I never thought I’d be having an argument with my family over .
Of all the stupid things I would think there would be to get annoyed about, the Two and a Half Men star was not one of them. From Punk’d to Cheaper by the Dozen to What Happens in Vegas, I can’t think of a single thing I’ve enjoyed the actor in or would like to see him in. It strikes me as odd that he is the highest paid actor on television, and even more odd that he of all people is lucky enough to play .
Yet I find that both of my parents admire him. He spoke at a business tech conference in Vegas just this week given his status as a shrewd investor, and my mother was wowed by his intellect. When I showed disdain, my dad leapt in and accused me of not being able to like someone unless they were in a critically acclaimed project.
He has a point in that I admire the actors I feel do the best work and don’t much care about the rest. I was prepared to fall back on the argument that if you met a girl who worked as a porn star for a living, you might stop to question her character, until I realized the hypocrisy in that statement.
As a movie critic, I’m constantly finding sympathy with criminals, murderers, jerks and probably even porn stars, based on how the art characterizes them and reveals them to be a person of depth. On that same logic, if I got to know Ashton Kutcher as a person, I might like him, even if I didn’t admire his work.
But stardom, especially acting, is an inherently different animal. The perception we have of an actor is determined by the persona they portray and the work they choose. Rarely does the role reflect the person’s actual personality, but those that take daring roles and perform off-type often amplify their performance in the eyes of the audience.
So how do we gauge an actor’s likeability, and is it possible to like an actor who does bad work?
Some time ago, Mark Harris wrote a brilliant GQ piece that boiled down the nature of male stardom. could’ve played the smug Wedding Crashers jerk for ages, but he spoke fluent French and poked fun at himself and suddenly earned the world’s surprise. feels fun and relatable, but there’s a little mystery behind him and each of his performances that makes him something more. became a star and didn’t because Tatum was more than just “the man,” he was the irreplaceable star.
Likeability however, is different than fame, and it often doesn’t play by Harris’s rules. In fact, many actors are famous and entertaining presences, but don’t necessarily have a firm identity that makes them “likeable” or not.
Here are some recent use cases in defense of each correlation.
Likeable Movies = Likeable Actor There is no better example right now of an actor who has completely turned his perception around by being generally good at his job than .
How quickly did McConaughey move to the top of every critic’s list for favorite actors working today? Only two years ago, he was the lazy, bumbling, shirtless, Texan hunk who had grown into an even more pathetic version of his “Dazed and Confused” caricature. Had he made one more movie like “Fool’s Gold,” he would’ve been written off forever. But now in “Mud,” “Magic Mike,” “Bernie” and “Killer Joe,” he’s transformed his persona by aiming to do good work, and although he still contains that sexy Southern charm, he’s branded himself as a man with style and mystique.
Like him, Channing Tatum, and are all guys who should belong to the tabloid pages but have made it to the proverbial A-list by working with good directors on good projects. McConaughey was a walking parody, Tatum was People’s Sexiest Man Alive, Leo was a teen heartthrob in “Titanic,” and Gosling is as meme worthy an actor as there has ever been. But look at the respect we have for them.
Likeable Actor ≠ Likeable Movies Some actors have charisma and star power that defies their movie choices.
In the recent example of , he proved to many that he’s a potentially web savvy genius, but many still disagree with his opinion on the purpose of Kickstarter, and they may still hate his brand of comedy and his movie Wish I Was Here.
Then there’s someone like , who one girl told me was the epitome of sex. His choices as an actor place him in that awful rut of being an arrogant rom-com star and a dull action hero, but still the ladies swoon.
, on the other hand, is not a bad actor, but he has arguably not made a great movie in his career. Somehow his legacy, his family and his energy have made him the “biggest star in the world", but it’s been years since he’s made a film that’s earned him both credibility and box office success.
The last oddball that squeezes into this category is . Hollywood’s only true “Renaissance Man", he’s at the peak of his fame, likeability and power to do whatever projects he chooses (Spring Breakers, Interior. Leather Bar., This Is The End, writing film criticism for Vice), and yet Franco is far from a bankable star. Is there an actor right now who looks worse when he is miscast (Oz, the Green Goblin, Planet of the Apes denizen, co-Oscar host)?
Unlikeable Movies = Unlikeable Actor Try as they might, some actors will forever be on most shit lists.
The King of Hateville is , who can make all the movies with Paul Thomas Anderson he wants, but he will never shake the reputation that he is a comic for teenagers and people with half a brain, and he’ll continue to bring his movie cohorts down with him as well.
Some actors like McConaughey can miraculously dig themselves out of that hole, but others put themselves in it and can’t escape. Remember ? Wasn’t she great in Knocked Up? Or remember when was a rock star and even a potential Oscar winner? Nope. Their good will has vanished, and good movies do make the star.
Likeable Movies = Unlikeable Actor Can anyone explain to me why people suddenly hate ?
Some actors have earned their stripes in more ways than one but carry with them a strange personal stigma, one that’s often unwarranted.
and have actually proven to be above average performers on more occasions than one, but their much-publicized relationship overshadows any of their work. This is after all what the media does to child stars belonging to massive franchises. Emma Watson and Daniel Radcliffe have been lucky so far, but Stewart and Pattinson may work many years before they can erase Twilight from their otherwise interesting careers.
A different example however is , who may be one of the best actors working today, but has still left a lot of people sore after I’m Still Here and his attitude and general craziness during Oscar season.
Likeable Actor = More Likeable Movies It goes without saying that some actors are more interesting than the movies they’re in, and their being in one somehow makes the movie better on the whole.
Some in this category just beg to be your best friend or the most interesting man in the room: , , , , , , , , and without a doubt, “the most trusted man in America,” Mr. . The list goes on.
Others belong to that unique list of iconic actors, a group that’s growing ever smaller since the days of John Wayne, Cary Grant and James Stewart. They have qualities about them that brand them above the movies they choose. Most of these actors have paid their dues in great films in the past, but now they’re immortal. , , and are all good candidates among several, will soon be one to add, and and used to belong to this list. But if I had to pick one: . I’d watch him in anything, wouldn’t you?
Other The problem I had as I made this list is that not all actors are so easily classifiable. Some are certainly distinct, and could fall into multiple categories here.
Take and , two actors still at the top of the A-list and the peak of their fame, but have they realistically been able to open a movie to the enormous level that might be expected of their stardom? Part of that has to do with their likeability and less with the projects they choose. Pitt and ’s power couple status have put them above that relatability threshold most people would like to see, and Cruise’s off-camera craziness has colored his performances for years.
Then look at and , who elevate the sometimes mediocre movies they’re in, but rarely because of their personality off screen.
People like , , and are in their own category. Great actors all four, but each make sporadic career decisions that paint them personally as geniuses, crazy and annoying, or crazy geniuses.
Even someone like is in his own league. The ego on him in all his roles is a barrier to anyone trying to take him seriously as an actor, but when he puts on those characters in public settings, he consistently demonstrates why he’s one of the funniest and likeable people alive.
So I guess after all this what I’m trying to say is, I still don’t know how I should feel about Ashton Kutcher.
What other actors fit into one of these categories? Is there an actor or even a director you like personally but not his films, or the other way around?