("Armored" being the most notable), but he's carved out a fair niche for himself on TV thanks to cult show "Jericho" and his "Law & Order" stint. He was never lacking in talent, but perhaps never quite carved out his own identity (we still confuse him with Stephen Dorff, to be honest, while early on he looked almost distractingly Johnny Depp-like), and while his choices were often honorable, the films themselves never quite took hold. Still, he's only one Sofia Coppola-advocacy away from a return to the big screen...

Any Thoughts? Ulrich told Interview magazine back in 1996, as his movies were about to hit: "Whatever labels are being pinned on me have nothing to do with me. I think people could justify labeling me if they saw a pattern in what I do, but right now that's impossible. As for being a magazine pinup, that's the machine—it's not really me. They could say I was the next Max Perlich, but it'd still be me."

This article is related to: Features, Feature, Stephen Dorff, Gretchen Mol, Josh Hartnett, Taylor Lautner, Alex Pettyfer, Sam Worthington, Taylor Kitsch, Ryan Reynolds, Colin Farrell


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