Well, it’s happened again. Just like last year, and the year before that. It seems it’s becoming a yearly custom where we see a movie about an American icon where said icon is played by a non-American. This year it’s the Britishly charming Tom Hiddleston playing country icon Hank Williams in the upcoming “I Saw the Light.” The year before? David Oyelowo played Martin Luther King Jr in “Selma.” And even before that we had Daniel Day-Lewis play Abraham Lincoln in Spielberg’s Lincoln.
(Walt Disney Motion Pictures)
Let’s not even mention that in “Selma”, the roles of , Coretta Scott King, Governor George Wallace, and President Lyndon B. Johnson were all played very convincingly by British actors. And let’s not get into TV, where the leads of critical hit dramas like “The Walking Dead”, “Hannibal”, “Fargo”, and “Masters of Sex” are all British.
Hiddleston, Oyelowo, and Day-Lewis are all immensely talented actors, as shown by their fantastic careers, but after an age of Brandos, De Niros and Pacinos, we should wonder what happened to the American actor? Who is putting their face out there and regularly performing strong, iconic, award-winning roles? But there’s more than that to this great American actor of the stature of De Niro and Pacino.
The worst part of it all is that looking at the picture of Hiddlestone as Hank Williams, it’s inevitable to think he looks great. See, actors like De Niro and Pacino are actors that used to come as a certificate of quality in the movies they starred in (not so much these days, sadly). Hiddlestone, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Daniel Day-Lewis do that these days. They have an aura of celebrity, yes, but also of raw talent.
In today’s celeb-driven/social media culture we’re consumed by the figures of Johnny Depp and Chris Pine, Pratt, and Evans. These are all talented, attractive actors who give us the assurance of good looks and fun, but not of “this movie is a Hollywood classic.”
Of course, there’s hope. There’s a few American actors who are fantastic actors as well as good celebrities. There’s Leonardo DiCaprio, he’s still making great movies with Martin Scorsese, but his lack of Oscar gold to show for his illustrious career is so famous, it’s become an internet meme. After him, the list grows harder to compile. We could say their untimely deaths prevented them of sharing their talent with more generations, but Philip Seymour Hoffman and Heath Ledger might have belonged into this group. Then there’s the talented actors who walk the line between great movies and movies that play the bills. You can include Bradley Cooper and Jon Hamm in there.
The problem seems to come from both ends, then. The talent in America seems unprepared for the serious roles offered by big dramas because they keep making movies to pay the bills while trying to establish their careers as serious actors (i.e.: Bradley Cooper in “The Hangover” films and Jake Gyllenhall in “Prince of Persia.” But unlike in Britain, where actors train in the theatre before transitioning to film and TV (and later Hollywood), we demand actors to be in movies for a long time. We want faces we recognize immediately. Thus, you see the very talented Miles Teller who excelled in last year’s “Whiplash” literally flop horrendously as the elastic Mr. Fantastic in the latest “Fantastic Four.” Even DiCaprio made his career this way, but his case seems a special one. It’s obvious that actors have to do “bad roles” before getting their big breaks, but if we focused on training actors instead of training celebrities, we might not be wondering where have all the cowboys gone when we need to cast an American actor as a country singer.