On acting and actors/actresses... opinions please

For the sake of convenience, I will use the term “actor” to mean both an actor and actress.

Acting is, I suppose, a strange profession. To be a good actor, you need to be able to take on a character, and become that person. You need to be able to portray the character’s idiosyncrasies as realistically as possible. You need to be able to be able to come across, both emotionally and physically, as natural as possible.

In my mind, a great actor is one who can make me believe that I’m not watching the portrayal of a role, but instead that I’m watching the actual character in real life, as it exists in the movie. A great actor should not give you cause to stop and think about the way the part is played, but should allow you to totally suspend your belief and be sucked into their world, as if you were really there, observing them.

For my money, I think Robert De Niro is the greatest actor I have seen. He has the ability to take a character and become that person. He takes a role and really gives it depth. He can portray huge emotional range, using tricks like facial expressions, tone of voice, even a tilt of the head. He has a huge repertoire of movies to his credit (93 and counting), and while there are, of course, some roles he was perhaps miscast for (Bullwinkle, anyone?), the majority have benefited hugely from his presence in my opinion.

Some examples of the movies that I think he was outstanding in:

  • Taxi Driver
  • Raging Bull
  • Goodfellas
  • Casino

There are many other actors whom I admire, but if I had to pick only one then Robert De Niro would be the one.

The worst actor that I have had the misfortune to watch would have to be Keanu Reeves. There was a thread here a while ago about wooden acting, and let’s just say his name came up more than once. He is only able to portray two emotions: serious or confused. His voice sounds forced. His whole screen presence is flimsy, to say the least.

The only possible movie that I think he was OK in was The Matrix. The reason for this is that the role was well suited to wooden acting by it’s nature. Just my opinion, of course, as I’m sure there are plenty of Keanu fans out there!

So, what do you think are the qualities that make a great actor? Who do you think is the best actor/actress? The worst?

For me is the essential quality is watchability. An actor has to be mesmerizing, convincing, dead-on accurate in his renditon of someone not himself. There are two school of actor, IMO: the ones who convince by sheer force of personality, and the ones who submerge.

I love Jack Nicholson. Whatever role he plays, he rips into it with a gusto that is NEVER boring. I have never seen a Nicholson movie where I felt he was just phoning it in. He’s not the most handsome guy in the world, but he’s compelling as hell. He is, however, always essentially Jack, but that’s OK. Other actors I love who are always themselves but also convincing are Clint Eastwood, Marlon Brando, Gene Hackman, Denzel Washington, Meryl Streep, and Susan Sarandon.

I also like DeNiro, and I agree that he is great at submerging his identity to the point where he is almost unrecognizable as himself. Other actors who are great at that are Dustin Hoffman, Daniel Day-Lewis, Brad Pitt, Julianne Moore, Edward Norton,and Kevin Spacey.

The worst actor? I’ll take Keanu too, though I’m sure I’ll think of more later.

My own personal bugbear in discussions of acting is realism. All performances, we are told, must be judged by the criterion of fidelity to reality. But how does a real wicked witch behave? How about a merciless android from the future? What are the appropriate mannerisms for a realistic vampire?

So for me the right question to ask is not, “How realistic was this performance?” but “How effective was this performance in the context of the film?” Judged this way, who are the greatest actors in screen history? I revere De Niro as much as the next person, and would add New York, New York as one of his greatest performances. Brando is one of the greats, of course: as well as his Oscar-winning performances his Stanley Kowalski is mesmerising, like a caged wild animal. Cary Grant was superb. It always amazes me how many of my film buff friends underrate him as an actor. But for me the greatest is the incomparable Robert Mitchum. His masterpiece is surely the deranged preacher in Night of the Hunter, but he has a great number of amazing performances to his name ( The Friends of Eddie Coyle is another highpoint). I was staggered to be told by an acquaintance that Mitchum would find himself out-acted in a typical episode of Crossroads. Next time you get the chance, study him for a masterclass in screen acting.

Kevin Kline’s ability to disappear into a role is absolutely astounding. Meg Ryan, on the other hand, is always exactly the same - I think she uses that confused look in every movie.

Yes, I just watched French Kiss. :: cough, cough ::

See, I would go with some of the older actors, like Jimmy Stewart or Carry Grant, myself. Back then, there was just more presence brought to the film by the actor, and no one shinned quite like these two. Realism, presence, believability…these guys had it all.

Qualities that make a great actor: When they play a role and they become the character to such a degree that you forget who the actor is who’s playing the role.

Best Actor: Robert Duvall
Best Actress: Meryl Streep

Worst Actors: Far too many to mention. Here’s a couple - Steven Segall, Sandra Bullock.

Not the best ever, but the best I’ve seen over the past year or so:

Russel Crowe in A Beautiful Mind

I believed he was Nash. And when I saw Nash in that PBS show about him, I thought to myself, “Doesn’t look like Nash…” I caught myself, of course.

Hmmm…trying to be objective, given that you said “The best” rather than “your favorite.” I would have to say Kevin Spacey is the best actor currently.

