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Fire Your Agent: 10 Actors Who Need A Change Of Career Direction

Photo of Oliver Lyttelton By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist October 24, 2012 at 2:23PM

Last week brought the borderline-absurd news that Nicolas Cage was in talks to star in a new take on the god-bothering "Left Behind" franchise (this is a WTF even for Cage). This week brings the first major movie starring another Oscar-winner, Halle Berry, in five years, in the shape of "Cloud Atlas," as well as the barely-noticeable release of Gerard Butler vehicle "Chasing Mavericks." These things mean many things, but perhaps first and foremost among them, it's that certain actors aren't having the best of times.

Hilary Swank
Hilary Swank
Ok, so one Best Actress Oscar isn't a guarantee of future success, but surely once you have two, you're set, right? Not so much, at least in the case of Hilary Swank. The one-time "Next Karate Kid" gave an astonishing turn in "Boys Don't Cry," and only five years later, won for the second time for Clint Eastwood's "Million Dollar Baby." But the trouble is that almost everything in between, and since, disappointed. Swank landed on her feet reasonably well after "Boys Don't Cry," with "The Gift" and "Insomnia," but "11:14," "Red Dust" (the forgotten feature debut of Tom Hooper) and blockbuster-that-never-was "The Core" all barely made an impact. The Eastwood film and a second Oscar gave her a second lease of life, but she soon squandered it away on ill-advised genre efforts and leading roles like "The Black Dahlia," "The Reaping" and "Freedom Writers," with only the middling success of "P.S. I Love You" providing a bright spot. Attempts at a third Oscar with "Conviction" and "Amelia" fell flat, and things reached a nadir last year with the barely-released Hammer horror "The Resident." There's some stuff on the way that looks a little more hopeful with the Richard Curtis-penned HBO TV Movie "Mary & Martha," and weepie "You're Not You." But it seems to us that more parts along the lines of "Insomnia," and fewer where she has to carry the picture by herself, might be in order.

Reese Witherspoon, This Means, War
Reese Witherspoon
Reese Witherspoon picked up the gold statue for "Walk The Line" and was one of the highest-paid stars around, thanks to the one-two punch of "Legally Blonde" and "Sweet Home Alabama." Since playing June Carter Cash, she's been relatively sparing in picking roles, with only five live-action-leads, plus "Monsters Vs. Aliens,"  and of those films, only "Four Christmases" was an unmitigated hit. "Rendition" was a critical and commercial flop, as was James L Brooks' "How Do You Know" (something that theoretically should have been in her sweet spot). "Water For Elephants" was a modest success, but any goodwill from that was sort of undone by this year's "This Means War," which remains one of the worst films of 2012 (although technically grossed more than 'Elephants' worldwide, though it cost more). What sums up most of these picks is that the young star of the brilliant "Election" doesn't seem to be anywhere to be found in these films. Fortunately, Witherspoon seems to have realized this too and change seems to be on the horizon; she got good notices for Jeff Nichol's "Mud" at Cannes, and stars in Atom Egoyan's forthcoming West Memphis Three drama "Devil's Knot." If she can keep away from the mooted "Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus" movie, all the better. She was up for Amy Adams' role in Paul Thomas Anderson's original version of "The Master" before it fell apart, and you can understand why, she's a terrific actor when she wants to be (see "Walk The Line"), but she could stand to make a lot better choices and become part of the dramatic A-list that Adams has now ascended to. 

Clive Owen, Killer elite
Clive Owen
It's about a decade since British actor Clive Owen started to be exposed to American audiences. The delayed release of 1998's "Croupier" ultimately became a surprise indie success, which saw Owen get a tiny and memorable role in "The Bourne Identity," star in "The Hire" series of short films for all-star directors like Wong-Kar Wai, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and Ang Lee, and finally get picked out as a leading man. Those first few attempts -- "Beyond Borders" and "King Arthur" -- didn't pay off, but things went much better over the next few years, with an Oscar nomination for "Closer," and impressive turns in the successful duo of "Sin City" and "Inside Man," as well as a great performance in "Children Of Men." Things haven't been so great since the middle of the 00s, though. From "Shoot 'Em Up" to "Intruders," nothing really paid off (minus "Duplicity" that still didn't really connect with audiences, but a strong turn it was), with a villainous turn behind a silly mustache in Jason Statham vehicle "The Killer Elite" probably marking the low-point. In fairness, 2012 has been better with the acclaimed Sundance thriller "Shadow Dancer," and an Emmy nomination for "Hemingway & Gellhorn." With a lead in Guillaume Canet and James Gray's "Blood Ties" coming next year, hopefully that, and "Sin City 2" will put him back on top, though, because otherwise we're worried that a future on some network detective show may beckon and clearly the actor is far above that fare.

Colin Farrell
Colin Farrell
The career of Irish actor Colin Farrell has had more ups and downs than most -- it sometimes feels like Farrell's had multiple comebacks over the last decade or so. Ten years ago after starring in "Tigerland," Farrell was the hottest leading man in Hollywood, with parts in "Minority Report" and "Phone Booth" really putting him on the map, and blockbusters "Daredevil" and "S.W.A.T." on the way. But the actor's substance abuse problems reached a peak, at the same time that films like "Alexander" and "Miami Vice" proved to be expensive flops, and it seemed like he might be done as a Hollywood leading man. Farrell took time off, sobered up, and won acclaim for a terrific performance in Martin McDonagh's "In Bruges," seemingly taking stock again and choosing smaller, more interesting projects; absolutely the right thing to do. But Farrell's career since then has been unpredictable at best. "In Bruges" was a modest indie hit, but another terrific little home-grown project, Neil Jordan's "Ondine," went virtually unseen. He was a blast in an unlikely role in the comedy smash "Horrible Bosses," but only a  month later top-lined "Fright Night," which was pretty much a disaster. And this summer, he had another tentpole lead, in "Total Recall," but the box office returns suggested he's not much more of a draw than he was half a decade ago. The studios keep trying though as Warner Bros wanted him in "Arthur & Lancelot," and put him in "A Winter's Tale" when that film fell apart. But ultimately, Farrell feels like Jude Law -- a character actor whose good looks saw him pushed into carrying films that probably aren't playing to his strengths (whereas something like "Seven Psychopaths" does). The sooner he (or his reps) come to terms with that, the happier he'll probably be and discerning audiences will simply be able to enjoy the actor in solid, interesting parts instead of having to topline middling tentpoles like "Total Recall."

This article is related to: Forest Whitaker, Adrien Brody, John Cusack, Halle Berry, Hilary Swank, Features, Fire Your Agent

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