What do American producers always do when an interesting, off-center character actor delivers some kind of strong, wake-up performance in a foreign-made or indie flick? Simple — they sentence the poor guy to villain jail. He’ll get cast in big movies for big pay, but whatever colors he might have on his palette that don’t fit into standard movie-bad-guy behavior are ignored. Not each and every time but pretty damn often.
Michael Shannon, a cool and perceptive fellow, doesn’t look or act like Tom Cruise or Armie Hammer and so he’s obliged to play obsessives and nutbags. Christoph Waltz, a bright, worldly and sophisticated fellow, has apparently already been pigeonholed as an anti-social fiend. Tom Hardy exuded intelligent cultivation in Inception, but you know that playing Bronson and “Bane” in The Dark Knight Returns has almost certainly sealed his fate.
Some actors are better at playing heavies, agreed, and we’ve all heard time and again that it’s a lot more enjoyable to play darker personalities than dutiful good guys. But I’d really love to see Shannon and Waltz and Hardy break out of their respective cells. The world is full of gentle, brilliant and compassionate men and women who don’t look like conventional movie stars. It would be nice if American mainstream films could acknowledge this every so often.