I agree with you 100% on this. I really admire Jack’s acting. Even in a cheesy flick like A Few Good Men, he stole the show from the “leads”. His performance in the court room was stunning. You have reminded me of another movie he was in, called The Last Detail. This is an absolute gem of a movie, and I highly recommend it to anyone who hasn’t seen it yet. Nicholson plays an old navy hand assigned to escort a kid to a navy prison. He wast cast perfectly, and again he steals the show.

Yes, I quite agree. In fact I didn’t really account for comic actors, either. If you think about it, comedy requires a different type of acting to the mainstream. It’s all about being naturally funny, and about comic timing etc. Gene Wilder, possibly would be the best comic actor, for me.

Lola: I’m with you on Robert Duvall, for the most part. He’s a very good actor, however I wouldn’t say he was the best at every level.

NoClue: Russel Crowe, really? I haven’t seen A Beautiful Mind, despite the praise it received. I think I was put off at the time by his apparant arrogance, and the way he conducted himself at the awards. Based on your recommendation, I will give it a try.

Exactly, and to be honest I don’t know if I really appreciate the “submerge” school for anything other than character roles.

I’m sure I’ll get flack for mentioning this here but please, wait until I finish before you start throwing things: I was watching Confessions of a Dangerous Mind tonight, and it occurred to me that I’ve seen more Drew Barrymore movies than I should be willing to admit, and that I’ve always gone away impressed. No, she doesn’t have much range, and yes, she has been in some horribly cheesy to at-best-“quirky” movies, but she’s got this charisma that carries it through. And I think that’s at least as important as submerging yourself in a part.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should point out that I’ve never seen some of DeNiro’s best-known movies. But I’ve seen several, and I have to say I don’t see agree with a lot of the stuff I’ve read about him. He’s definitely powerful and charismatic and compelling, but he stays DeNiro throughout the movie, as far as I can tell. Same thing with Al Pacino and Dustin Hoffman in 99% of their movies (Rain Man was a big exception). The only Very Important Actors[super]TM[/super] who really submerge themselves in their roles, IMO, are Marlon Brando and Meryl Streep. And they still manage to either annoy or bore me in everything that they do.

So I think that charisma does a lot more for me than method acting. I figure, if you lose yourself completely in a part, then what are you bringing to it other than a body to deliver the lines? Even if you inhabit a character completely, there’s got to be some of your innate star-quality that comes through to make it compelling enough for people to want to watch.

But as far as “realistic” performances, I think two of the best leading actors we have working today are Jodie Foster and Kevin Spacey.

I’m gonna stand up and defend Keanu Reeves, here. The guy sucks donkey balls, no doubt about it, and he sucks them better than anybody that has sucked before, but let’s give credit where credit’s due: he tries really, really hard. He’s like the Little Shitactor That Could. When I saw him in The Devil’s Advocate (after getting over the Simpsons reference), my impression was, “Awww… he’s trying so HARD! Isn’t that cute?” Putting Keanu next to Al Pacino was like having a toddler in a ball cap standing next to Babe Ruth.

Now, actors who suck and put ZERO EFFORT WHATSOEVER into their roles piss me off. Steven Seagal (already mentioned) and Pauly Shore are two examples of this.

Anyway… great actors. Edward Norton. Kevin Spacey. 'Nuff said.

Hmm…Keanu Reeves…

It’s weird. I know he’s a bad actor. I mean really bad. No acting ability whatsoever. It’s all him…just a good-looking idiot. But I can’t dislike him. I like all the movies I’ve seen him in despite the fact that he can’t act for beans.

There’s got to be something to be said for that.

In Keanu’s favor, you have to admit, he was absolutely believable, watchable, and rewatchable at Ted in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, and did a wonderful job in Parenthood. Of course, I’m not sure exactly how much of either of these roles were actual “acting,” but he did fit many of the above criteria in these two roles, so he can’t qualify as “worst actor ever.”

My bet would be for Joe Millionaire. He’s putting on a different face for these people, pretending to be someone he’s not…thus, he’s “acting,” and he’s doing a really bad job of it to boot.

Jack Nicholson, Gene Hackman, Robert DeNiro, Denzel Washington, and Jean Claude van Dam are all great actors who shine in any role they play [sub]alright, I’m kidding about the last one.[/sub]

I find Meryl Streep to be a fantastic actress, but she either doesn’t get or doesn’t want to do roles in films in which I’d be interested. Whether I’m not seeing enough movies, or Hollywood is just awful in its treatment of women in scripts, or both, I don’t find any other female actresses as continually engaging as their male counterparts.

Bad actors are a dime a dozen. If I had to name a worst, it would be Joe O’Connell. I’m amazed that he ever got a callback; forget about significant and even leading roles in wide release movies.

My own dichotomy is not dissimilar to what others have presented here so far. In my opinion, there are movie stars and then there are actors. A movie star is someone who can carry a film by sheer force of personality and has a tremendous ability to convince you of the veracity of their performance, while an actor is someone who is able to portray and completely inhabit a broad range of personality types.

