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

by Oliver Lyttelton
October 24, 2012 2:23 PM
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Gerard Butler
Like Farrell, Butler has been touted for leading man status for a decade or so, cropping up in "Reign of Fire," "Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle Of Life" and "Timeline" in the early part of the '00s, and impressing in homegrown picture "Dear Frankie." And while "The Phantom Of The Opera" was something close to a disaster, it looked like he'd actually made it when he toplined surprise smash "300" in 2006. And unlike some of these actors, Butler does have a legitimate audience, a small but fervent band of female followers who'll turn up to films like "The Ugly Truth" and "P.S. I Love You" and keep them profitable. But they don't crossover to the fare that's not directly targeted to them, hence the underperformance of films like "Gamer" and especially "Machine Gun Preacher," which tried to cement him as a serious actor, but which ended up taking a truly terrible $1.1 million worldwide. That most of his films vary between mediocre and terrible is perhaps a more serious concern. Short of the essentially-being-buried "Chasing Mavericks" or the equally undersold "Playing For Keeps" turning out to be hidden gems, the best thing he's done in recent memory is a vocal turn in "How To Train Your Dragon." A sequel to that's on the way, along with a starring role in "Olympus Has Fallen," but the latter risks looking like the cheaper version of the bigger-budget "White House Down." Butler has talent, but if he doesn't want those roles to dry up, he needs to start taking more parts like his small but impressive performance in "Coriolanus."

Nicolas Cage
Yeah, it almost goes without saying. And there's a reasonably good reason for the downfall of Mr. Cage -- huge tax debts have left him taking virtually any offer that lands on his desk, or at least that's how it seems. But it's unbelievably dispiriting to see the man who starred in "Raising Arizona,' "Wild At Heart," "Leaving Las Vegas" and "Adaptation" reduced to this point. Cage has always been inconsistent, but in his late '90s prime, it seemed that for every Bruckheimer blockbuster he took, there was another small movie and brilliant performance (plus he's great value in things like "The Rock" and "Face/Off"). And even a few years ago, things like the "National Treasure" franchise made him a legitimate A-lister, even if the dodgy likes of "Ghost Rider" and "The Wicker Man" had already started cropping up. But since "Bad Lieutenant" in 2009 (itself a Millennium exploitation movie given greater weight by the direction of Werner Herzog), he's seemingly made a cheap action movie every few months. Some have been ok (he's very fun in "Kick Ass," maybe "Drive Angry" if we were feeling generous), most have been dreadful, and Cage seems to be valuable more as a pre-sale face than as an actual actor.  But 2013 looks a little better. He'll feature in an actual proper, studio release, albeit in voice only, with "The Croods," and is about to work with David Gordon Green on "Joe," but the bulk of the stuff he has in the works is the same kind of bordering-on-self-parody sub-Liam Neeson thriller he's been churning out for some time. Can't Quentin Tarantino or someone give him a reinvention at this point? How much tax can one man have to pay back anyway? 

John Cusack
As someone for whom "Grosse Point Blank" and "High Fidelity" were seminal moments of my adolescence, it breaks our heart to have Cusack on a list like this. But the actor who was once practically an A-lister, and the star of clssics like "Eight Men Out," "The Grifters," " Say Anything" and "Being John Malkovich" has, over the last few years, become the guy who seems to pick up the parts that Nicolas Cage turns down. It hasn't even been that long since Cuscak starred in a commercial hit. He toplined both "1408" and "2012" in the late '00s, and while neither are exactly high-art, they seemed to validate him as a leading man. But just about everything since has been a disaster. Those that made it to theaters, like "Hot Tub Time Machine," "The Paperboy" and "The Raven" were pretty dreadful, and made no money. But there were others that didn't even get that far: "War Inc" barely got a release, and "Shanghai" and "The Factory" are still essentially missing in action, though have snuck onto DVD in some parts of the world. And we're not that confident in some of the stuff he's got coming up, which includes co-starring with Nic Cage in dreadful-looking serial killer flick "The Frozen Ground," and the ludicrous-sounding thriller "Grand Piano." And really, Cusack has no one to blame but himself -- the films he's picked have just been plain bad. Time to reconnect with the top-flight filmmakers that he worked with in the 1990s -- surely an old pal like Cameron Crowe or Stephen Frears could find him a part in something.

