What’s Your Idea of Success as an Actor?

April 26, 2015

When Oscar- and Golden Globe-nominated and BAFTA-winning actor Chiwetel Ejiofor was lauded for his portrayal of Solomon Northup in 12 Years a Slave, he was overwhelmed with support before the awards ceremonies. In stark contrast, he likened the subsequent days after the awards season to the Olympic Games and the World Cup saying, “You win and it’s great. But then it’s time for the next one, and nobody cares if you won before.” So what is Chiwetel’s idea of success in regards to his acting? He was once quoted as saying, “I like to disappear into a role. I equate the success of it with a feeling of being chemically changed.” Perhaps he is continuing to feel chemically changed in his more recent projects including playing an FBI agent in the film The Secret in Their Eyes, and starring in a London theater production called Everyman.

Kevin Spacey has had his share of accolades as well. With Best Actor Academy Awards for his portrayals as Roger “Verbal” Kint in The Usual Suspects, and the mid-life challenged Lester Burnham in American Beauty, and more recently taking home a Golden Globe for his character Frank Underwood in the political drama series House of Cards. But Spacey similarly equates success with an inner feeling. “I very often watch a lot of young people sort of meander around without any idea about why they’re doing what they’re doing. I mean to want and to be ambitious and to want to be successful is not enough. That’s just desire. To know what you want, to understand why you’re doing it, to dedicate every breath in your body to achieve; if you feel you have something to give, if you feel that your particular talent is worth developing, is worth caring for, then there’s nothing that you can’t achieve.” 

Dustin Hoffman has had his generous share of awards showered upon him for roles in movies like Kramer vs. Kramer and Rain Man. But he insists that even if he hadn’t received “by freak accident” a breakthrough role–as Benjamin Braddock in The Graduate–which lead to his prolific and celebrated career that he’d still be acting any chance he could find. “There’s no question in my mind whether I’d be teaching at some college or whether I’d go to some repertoire theater in Seattle, wherever, I’d be doing it.” His idea of success is actually doing what he loves to do, likening his sense of purpose as an actor to Picasso and his relentless drive to paint.

What are your ideas about success in your career? Do you share the sentiments of these three noteworthy actors, or do you have other ideas of success and milestones to mark along your actor journey?

What Real-Life Person Would You Love to Portray?

October 24, 2013

Chiwetel Ejiofor in 12 Years a Slave.

Chiwetel Ejiofor in 12 Years a Slave.

Films about fascinating, real-life people are always in style, and currently a slew of significant real-people roles are in full effect. Bravely taking on the responsibility of pulling off the essence of another person is always a little risky because you can never completely resemble another human even with the industry’s top makeup artists and hair stylists. After all, you are you, and you will always get in the way of being someone else. But audiences have an insatiable curiosity about charismatic people’s lives, so they are eager to give actors a fair chance at assuming a new identity. The drive to know what daily life is like for remarkable individuals will keep this art form alive forever.

On a hot streak and becoming a household name, Benedict Cumberbatch played the controversial Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange in the recently released, The Fifth Estate. He underwent numerous tricks to appear like Assange including a bleach-blond wig, blue-grey contact lenses, as well as prosthetic teeth. Cumberbatch acknowledges he did “a lot, an awful lot” of research on Assange which seems to have paid off as many reviewers assert he managed to convincingly portray Assange.

Naomi Watts was challenged to pull off Diana, Princess of Wales in the biopic Diana to be released early November. The mostly fictionalized account of Diana’s secret love affair with Pakinstani surgeon, Dr. Hasnat Khan has received a number of poor reviews from the U.K.–including criticism from the real-life Khan–often because of problems stemming from the dialogue. But Watt’s ability to capture Diana’s essence has been praised, as well.

Chiwetel Ejiofor portrays a freeman named Solomon Northup who was abducted before the Civil War in 1841, and sold as a slave in the recently released drama, 12 Years a Slave. The film is based on the real Northup’s memoir. Ejiofor says, “To tell someone the story is one of the most deeply enriching experiences that I have ever had as a performer or an actor.” As the real-life Northup is not someone instantly recognizable to most Americans, Ejiofor didn’t need to go to great lengths to match a specific look. But he did need to deeply delve into the tragic experiences of a real person. Historian David Blight liked the film very much, saying, “Slavery is only rarely ever depicted effectively in Hollywood pictures. This film stays quite loyal to the narrative itself. It’s accurate in that sense. I also found the acting terrific.”

Helena Bonham Carter plays Elizabeth Taylor in the BBC television movie, Burton & Taylor. To prepare for the role, Bonham Carter explains, “I felt I couldn’t do an impersonation because I don’t really look like her, and my job was to capture some essence. I read her biographies and met with some girlfriends of hers, and I met with an astrologist to help distill somebody and their qualities. My aunt analyzes handwriting so she was a great distiller of somebody’s character. I went around collecting characteristics.” Ultimately, she sought to create a hybrid of herself and Taylor, saying her portrayal was going to be its own kind of creature. “It was not going to be Elizabeth. It was as if Elizabeth and I had a baby. A collage,” she laughed.

Additionally, Tom Hardy has been cast to play the pop icon, Elton John, in the upcoming biopic called Rocketman. And considering the recent award-winning films such as Lincoln, My Week with Marilyn, and The Social Network, Hollywood seems to be on a biopic role.

Is there anyone you’re itching to play? If so, who? And is it because you believe you look like this person or because you feel you could convincingly capture his or her essence in another way?