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Character Actors Keep Hollywood Afloat: Manohla Dargis Foresees Vast Democracy of Talent

Thompson on Hollywood By Sophia Savage | Thompson on Hollywood September 15, 2011 at 4:44AM

Actors, take note. NYT critic Manohla Dargis declares that it's a great time to be a character actor, who are responsible for the "ragged human details" that serve the richness of the upcoming TV season as well as the performances that "nibble on the corners of the screen."
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Thompson on Hollywood


Actors, take note. NYT critic Manohla Dargis declares that it's a great time to be a character actor, who are responsible for the "ragged human details" that serve the richness of the upcoming TV season as well as the performances that "nibble on the corners of the screen."

You may not know their names, but these actors' faces and humanity pop out: Dargis's list includes John Carroll Lynch (Zodiac, Gran Torino, Shutter Island), Judy Greer (The Descendants, Love and Other Drugs), and Ken Jeong (The Hangover, Transformers: Dark of the Moon), pictured. Take a look at their lengthy resumes; they may not be movie stars but they are flexing their acting muscles on the big screen for big audiences.

One could argue that character actors are able to chase a higher quality and quantity of roles than your average ingenue. The difference, writes Dargis: "A star imports outsized individuality into every role, playing variations on a person we believe we know. A character actor, by contrast, transforms a well-known type into an individual," and adds that a stereotype, in the hands of a good actor, "can become an opportunity for subversion, whether scripted or not."

Moving from character-actor to movie star may be rare indeed (meet Jack Sparrow: moneymaker), and the odds aren't likely to increase (times are tough for those seeking the movie star title). What is shifting, points out Dargis, is the terrain. "As the ranks of large-scale, old-style movie stars continues to dwindle — and as more and more actors migrate between large screen and small, between franchise pictures and indie passion project — it is possible to imagine a vast democracy of talent taking shape." The exciting take-away? Talent may supersede jawlines, breasts and botox. A great example is Bridesmaids. Talent, not fame, made that movie beat its modest expectations.

This article is related to: Headliners, Hollywood, Stuck In Love, TV, Media


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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.