Thoughts? At least all these actors still have hope (ok Cage is a question mark), unlike say Cuba Gooding Jr. or Heather Graham who's career-choices seem to have gone severely off the deep end in the last decade, minus a few decent turns that have gone mostly unnoticed. Let us know below.

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  • Paul Schrader | March 31, 2014 8:57 AMReply

    Nic Cage has completed a film titled Dying of the Light in which he gives one of his finest performances. Or. So I am told.

  • Raindogs | October 30, 2012 9:52 PMReply

    If I may, can we add... Denzel Washington?!

  • Raindogs | October 30, 2012 9:55 PM

    ...oh...and Al Pacino (uau). How the mighty have fallen indeed.

  • b | October 30, 2012 5:35 PMReply

    I scanned these comments, but don't think anyone mentioned Robert DeNiro. I guess he's a bit different since his career will forever be known for greatness, but the last ten years is a big WTF to me looking at his resume. Am holding out hope for Silver Linings Playbook, but other than that a bunch of mediocre shit. If he does one more of those Fockers movies that is it for me. I will swear him off for forever.

    I haven't seen Machete though so perhaps that will renew my faith in him and his film choices. And I suppose it's unfair of me to cite an actor who made his career with films from Scorsese, The Deer Hunter and The Godfather Pt. II, it's hard to live up to such awesomeness.

  • Angela | October 29, 2012 9:38 PMReply

    Hey, Fright Night was awesome, even if no one went to see it.

  • Daisy Kenyon | October 28, 2012 4:06 PMReply

    Is it really the agents fault though? it may just be a downturn in career or bad luck. Hollywood Inc. is brutal

  • LAH | October 28, 2012 12:32 AMReply

    I agree with several of the people that think this topic is unfair. If you frequent movie theaters, or Netflix or whatever illegal downloading site you may watch movies from you'll see there are a limited number of good movies per year. The odds of getting a great script, then getting a director and producer that will get the most out of the script and then find a studio that will leave them alone and not muddle with it or have enough cash to may for the movie is pretty low. There just aren't enough good movies to employ every good actor and actress in Hollywood so you take a chance or sometimes bite the bullet and do a movie to get paid or stay in the spotlight.

  • Dee | October 27, 2012 8:50 PMReply

    Funny you mentioned Jude Law. I'd certainly nominate him, though it seems he's started to correct course. Even with lacklusters like Contagion, it fares better than Repo Men.

  • Rosie | October 27, 2012 1:21 PMReply

    This is the most arrogant article I have ever written. All actors encounter either bad press, failed movies or even a dry spell in their career. It's nothing new. Yet, this article seemed to indicate that if your opinion is adhered to, every Hollywood movie or television star will be consistently successful. The arrogance in this article is unbelievable.

  • ugh | October 26, 2012 8:51 PMReply

    Correction: "Whose," not "who's" in the last paragraph.

  • jean vigo | October 26, 2012 4:05 PMReply

    I find it hard to believe that a lot of these actors can't read a script ahead of time and see that it's going to be a stinker. An agent is an agent in ANY biz, regardless of what he/she will say. Objective #1: maximize income/percentage. Sell your "property" for the highest bid.

    Maybe these actors need to be more pro-active instead of playing the "talk to my agent" game. I'm sure they can live comfortably enough than 99% of us and wait for the right project.

  • bapi | October 26, 2012 3:50 PMReply

    Josh Hartnett

  • Dan | October 26, 2012 2:37 PMReply

    I think Sigourney Weaver needs to be on here. She still has the "Avatar" buoy keeping her afloat, and she's apparently done very well in "Red Lights", but "Abduction"? And "Cold Light of Day"? C'mon.

  • ali | October 26, 2012 12:16 PMReply

    Just because you are resonably good looking does not make you a lead actor and neither does giving a strong performance in a character role. None of the actors on this list are leading actors. They are all good/solid supporting actors. If they can check their egos and play to their strengths( Reese,stop doing rom-coms. Halle, you are supporting dramatic actor)their careers can rebound.