Personally, I have more admiration for the craft of someone in the latter category, simply because it seems it must be so much harder to be versatile and “deep,” inhabiting every single little nuance of the character, than to be merely forceful. (Note that my use of the word “merely” is not intended to downplay the immense charisma [and, many times, talent] of “movie star” performers, but rather to illustrate that a lot of the time, projecting forcefully is pretty much their whole schtick.)

Some movie stars, according to my definition: Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Mel Gibson, Jack Nicholson, Harrison Ford, Marlon Brando. Can’t think of any more right now, but there’s loads.

Some actors: Edward Norton, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Frances McDormand, Tim Robbins, John C. Reilly, William H. Macy

And a few that I personally feel fall somewhere in between: Kevin Spacey, Morgan Freeman, Brad Pitt, Christopher Walken, John Cusack

Big stars are usually more likely to take leading roles, which tend to be more uniform in character than the various shades of personality afforded by supporting roles (I’m generalizing here of course, so a few grains of salt are probably in order). Most of my personal favorite actors, in any case, are usually the supporting players who get a chance to shine not in terms of screen minutes clocked, but in terms of colorful characterization and deep immersion.

DeNiro, in my opinion, is not the greatest actor ever by a long shot, nor is Pacino. They both have tremendous charisma, they can both carry films on their backs, and they are very technically skilled, but to me they don’t have that ability to emotionally submerge their own personas in order to let the character’s nuances show. In isolated instances they may have done just that, but in general when you sit down to watch a Pacino or De Niro movie, you’re sitting down to watch Pacino or De Niro. Not whatever interesting characters they’re about to portray, but Pacino or De Niro. I love them to bits, but 95% of the time, they’re Pacino and De Niro. Pacino and De Niro. Pacino and De Niro.

Then take, say, Philip Seymour Hoffman. Watch him in Boogie Nights. Then watch him in Magnolia. Then State & Main. Then Happiness. Then Almost Famous. If you find the same person twice in any one of these movies, I’ll give you a dollar.

That’s, of course, not to say he’s a better human being or more worthy of accolades or anything of the kind. Just that he’s more of an actor and less of a movie star.

Go rent “Ghandi”

then go rent “Sexy Beast”

Ben Kingsley is BRILLIANT in both and the characters are VERY different to say the least.

Gary Oldman is the best actor in my opinion. He is so good he dissapears into the character, and he has played a variety of characters.

Daniel Day Lewis is a close second.

And the absolute worst actor of all time…

James Arness(MATT Dillon on Gunsmoke)
Watch the reruns of “Gunsmoke” on TV LAND. Actually he doesn’t even act, so maybe I am being too hard on him. He just puts on his costume, says his lines, and never changes his personality no matter what is happening around him.

And, ironically, I believe his is the longest recuring character in television history. Laughably bad (as is the entire show)

Does anyone really think Leonardo DiCaprio can act? Absolutely everything I have seen him in, he is the same dull character reciting lines. He certainly is a big Hollywood draw so perhaps I’m just missing something.

Although Alan Rickman has very distinct facial features and an instantly recognizable voice, I think he does a very good job of isolating each of his characters. Unforunately, not all directors do, so he ends up playing “cynical, sarcastic Brit” a lot.

a great director

It’s much easier to gauge greatness or mediocrity with stage actors. The mark of a true artist is that they’ll remain in character even when the focus of the scene is not on them, and unlike film they have to recover instantly and in camera if they flub a line. While I recognize film as the greatest art form of the past century, it will never come close to live theater in terms of greatness, though the fact that it pays 50 times more offsets the slight a bit.

To me the greatest actors are those who can play three different characters and make you forget it’s the same actor:

Anthony Hopkins (whether the world’s most refined cannibal, most repressed butler, or a hack director dying in bed with Suzanne Somers, he always brings validity)

Daniel Day Lewis (other actors should sacrifice goats, virgins, and first fruits/grains to him- if you didn’t intellectually know that the pince nezzed fop from ROOM WITH A VIEW is the IRA fighter in NAME OF THE FATHER is the paralyzed artist in MY LEFT FOOT is Bill the Butcher in GANGS OF NEW YORK, you’d never place the connection)

Marlon Brando (I’ve no doubts he’s a bloated megalomaniacal nutbasket, but Stanley Kowalski, Vito Corleone, and George Lincoln Rockwell are three totally different characters he brought to life)

Johnny Depp- BLOW, ED WOOD, EDWARD SCISSORHANDS, and CHOCOLAT were four different actors. His choice of roles can be bewildering, but he’s the one making millions, not me.

Frances Sternhagen- she’ll never be a household name, but this broad can play a New England spinster, a Southern harpie, an old whore or a psychotic killer and imbue each with life.

Billy Bob Thornton & Angelina Jolie: if they’d had a biological child it would probably sweep the Oscars and kill everybody in a convenience store on the same night.

Some performers whose praises are/were never sung but I think are really talented:

Gailard Sartain (great comic actor who also does very full dramatic turns)

June Carter Cash (yes, really- she’s good)

(the late) Sorrell “Boss Hogg” Booke- unlike Chuck Barris, he really WAS a CIA agent (though I doubt he was an assassin), but the same man who was gonna git them Duke boyz could also play rabbis, gangsters, optometrists, and gay coutouriers with ease.