A wonderfully versatile performer is a thing to be celebrated; fine actors like Daniel Day-Lewis or Gary Oldman have that rare chameleon-like talent where they can tackle any role, and completely and utterly disappear into a character. But with other actors, it’s not as easy.
There are plenty of good and even excellent performers out there that are fantastic at certain types of roles that fit into their wheelhouse, yet when pushed out their comfort zone and put into a part that doesn’t fit their talents or limits, the results can be horrendous. Let’s examine those perplexing instances, where push came to shove and these otherwise strong screen presences just couldn’t cut it.
1. Elijah Wood – Green Street Hooligans (2005)
The violent world of football hooligans certainly lends itself as material that can be adapted in an exciting cinematic manner. Furthermore, the UK is overflowing with authentic and commanding character actors who could fill up the roster of said films, which makes the instance of the best known movie about the subject all the more baffling.
It stars a post “Lord of the Rings” Elijah Wood as the central character – a Yank that gets embroiled with a gang of cockney football thugs, and becomes a loyal soldier in the process.
After a steady career as a child star, Wood became a household name after Peter Jackson’s fantasy series, but it was still hard to shed the likeable ‘boy next door’ image as he was swarmed with fairly vanilla offers afterwards. Still, one must commend him for trying to break away from the easy path, but unfortunately this was a case of stunt casting that just went plain wrong.
Wood is decent enough playing the ‘fish out of water’ part, but is just plainly unable to pull off a believable transition into a UK street thug even with an entire script supporting exactly that philosophy, and regardless of how many shaky-cam action scenes and scars and bruises they paste on him, he still looks like little Frodo far way from the Shire.
Wood would keep attempting to shake up his image and eventually was more successful in other ventures (e.g. “Sin City”, Maniac”) where he was convincing as a full-fledged, chilling psychopath, but with this film it just didn’t stick.
2. Kevin Costner – Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991)
There’s no denying that during the late 80s to the early 90s, Kevin Costner was king, and for good reason – he was a strong romantic lead, but also great at doing the action hero thing whilst delivering dramatic pathos, and even landed a handful of Oscars for his directorial debut “Dances With Wolves” (1990). He was ‘untouchable’ (pun intended) at the box office, so much so that his horrendous miscasting in this recycled take on the Robin Hood mythos didn’t even stumble, and became one of the biggest hits of his career.
Kevin Reynolds’s barmy adaptation is a ton of silly nonsense, and is endlessly entertaining thanks to surprisingly violent action scenes, and great support from Morgan Freeman, and of course, Alan Rickman at his definitive off-kilter best. Yet, this was through and through a Costner vehicle, but the iconically American actor playing an English hero just did not work; his attempts at an accent are painful, and the authentic dirt and grime of the film revels in, coupled with the majority UK-bred supporting cast, only helps pour salt on the wound.
It’s also felt that because of this major handicap, his usual charm and likeable alpha aura just never turn up in this fairly awkward performance. Still, it didn’t hamper the film’s success, although the critics took note of his non-effort and later threw it in his face when his career stumbled.
3. George Clooney – Batman & Robin (1997)
Nowadays Clooney is an elder statesman of Hollywood – an Oscar-winning actor with a backlog of strong work from regular collaborations with stellar filmmakers like the Coen brothers and Steven Soderbergh, not to mention he’s an award-winning and respected director in his own right. Regardless of this earned pedigree, the late 90s were a far different place for the handsome leading man due to some poor casting choices.
After toiling through the TV wasteland of the 80s, Clooney landed a breakout part on the pop culture hit show “ER”. It quickly made him the most in-demand and lusted-after male leads of the 90s, yet a series lukewarm film roles failed to push him into the A-list. Yet landing the cash cow role of Bruce Wayne after Val Kilmer vacated the role, after the ridiculous box office success of “Batman Forever” (1995), seemed like a no-contest move for the rising actor.
But if people thought Joel Schumacher’s hijacking of the franchise in ‘Forever’ was slightly ridiculous, they obviously didn’t have hindsight in mind, as Jim Carrey and Tommy Lee Jones’ grating camp seems nuanced compared to the barrage of ice-related puns, codpiece smash zooms, and nauseating smugness that followed in the fourth entry.
Without a doubt, Clooney could actually make for a decent Bruce Wayne/Batman in more capable hands, but in this neon-splattered trainwreck he barely walks out with his dignity as he’s subjected to such cinematic gold segments as displaying his platinum Bat Credit Card (“Never leave home without it!”) and listening to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s nonstop barrage of one-liners (“Let’s kick some ice!”). The man looks suitably embarrassed but does nothing to elevate or dignify himself in the piece – at least Arnie dived headfirst into his cringeworthy role.
It was a epic misstep that almost cost Clooney his career (Chris O’Donnell and Alicia Silverstone weren’t as lucky), but luckily, his first collaboration with Soderbergh was just around the corner to wash away the bitter taste of this whole ordeal.
4. Brie Larson – Kong: Skull island (2017)
Here’s a fairly recent example of an actor and movie, with 2016’s Oscar winner and future ‘Captain Marvel’ Brie Larson and her role in the fun if shallow ‘King Kong’ re-imagining.
Larson had risen from strong yet minor parts in low-key movies before flooring audiences with her powerful and mature performance of a struggling mother in “Room”, which rightfully and immediately escalated her pedigree in Hollywood overnight.
The chance of her partnering up with Kong was an enticing one and luckily she was not saddled with another iteration of Fay Wray’s ‘forbidden love’ motif. Instead, she landed the more exciting match-up of an experienced war photographer that lands headlong in the middle of Samuel L. Jackson’s barmy military commander trying to recreate the Vietnam War with the giant ape. The fact that Larson’s role is basically as gripping as a piece of timber is not necessarily her fault, yet it doesn’t make it any more excusable.
The barely-scripted role basically asks for her and her equally talented (and wasted) lead Tom Hiddleston to be vacant eye candy wandering from impressive set-piece to set-piece in this monster mashup. Since this is a Kong movie, one should be expecting little emphasis on the humans, yet why then bother getting a strong talented female lead and giving her absolutely nothing to do in the first place? Naomi Watts didn’t suffer the same fate in Peter Jackson’s otherwise inferior take.
Conclusively, Larson was miscast in a role that pretty much demanded looking good in a tank top, and not much else – a late noughties Megan Fox would’ve fit it like a hand in a glove.
5. Clint Eastwood – Paint Your Wagon (1969)
Clint Eastwood is one of strongest and most iconic screen presences going on for more than four decades. Onscreen there’s rarely a case of someone being able to do so much with so little – a small squint speaks volumes in his fascinating weathered face. He’s been an atypical tough guy but also versatile with strong dramatic work, the rare romantic/comedy detour, all while building an immense award-winning career as a film director as well.
With so much he’s achieved, it saddens me to bring up this rare black spot (no, not those movies where he’s partnered with a orangutan) with this epic miscasting of him as an all-singing, all-dancing supporting character in this thankfully misguided Broadway adaptation.
The equally macho Lee Marvin plays the lead, an off-kilter prospector who at least survives with a glorious hammy performance; however, Eastwood as his more subtle colleague doesn’t fare as well.
It’s a rare spectacle to behold, as Eastwood has never been less than confident and compelling on screen, but being forced to sing (and sing badly) makes the Hollywood badass look lost and bewildered, and worst of all – mediocre. It’s a blatant case of miscasting of massive proportions, but luckily for him, the film flopped and is hardly remembered to tarnish his golden rep.