First one who mentioned Michael Caine in “Jaws: The Revenge” gets the back of my hand. We’ve all read the quote before. Anyway, that’s not what this thread is about. I’m not talking about great actors doing lousy movies. I’m talking about good/great actors doing bizarre or humiliating things for the good of their art (the quality of said art aside).
The first example that comes to mind is Jennifer Connelly’s (in)famous scene in “Requiem for a Dream,” though it doesn’t have to be limited to sexual scenes (I just have a filthy mind like that). Toby McGuire turning into an emo lesbian and playing jazz piano in “Spiderman 3” would count too, as would about half the career of Nicholas Cage.
The one that springs immediately to mind is Ned Beatty in Deliverance.
He wasn’t a respected actor at the time since it seemed to be his first film role but he definitely went on to become a respected actor.
Hilary Swank in Boys Don’t Cry. No, not playing a transgender character. I mean the very brutal rape scene that seems to just go on and on…Gah!
Divine was well respected as an entertainer/comedienne by many folks despite the fact that she is most famous for…well, you know. (And if you don’t know, DON"T ASK! Because you definitely don’t want to!)
I can’t believe that it took 6 posts for anyone to mention Chloe Sevigny giving an authentic blow job in Brown Bunny. It’s ironic that Boys Don’t Cry was mentioned and she wasn’t the subject considering the OP, frankly I don’t think there’s anything undignified about Swank’s scene since it’s integral to the movie, ditto Jodie Foster in The Accused.
At the time the movie was made, she wasn’t exactly at “respected actor” status yet. Her only claim to fame before that was The Next Karate Kid, mixed with a few made-for-TV movies, along with small non-recurring roles on various TV shows.
Given her status now however, if put in the same role, then I would have to agree.