Five Actors Who Make Every Movie Better
Interview by Paul Preston
You don’t have to run a website or be a pundit about movies to have seen your share of bad films. I’m sure you can relate to the idea of seeing a bad movie when, lo and behold, someone comes along and is great in that film. It’s a sight for sore eyes, a respite in the taxing murkiness of a glum film-going experience and other big words.
This article is a love fest for five actors who show up in a movie and you know the film’s gonna get better as a result. These performers follow on the heels of the previous generation, which included J.T. Walsh, Chris Cooper, David Strathairn and Terence Stamp. At The Movie Guys, we created a name for when one of these stalwart actors appeared in a movie and delivered – the Terence Stamp of Approval. Occasionally, the casting gods align them with just the right part and the movies and movie-goers are served up a real treat. It happened with Stamp himself in the brilliant The Limey.
MARK STRONG (Kingsman: The Secret Service, 1917) – Is your project missing gravitas? Get Mark Strong! He’s been bringing gravitas to projects for thirty years. Despite appearing in films like Guy Ritchie’s Revolver and Syriana, he first showed up on my radar in Neil Gaiman and Matthew Vaughn’s Stardust. Amongst the witches and the cross-dressing Robert De Niro, Strong established himself as a baddie to be reckoned with in the movies with his mere unavoidable PRESENCE. He continued to rack up villainous roles in Kick-Ass, Sherlock Holmes, Robin Hoodand John Carter, all the way up to last year’s Shazam! (films of varying quality, but he’s great in them all!). Along the way, he wisely coupled those spectacle films with smart indies that allowed him to showcase his acting chops, movies like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Miss Sloane and Zero Dark Thirty. And he has come off as authentic in all genres, too – thrillers, action, period pieces, gangster films, fantasy and more. By the time he showed up as string-puller Merlin in the Kingsman films, of course you want him getting your back. In 1917, his voice arrives on screen before his imposing figure does, prompting, “Oh, it’s that guy. I love that guy!” Know his name – Mark Strong.
REBECCA FERGUSON (The Greatest Showman, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation) – Despite employing the talented Michelle Monaghan and Paula Patton, the Mission: Impossible franchise never really reached its potential for a dynamic character until the excellently-named Ilsa Faust came along in Rogue Nation. Through Fallout, she’s been a complicated and kick-ass character, energetically brought to life by Ferguson. She showed range as a seductive beauty in The Greatest Showman (although Loren Allred provided the singing voice) and did the show-up-in-a-bad-movie-and-make-it-better thing in The Girl on the Train and unfortunately I can’t report on whether she did the same for Men in Black: International and Hercules ‘cause…well, I’m committed to this article, but not committed enough to go watch them. I’m not surprised Denis Villeneuve snapped her up for his upcoming take on Dune.
SHARLTO COPLEY (Hardcore Henry, Maleficent) – Great name, you best remember it. He came out of nowhere to star as Wikus Van De Merwe, the corporate stooge slowly turning into an alien in Neill Blomkamp’s Oscar-nominated District 9. He then ratcheted up a career of blockbusters and indies, lending cred to them both. Big summer movies include The A-Team, a tough-to-swallow action pic that has some inventive sequences but benefits from bullseye casting Copley as Murdock. He was perhaps his most elegant as the tortured and power-hungry Stefan in Disney’s Maleficent, great offbeat casting for a major summer movie. Besides those film, he seems to enjoy playing the fringe in Blomkamp’s follow-ups, Elysium and Chappie, as well as indies Gringo and Free Fire. But to really experience full-Copley, you must watch Hardcore Henry, the first-person action movie that, believe it or not, never wears out its premise’s welcome. Copley is a revelation as Jimmy, the clone that keeps popping up and adding a measure of madness to the movie. More Copley, please, Hollywood!
STEPHEN ROOT (Office Space, Get Out) – Among Root’s first ten films were Monkey Shines, Black Rain, Stanley & Iris, Ghost, Guilty by Suspicion, V.I. Warshawski and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. What a run to start a career! But you probably can’t tell me who Root played in these films (and 1993’s Dave or Krippendorf’s Tribe), but come 1995, we all got to know him as station owner Jimmy James on TV’s Newsradio, which ended in 1999, the year Root first appeared…in Office Space. Root’s Milton was such a bizarre and hilarious creation, I couldn’t wait to see what he’d do next and sure enough, Root delivers in nearly every appearance on screen that he makes. I think that’s because it never looks like he just showed up on set unprepared. He brings a unique take on the characters he plays EVERY TIME. He next appeared in Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? and became a Coen Brothers mainstay, a perfect pairing with directors who would encourage and utilize his quirky choices (for four more films). If you’re not already appreciating Stephen Root, get on board because you just never know what you’re going to get (except bored). I wanna go back and watch the no-doubt awful Krippendorf’s Tribe. But I bet he’s great in it.
MICHAEL SHANNON (Revolutionary Road, Knives Out) – Thank the gods when Michael Shannon shows up in a movie! You know things aren’t going to be “the usual” or “safe” when he’s on the bill. When a plot as fantastical as the strange Best Picture winner The Shape of Water, where a deaf woman has an affair with an amphibious creature from the deep, it’s tough to upstage, but MAN did I leave loving every scene Michael Shannon stole in that film as the best parts of the whole. In Elvis and Nixon, he doesn’t just give a good performance in a bad movie, but he (and Kevin Spacey) give performances so extraordinary and so committed they save that movie and elevate the entire thing to a notable genius. What’s the best part of The Runaways? Their manager. Again, Shannon. And let’s not forget he played General Zod in Man of Steel. DC didn’t quite fit well on him (or any other actor), but he owned it. And let’s also not forget who played Zod in 1980’s Superman II…Terence Stamp. Good company.