Friday, January 11, 2008

Favorite Actors

First, a television listings public service announcement, since I know a lot of y'all get jazzed by the same things I do. This weekend, Masterpiece Theater on PBS (I think they're calling it "Masterpiece" now, but that sounds stupid so I will stubbornly refuse to change) is starting a whole series of Jane Austen-related movies, hosted by Gillian Anderson. Sunday is an adaptation of Persuasion, with Anthony Head (Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and one of the best Doctor Who villains ever) as the heroine's father. Check your local listings because PBS stations can get wonky with days and times (mine has a bad tendency to delay the shows I actually want to watch so they can repeat that Doo Wop special or some Celtic Woman show for the 3-zillionth time as part of a pledge drive).

Last week when I mentioned that even though Hugh Grant wasn't on my list of favorite actors but I'd realized I really enjoyed him in just about everything I'd seen him in, someone asked me who my favorite actors were. I've been mulling that over, and I'm not sure I really have a list of favorite actors. I learned a while back that who I really liked were usually the characters, not the actors themselves, and if I really liked a character and transferred that to the actor, I was very often disappointed in the actors themselves or in other characters they played. The kind of characters I'm drawn to tend to be the nice, good guy, down-to-earth types, and that's pretty much the opposite of the personality that's often drawn to acting and the lifestyle actors lead. Actors are more likely to be a wee bit egotistical, exhibitionist and into a countercultural lifestyle (though I know not all are like that and a number start acting in an attempt to cure shyness). It's kind of like in Bridget Jones's Diary when she's obsessing over Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy and gets a little bothered when she reads an article on Colin Firth because the real Mr. Darcy would never do anything so vain and frivolous as become an actor, and yet Mr. Darcy is played by an actor.

Then there's the issue that because I'm more of a TV person than a movie person, I'm used to my favorite characters/actors having an edited-for-TV vocabulary, and then it becomes rather disconcerting to me to hear them swearing in a big-screen movie. And sometimes, I'm disappointed that an actor I liked would take that role or be involved with that project. There's no point in me developing a crush on an actor because even if a miracle happened and I managed to meet that actor (and I got over my shy attack enough to actually speak to him), I probably wouldn't be very compatible with him or get along with him.

So, I stay well aware that my interest is in the characters rather than in the actors, and if I really, really like a character, I may actually avoid seeing that actor in anything else so it doesn't ruin the character for me, though that varies depending on what I've seen the actor in before or if he's one of those more chameleon-like actors who so disappears into a role that other roles don't affect the way I see the character I like. Or if an actor has proved himself over time to be a decent person and a good judge of material, I'm more willing to follow him from role to role (and I'm saying "he" here because, well, I like men, and those are the ones I'm more likely to be paying attention to). So I'm really not being the stereotypical geek who can't accept that the actor isn't really their favorite character. I just hate watching an actor in something else very different when I can't shake the feeling that I'm actually watching that other character do very weird and wrong things, if that makes sense.

I certainly don't have any list of actors I'll see in anything or who can "open" (as they say in Hollywood) a movie for me. I'm closer to having a blacklist of people I refuse to watch in anything. My viewing choices depend entirely on the subject matter of the movie or TV show rather than who is in it, though on TV there are some people who can tip the balance toward me choosing to watch something that might not have made the list otherwise. I can't think of any actor for whom I'll automatically go to a movie theater, regardless of what the movie's about. I doubt I've seen every movie that anyone's been in, unless maybe there's an actor who was in one thing and I happen to have seen it. I'm more likely to go see a movie because the movie sounds interesting, and then be pleasantly surprised to find an actor I like in it than I am to go to a movie because an actor I like is in it.

There are a few "classic" actors who might be on a favorites list. Jimmy Stewart, Cary Grant, Humphrey Bogart and Audrey Hepburn would be in my hall of fame there. For current actors, I guess that list would be people whose craft I enjoy. Mind you, this is not a crush list, as I reserve the crushes for the characters. I find Ewan McGregor fascinating because he is such a chameleon that he completely changes in each role, and he he throws himself head-on into every role, though I know there are definitely movies he's in that I have no desire to see. I know I'm kind of late to the game, about a decade after Pride and Prejudice, but I'm really starting to enjoy Colin Firth more and more. I think in a sense he might have become this generation's Cary Grant, where he can be both suave and funny. I don't know if they realized how funny he could be before, or if he owes his current career to Helen Fielding for using him in the Bridget Jones books, which led to him being in the movies, which showed everyone that he could be really funny so that now he's one of the go-to guys for romantic comedies. For women, there's Emma Thompson, who is always so very brilliant. There's also something about Kate Winslet that I find appealing in most roles (though I know she's done some that are a bit more out there). Both of them have something about them that makes whatever part they play seem very real. Amy Adams is on her way up the list, since I've adored her in everything I've seen her in and I've found her very likable in interviews.

On TV, I'll generally give any series Adam Baldwin is in a try, mostly because I've had a chance to get to know him through all his online activity and he's a cool guy (which reminds me, I haven't been on the Firefly boards in a while). And, as with Colin Firth, they finally realized how funny he can be instead of typecasting him as the stern, silent type. I've liked Jamie Bamber in just about everything I've seen him in, from Horatio Hornblower to Battlestar Galactica, and a few costume dramas in between, so I'll probably check out whatever he does next on TV (and I do kind of hope he goes back to being blond and British for his next project). I haven't followed Damian Lewis to the movies, but his presence in a TV series or miniseries will make me more likely to watch it (and, oddly, I prefer him playing American to playing British).

Of course, as soon as I post, I'll think of dozens more. I guess you could say I don't go around with a list of actors I like in my head, but if I see someone, I may find myself remembering that I really like that person.

Incidentally, if you have a question for me along these lines, feel free to ask. I'll try to answer.

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