  • SCOTT | October 29, 2012 9:32 PM

    "Paul"? "Cabin In the Woods"? She's doing fine.

  • The Jackal | October 25, 2012 7:13 PMReply

    Cusack and Cage are the poster boys for disastrous acting choices. Halle Berry has just fallen off the map as a legitimate actor. Gerard Butler just needs to be a little choosier, as his role in Corialanus proved he's still got the acting chops. Hillary Swank pops in occasionally decent flicks, Amelia and Freedom Writers were enjoyable if not spectacular. I think Adrian Brody is just fine. He turns in good performances in independent films and I thought he was a hoot in Predators. Forrest Whitaker, in my opinion was never meant for leading man status. The Last King of Scotland was the role was born to play, yes. He still does well in supporting roles. Not sure what happened to ol' Clive. Children of Men was phenomenal. Hope he gets back on track soon.

    Thems the facts

  • Krazyjoe | October 25, 2012 3:13 PMReply

    "Those that made it to theaters, like "Hot Tub Time Machine," "The Paperboy" and "The Raven" were pretty dreadful, "

    Hot Tub Time Machine was hilarious. I saw that 4 times in theaters. You guys need better taste.

  • Krazyjoe | October 25, 2012 3:09 PMReply

    "Some ("Giallo," "Predators," "Wrecked," and once more for emphasis, "Giallo") were bad movies, "

    Predators was excellent.

  • myattempt@sarcasm | October 25, 2012 1:54 PMReply

    i'd add daniel day lewis to this list. by now he shouldve had a 3rd oscar but he's busy taking 5 year breaks between films and now wasting his time with that talentless hack steven spielberg. what a loser.

  • b | October 30, 2012 5:24 PM

    This made me chuckle.

  • cinephile | October 25, 2012 1:04 PMReply

    Yup, I'd add Renee Zellweger to this list. Where the hell did she go, like, four years ago?

  • Sitting Pat | October 25, 2012 10:43 AMReply

    Colin Farrell was awesome in Seven Psychopaths. If that's the direction his career is headed, smaller interesting films with great performances, then he's headed in the right direction.

    As for Reese Witherspoon, I guess in her case it's don't eff your agent. Her days of being a viable lead are over. It's not the projects, she's proven over and over, as has been said here, that she's no longer a very good actress.

  • bruckey | October 25, 2012 8:14 AMReply

    22 that need saving

  • takealook | October 25, 2012 7:54 AMReply

    Similarly to @ADAM's stance, I am going to say that I don't think Reese Witherspoon is that great of an actor either. Most undeserved Oscar if I've ever seen one - she was decent in Walk The Line but compared to Felicity Huffman's performance in Transamerica?? Shocking. And she became completely overrated after that. Maybe she can't get better roles because dare say it, she isn't in that league?

  • aquarius1271 | October 31, 2012 9:49 AM


  • asiandude | October 25, 2012 2:55 AMReply

    I found it weird :) if The Playlist made this 1.5 years ago CHARLIZE THERON would definitely be on here :D and look @ what a ride she has had since Young Adult!

    Some I think should be mentioned: Winona Ryder / Uma Thurman (indeed, all the Kill Bill girls - Lucy Liu at least started making some small wave + Daryl hannah probably too rich & weird) / Gwyneth Paltrow (without the tabloid + connection + Iron Glee, she would be here) / Kate Hudson / JLO / Renee / Thandie Newton / Ewan Mc

  • aquarius1271 | October 31, 2012 9:47 AM

    Elle, you're completely wrong. Jlo is first and foremost an actress, that's where she made her big break in the late 90s with films like Selena, Blood and Wine, U-Turn and finally Out of Sight which really cemented her status as a talented actress in the right project. At around the same time she decided to pursue a recording career as well and enjoyed huge success with many top 10 hits coming in quick succession within just a couple of years. If I recall right, she was the only person who had a number 1 film at the box office (must be the Wedding Planner) and number 1 record simultaneously. Although both of these areas seemed to have stalled at one point, these days she seems to have made a comeback both at music what with her insanely popular musical collaborations with Pitbull and her roles in ensemble films What to Expect and Ice Age (voice only).

