Claire Danes plays the I-will-win-an-award-if-I-play-a-person-with-disabilities card with her new role in the HBO movie Temple Grandin. It looks like another potentially embarrassing stop in a career full of misfires. Still, Danes is worth her weight in street cred. How?
OK, any judgment that we are preemptively passing on Temple Grandin—the biopic inspired by the autistic best-selling author, animal behaviorist, and livestock expert—is solely based on the trailer which I saw last night while watching Big Love and the poster which I saw this morning on my walk to work. Both have the slogan "Innovator. Author. Activist. Autistic." This is inherently bad, and if all HBO's genius marketing department can think up is an abandoned attempt at alliteration and ignoring the all important rule of three, then they must have given up on selling this movie altogether. This got me thinking that I haven't really seen Danes in anything good since, well, My So-Called Life.
Seriously, Danes is in that class of "good" actresses—people like Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, Amy Adams, Kate Winslet, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Nicole Kidman—who are known for their acting talent. She is not a Cameron Diaz, Megan Fox, or Sandra Bullock, women who can command a lot of money for a film and have it do very well, but are known for things other than the dedication to the art.
But how did this even happen? Streep, Moore, Adams, and company have tons of Oscar noms and accolades piled onto them. Danes played a teenager on a revered (but barely watched) TV show that never was cancelled after its first season. When we see Danes now, we don't really see her, we see the ghost of Angela Chase. My So-Called Life was a brilliant show before its time, and Danes was magnificent in it, but does her work from 15 years ago (yes, we're all old) justify the reputation she has today? It's like the sadness we feel for not getting more of this show back then will propel her career for the rest of her natural life. But what is the last good movie or great role that she's really had? And don't forget, the beloved Danes was in The Mod Squad, The Flock, and Terminator 3: The Rise of the Machines, for Christ's sake!
That's right, keep thinking. Just like some of those other "good" actresses, Danes has made her fair share of turkeys but we still think of her highly. This is how she, and plenty of other actresses out there in the "good" category, hold onto their hype when their best work is in the past.
Stick to Ensembles
Upside: The best way to look like a great Actor-with-a-capital-A is to be surrounded by other people with unimpeachable pedigrees in Oscar bait productions. Also, if a movie an actor is in wins an award, it's almost as if she won one herself. On the flip side, if it sucks, no one is going to blame it on one actor. (See: The Hours)
Downside: Not much screen time and it's hard to stand out. If nominated, will usually only garner a Best Supporting statue. Just as an actor won't take the fall if it's bad, he also won't get the credit if it's good. (See: Evening, The Family Stone, U-Turn, Stardust)
Keep It Indie:
Upside: The people who care about how good an actor is really love indie movies because they make them feel superior, regular appearances will fool them into thinking anyone can act. These are also the movies that are usually in Oscar contention, so just having a presence will give you the luster of gold. Also, flops won't get too much heat for losing a ton of money. (See: Stage Beauty, Polish Wedding)
Downside: Sometimes even the best ones don't get much attention outside of the film festival circuit. Outside of winning an Oscar, even a great role in one of these won't do much for an actor's asking price or choice of roles. (See: Igby Goes Down)
Hide Behind Someone Bigger
Upside: If the movie is a vehicle for a more-famous star, director, writer, etc they can raise an actor's profile with their own. Also, if it is a big stinking flop, they will feel the burn while the actor rides off into the sunset unscathed. (See: Shop Girl, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines)
Downside: None of the risk, none of the gain. People may not remember the actor was even a part of a groundbreaking work. (See: Romeo + Juliet)
Don't Overdo It:
Upside: Taking smaller roles in smaller movies and spacing them out will make an actor seem like they are highly selective of their roles rather than trying to cash that paycheck. (See: 23 movies in 15 years compared to Nicolas Cage's 32 for the same time period)
Downside: People might be asking "Whatever happened to..." while they are still trying to navigate a successful career. (See: this article)
Upside: Not doing too many interviews and staying off of the tabloid covers will keep an actress from looking overexposed and trashy. Think a once-a-year Vogue cover, not every week on the cover of People. Also, if we don't know anything about her, no one can say "Oh, he's only playing himself," like they do to George Clooney. (See: Claire's subdued publicity tours)
Downside: When the only thing people know about you is the one scandal that does break into the tabloids it's harder to seem sympathetic. (See: Stealing Billy Crudup)