Ahead of the Oscars I thought I’d present my own celebration (and recommendations). My six greatest actors of all time. Six? Bit of an odd number? Not necessarily. If you give gold, silver and bronze to three men and three women you get six. So, settle down and read on.
My criteria for these six is not that they’re the greatest actors alive today from a purely technical point of view, but because of one factor that I think is essential in an actor: when they appear in the scene they force you to concentrate, make everyone else look like idiots and/or make a bad script acceptible? If they meet all three requirements they pass the test.
Michael Sheen has played three characters which are worth a mention for something they have in common. The Damned United (football manager Brian Clough), Frost Nixon (television personality David Frost), and The Queen/The Special Relationship (British prime minister Tony Blair.)
Sheen isn’t an impressionist, but his ability to become the three mentioned characters in terms of look and sound, mannerisms and body language was beyond impersonation; it was uncanny. And in addition to this out of body ability to become someone else he still put in top notch performances.
In short, Sheen is an actor as comfortable in an obscure live outdoor performance in Port Talbot (The Gospel of Us) as he is in a mainstream Hollywood blockbuster like Underworld Evolution.
Another actor not afraid to mix major blockbuster roles with smaller independent film appearences is Naomi Watts; equally at home rushing to acting auditions in Ellie Parker and hanging on to King Kong in Peter Jackson’s remake. Watts’ early break came in Tank Girl alongside a forgettable Lori Petty, but David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive may have been the film that provided the deserved career boost.
She is one actress who has so far avoided the lure of the superhero franchise, either by choice or fate, I don’t know. Instead, she pops up in cerebral films like The Independent alongside Clive Owen investigating a crooked bank, or fighting political enemies in Fair Game in which she played Valerie Plame, the CIA operative identified in revenge for a critical article written by her husband. Her ease with which she can interchange between big and small productions almost puts her in with a shout at a silver medal, but…
Stephanie Leonidas has a potential that will one day become apparent to anyone with eyes that see.
I was driving home from the Lake District one evening in 2008 and listening to a radio play called One Chord Wonder (This is the Modern World), written by Frank Cottrell Boyce. I was mesmerised by the young actress playing the role of Lineel, hippy daughter of an ecowarrior, who had never set foot outside the commune she’d been brought up in.
A string of small television roles followed, but film roles soon came along including Mirrormask and the feature length drama Wall of Silence in which she played the girlfriend of a gang member accused of murder.
Sometimes you wonder what someone has to do to gain recognition and in film and television it’s usually: move to America. In 2013 she popped up, almost unrecognisable, in the sci-fi television series Defiance, playing Irisa, a knife wielding alien. A quick glance at IMDB shows she’s still short of major film roles (filming a third series of Defiance won’t be giving much time to do much else possibly), which is a pity. In an age where success is gained by the size of your arse and not your talent Leonidas might have an uphill struggle, but her best is yet to come. And an average Leonidas performance is better than the best of most of the rest.
Daniel Auteuil isn’t well known outside his native France, but fans of French cinema will recognise the stature of an actor who’s been around now for forty years. In that time his memorable roles have included Jean de Florette, Manon des Sources, Le Bossu, 36 Quai des Orfevres, Lucie Aubrac, the list goes on. . . .
He isn’t just a straight up serious actor; like most serious actors he is a comic genius and leaves his mark on films such as Le Valet (the two-timing businessman who pays his mistress to shack up with a car parking valet), Le Closet (an employee who pretends to be gay to avoid being made redundant), and Apres Vous (a man whose life is ruined trying to rehabilitate a stranger he saves from committing suicide).
Auteuil is at the stage now where you see the actor through the character, such is his prestige and familiarity, but not enough to prevent his performances from being anything but engrossing.
In one newspaper interview she was asked why she doesn’t appear in more American films: Virginie Ledoyen replied by saying she didn’t need the money. In the 21st Century an actor who doesn’t care about money! Ledoyen’s answer sort of sums up this actor: cool, nonchalent, self-confident almost to the point of aloofness.
Alongside Ledoyen are a raft of French actors who are becoming household names outside of France: Marion Cotillard, Audrey Tautou, Melanie Laurent and Juliette Binoche, but like her contemporary Emilie Dequenne, Ledoyen prefers to stay local and thus hidden to a wider international audience.
She did appear in The Beach alongside Leonardo DiCaprio, so maybe that’s the reason she decided to shun Hollywood. Her career in France was already on track thanks to a series of keenly observed intelligent films such as Jeanne and the Perfect Guy, La Fille Seule, La Ceremonie and the extraordinary En Plein Coeur in which she plays a manipulative petty criminal stoking and encouraging the advances of her wealthy lawyer.
In 2011 she dabbled in French-Canadian television, playing assassin Irina in a patchy Bourne-like action thriller called XIII. But Ledoyen is more at home making monkeys out of her fellow actors than shooting people from rooftops. If you’ve never heard of her you’ve got a lot of catching up to do because any film fan can’t seriously call themself a film fan until they’ve seen Virginie Ledoyen. The greatest actress in the world, and the second greatest actor in the world after. . . .
Fabrice Luchini. I really should stop typing at this point and direct you into a dark room and make you watch this man’s entire film output. I first came across Luchini playing the role of Gonzague, Daniel Auteuil’s slithery nemesis in Le Bossu. Since then I’ve watched him impersonate a horse in Moliere, dance for Melanie Laurent in Paris and get an unholy bollocking in Rien sur Robert (his crime: writing a film review of a film he hadn’t watched.)
Luchini is an intelligent actor and not only elevates any film he’s in, (far from making others look like idiots) elevates those around him. Watch out for exceptional performances from his co-stars in Dans la Maison (Earnst Umhauer) and Cycling with Moliere (Lambert Wilson).
Unfortunately, I’ve yet to find an English-language interview with Luchini, which is a shame because I’d love to hear what this guy thinks and how he approaches his work. He has an impish grin and a childlike frown, an actor who is 360 degrees in his ability to cover every emotion, deal with any thespian trick. And at just over sixty years of age, still has a lot more films in him.
Meryl Streep – The Devil Wears Prada
Jack Nicholson – As Good As It Gets
Rooney Mara – The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Christian Bale – American Psycho
F Murray Abraham – Amadeus
Penelope Wilton – Ever Decreasing Circles (yes, had to include Penelope Wilton somehow!)
Who would you award medals to? (Comment box thing is at the top next to the post title. Sorry, blame wordpress, not me!)