  • Elle | October 27, 2012 2:20 AM

    Let's get something straight. J-Lo is NOT an actress. She is a singer who has been put in movies so her agents can profit. Much like Rihanna and Adam Levine and Justin Timberlake. There's too many singers who are trying to be actors because studios want people to come see their movies so they'll use whoever is most popular at the time which takes away roles from ACTUAL actors.

  • Shawn Gordon | October 25, 2012 1:22 AMReply

    Here are ten alternatives, actors who for the last decade have had a pretty lackluster career, especially when you look at the decade prior.

    Harrison Ford, Harvey Keitel, Kevin Kline, Steve Martin, Robin Williams, Michael Douglas, Michelle Pfeiffer, Kurt Russell, Val Kilmer, Michael Keaton

  • asiandude | October 25, 2012 2:43 AM

    Not Michelle Pfeiffer, she got a lot of goodwill and if she wants she will comeback. DS is more of a favor to her friend Tim since we obviously know it will be sold by Tim/Depp and her presence wont affect the audience. PLU is more proof of the lack of meaty role in Hollywood 4 women above 50. At this point, I suggest M finds a role down the line of The Devil Wears Prada and wait until when she found the role. TBH, it looks she lost interest in acting -.- because she cant find the material. Mery took ALL OF IT

  • Leonardo | October 25, 2012 1:21 AMReply

    they really want some money, but common what happened to their seelf-respect...

  • Sean | October 24, 2012 11:01 PMReply

    At The Playlist, must you put the list onto 3 pages instead of 1....?? Well regarding the actual article it is perfect to a T! Every1 you mentioned I have at some point or another thought "where the hell did you go? & why?" Its really a shame too esp for some of the "better" names on here.... Such as Hilary Swank, Forest Whitaker, John Cusack, Clive Owen, Colin Farrell, Halle Berry, & Reece. The rest are whatever to me... I wish The Playlist could have gone into some deeper digging & give us reasons as to WHY WHY WHY this has happened to some great actors & their careers (such as inner gossip of Hollywood, the politics of the buisness,).... Now that would be a fantastic article. This is some some stuff we already knew unfortunatley ....B/c is this really just the case of a BAD AGENT...?!?!? I def dont think so... And it appears theres literally only a handful of top actors who have stayed around for decades anymore rather than 2 handfuls or a group of 20 or so has wittled down to about 5 I think....

  • Someone | October 24, 2012 8:31 PMReply

    It's over for Halle. Thats why she wants to move abroad-- at least she knows it cause Nicole Kidman sure doesnt.

  • JD V | October 24, 2012 7:49 PMReply

    Whoah, now hold on. PREDATORS is not a bad movie. : )

  • Jon | October 24, 2012 6:43 PMReply

    Don't forget that Cage did Bringing Out the Dead

  • Jolene | October 24, 2012 6:02 PMReply

    Tom Hardy needs a better agent as soon as possible.

  • Louise | October 30, 2012 9:20 AM

    Tom Hardy needs to take voice lessons so we can understand what he says. I don't have a problem understanding British, Irish or even Australian actors but I can't understand a word Hardy says. Frustrating because he is very good and charismatic.

  • Chris | October 24, 2012 7:07 PM

    Yeah, working on "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy," "The Dark Knight Rises," "Inception," "Bronson" and "Warrior" were TERRIBLE choices, great point Jolene!

  • Ellie Mae | October 24, 2012 5:39 PMReply

    Regarding Gerard Butler, some of your comments just didn't ring true. The movie "Phantom of the Opera" was bashed by the critics because most didn't even bother to watch it and they didn't like the broadway musical either. But it was truly fantastic and beautiful and Gerard was fabulous in it. Just go to IMDB and Amazon - regular people overwhelmingly love this movie. His new movie, "Chasing Mavericks" is a PG rated relationship movie based on a true story about surfing the big waves near Santa Cruz, California. Directed by a great talent, Curtis Hanson. What's so bad about a nice family movie with good values and a good message, plus fantastic footage? Does every movie have to be a cartoon, science fiction, edgy, super hero or super violent to appeal to you critics? Gerard is a super talent in my book.

