Film School: Stardom

arnold-schwarzenegger33.jpgAside from directors, the thing that most often attracts us to movies is who stars in them. Often it is the case we know what the main character will be like before we see the film. We know Bruce Willis will be the tough guy, Jack Nicholson will be a little eccentric and Arnie will be… Arnie.

Perhaps there’s a certain comfort in that fact that attracts us to certain stars. We’ve enjoyed their performance in a previous film, and so believe we’re in safe hands when we see their name in the opening credits.

Nevertheless, stars playing the same types of character can lead to an air of predictability and fatigue. Just as certain stars can attract us to films, they can also do the opposite. Take the recent backlash against Michael Cera or Tom Cruise.

It takes a special kind of actor to make us forget their previous performance while watching their current film. This week sees the release of the seventh Harry Potter film. It would be an impressive feat for any of its three stars to have a career not overshadowed by this series of films.

Perhaps they should look at the examples of Harrison Ford and Mark Hamill to see how, and how not to, move on from the franchise that made your career.

The difference between Ford and Hamill is perhaps best summed up by the phrase “Star Quality”.

What is it about Harrison Ford we are so charmed by? What is that means no matter how irritating he is being as Han Solo or Indiana Jones, we still want him to succeed? Is it his looks? Is it his walk? His glances? His delivery of one-liners?

This month saw the twenty-fifth anniversary of Back to the Future. Michael J. Fox’s Marty McFly is perhaps the best summation of everything that was cool about the eighties. His attitude, his spirit, his ability to ride a hoverboard.

What a lot of people may not realise is that the first movie had completed shooting with a completely different actor (Eric Stoltz) and Michael J. Fox almost never got the role.

The decision to replace Stoltz with Fox must have had something to do with that ‘Star Quality’ we so often look for from our leading actors and actresses. It’s strange to think that the film may have been nothing more than a blip on the radar had someone not made such a bold choice twenty-five years ago. A choice which could probably never happen today.

The principle of ‘Stardom’ has been around since the dawn of cinema. It’s interesting to note that before there were films, the most famous of people were always the rulers or writers of their day. Since then there have been few as famous as those who pretend for a living. The better their ability to con us into believing they are something else, the more we enjoy our movie-going experience.


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