  • Jacques DeMolay | October 24, 2012 5:31 PMReply

    Replace Collin Farrel with either A) Cuba Gooding Jr., B) Val Kilmer, or C) Kevin Costner and it'd be perfect.

    Also, Drive Angry was fucking awesome and you all know it, Playlsters. Of course, that's more to William Fitchner's credit than Cage's, but still...

  • Shawn Gordon | October 25, 2012 1:07 AM

    No, Drive Angry was not awesome, it was quite the opposite of awesome.

  • Duddi | October 24, 2012 5:15 PMReply

    I've just read the article and the comments but in whole this mess i don't see mentioned not even one time the name of a dude called Val, Val Kilmer !? - Is he a finished episode or maybe he's ok with those "ugly", "stupid", "lazy" straight to video garbage he's been on in the last 5 years !!!

  • Piotr | October 24, 2012 4:20 PMReply

    Your use of the word 'portmanteau' suggests you have no idea what it means.

  • coke | October 24, 2012 4:12 PMReply

    "The Butler" (unfortunately still directed by Lee Daniels, but it'll at least get a theatrical release)


  • Rizzo | October 24, 2012 4:08 PMReply

    These guys should not fire their agents. Their presence helps me pick out which movies to avoid in the theater and just wait until I can watch them on Encore.

  • Glass | October 24, 2012 3:43 PMReply

    Fucking KILLER idea for an article. I would hate to be an actor so bad... You can probably count on one hand, the actors that have the power to say, "send me all the good scripts with legendary directors attached, so I can decide which one to be in next". Actors usually have the 'audition' mentality built into them, so in the end, they take what they can get.

  • Lou | October 24, 2012 5:08 PM


  • MJ | October 24, 2012 3:40 PMReply

    I disagree on Colin Farrell, his films over the past 6 years or so might be under seen but they feature the best work of his career. Cassandra's Dream, Ondine, In Bruges, Triage, The Way Back & even his bit parts in Crazy Heart & Dr. Parnassus are all great performances. Seven Psychopaths is doing well for what it is in the current marketplace & even his Hollywood return last year was quite entertaining (HB & Fright Night), though we'll just pretend Total Recall didn't happen.

  • Angela | October 29, 2012 9:43 PM

    I agree. Since In Bruges, he seems more inclined to the smaller, more focused indie movies he should've been doing all along, tossing a supporting role in a fun, bigger-budget movie every so often just to keep things interesting. And yes, we can just pretend Total Recall didn't happen.

  • Chase | October 24, 2012 5:04 PM

    I agree. But a lot of people pinned him as the next big, A-lister headliner. Which didn't happen. Which is why I assume he's on this list. Though his choices have been good and consistent, unlike the other 9 on this list, none of them have propelled him to the level of leading man status as was predestined for him.

  • peter vincent | October 24, 2012 3:38 PMReply

    Fright Night was hardly a "disaster". It made 41 million worldwide on a 30 million budget, despite being released at the ass end of august. also, it received pretty solid reviews. I mean, whatever - it's your article, but if that's a disaster and meanwhile "Alexander" is just a "flop" - then your brain is fucked.

  • Daniel | October 25, 2012 3:30 AM

    I can't speak to whether or not it was profitable, but I can tell you that I hated it because it was boring, unimaginative, and poorly directed.

  • Xavier | October 24, 2012 6:59 PM

    I still stand by Fright Night, yeah it didn't make any money but it was fun and it looked great. Done way better than a good majority of movies that year.

  • Chase | October 24, 2012 5:07 PM

    Actually, it was a disaster domestically, as it only made 18 million against its 30 million budget. Despite positive reviews.

  • Chris | October 24, 2012 3:24 PMReply

    Once again, The Playlist's fact-checking leaves much to be desired. Regarding "Hot Tub Time Machine," it actually pulled in $50 million and made a profit. I agree it wasn't very good, but it did decent enough business and has something of a following.

  • JanBerlin | October 24, 2012 3:22 PMReply

    Wasn’t Cusack‘s "Grace is Gone" considered awards material?

  • James | October 24, 2012 5:24 PM

    And of course when I retype the same thing, it looks even more like gibberish, rendering my comment incomprehensible, lol.

  • James | October 24, 2012 5:23 PM

    I love the formatting errors in the message board here - Wasn’t Cusack‘s sounds like some undiscovered Latvian director, lol.

  • Adam | October 24, 2012 3:21 PMReply

    I swear I'm not trying to be a troll here, but I'm gonna take what is apparently a brave stance and say that I don't think Nicolas Cage is actually very good. In fact, a couple of the folks on here aren't in need of better agents, but actually owe their success to the ones they've got. I don't think Cage was great in Raising Arizona or Leaving Las Vegas, I think that if you could have put any living human into those films and they'd have come off great, provided they were able to perform the incredible scripts they were given.

  • Daniel | October 25, 2012 3:31 AM

    Fair point. He was good in Adaptation though.

  • Wildcat | October 24, 2012 3:18 PMReply

    Whitaker fired his agent after they forced him to do The Last King of Scotland. And look at where he is now... on this list.

  • Cribbster | October 24, 2012 3:17 PMReply

    "Predators" wasn't a bad movie. It was pretty good. And Adrian Brody was as good as he needed to be in it.

  • Greg | October 24, 2012 3:16 PMReply

    Michael Keaton. Michael Keaton. Micheal Keaton.

  • Elle | October 27, 2012 2:26 AM

    YES. I adore him. Where has he been?

  • Adam | October 24, 2012 3:43 PM


  • Niall | October 24, 2012 3:07 PMReply

    Antoine Fuqua didn't direct Law Abiding Citizen. Yay for fact checking guys!

  • Joe | October 24, 2012 3:33 PM

    Please understand - all black directors look alike to The Playlist. Antoine Fuque, F. Gary Gray, what's the difference?

  • Mitchell | October 24, 2012 3:02 PMReply


  • James | October 24, 2012 5:22 PM

    LOL, Chris's comment below should win Comment of the Week!!!!!

  • Chris | October 24, 2012 3:41 PM

    If Zellweger would stop squinting, maybe she'd find some of those good roles she's missed.

  • Jesse | October 24, 2012 3:00 PMReply

    Sorry but Halle Berry is doing fine, she has the lead female role in Cloud Atlas and she's the lead in upcoming thriller The Hive directed by the director of The Machinist. She got a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress in a drama two years ago. Really she's doing fine, keep in mind she's over 45.

  • cary | October 24, 2012 2:55 PMReply

    the problem of these actors is lack of ambition. they choose safe and easy jobs rather than challenging ones.
    you should have mentioned Swank's attendance at Chechen president's birthday party and Owen's burger king commercial. I completely lost any remaining respect for both actors.

  • Paul | October 25, 2012 3:46 PM

    The hell is wrong with attending a chechen president's birthday party? If I was an interesting person with an interesting life, I would try to attend as many Chechen presidents' birthday parties as I could. Travel and shit.

  • DG | October 24, 2012 2:50 PMReply

    I wouldn't mind if most of these people disappeared for the scene altogether but I still like Whitaker and a Reese Witherspoon comeback would be good as well. Election is good and all but has anyone here seen Freeway? Weird fucking movie that she is hilarious and awesome in

  • Shawn Gordon | October 25, 2012 1:12 AM

    Ya, Freeway was a great movie from along time ago, but well worth checking out for anyone who's never seen it.

  • OOGLE MONSTER | October 24, 2012 2:40 PMReply

    Mira Sorvino, obviously!

  • Jeff | October 24, 2012 2:32 PMReply

    Peter Jackson's King Kong was disappointing?

  • Daniel | October 25, 2012 3:31 AM

    Better than the original AND an hour too long. Agreed.

  • Christopher Bell | October 24, 2012 4:04 PM

    Cribbster no Cribbster

  • Cribbster | October 24, 2012 3:17 PM

    Peter Jackson's "King Kong" is better than the original. Boom.

  • Adam | October 24, 2012 3:16 PM


  • James | October 24, 2012 2:50 PM

    Yep. And an hour too long.

  • yer | October 24, 2012 2:41 PM


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