In Defense of Actor Stereotypes

August 21st, 2010 by Dave

In light of Michael Cera and Jennifer Aniston both having films out where they play…Michael Cera and Jennifer Aniston, one of the movie critics at Entertainment Weekly put up this article where he examines the idea of an actor or actress who always plays the same roles and how that idea has changed over the years. He does have a point in that 9 times out of 10, Jimmy Stewart played Jimmy Stewart, and so on.

On reflection, this whole idea of an actor being the same in every role was prevalent in Hollywood before method acting and such caught on with Brando and the young crowd of the 50’s. Name one John Wayne film where John Wayne doesn’t play himself. Or Humphrey Bogart. Or Clint Eastwood. Or even Woody Allen, for that matter. And really, what’s the difference between Han Solo, Indiana Jones, and Rick Deckard, other than the setting? The only time where people we deem classic actors and actresses seem to break out of their stereotypes is when they make the ‘challenge’ film. Jimmy Stewart had Vertigo. Jimmy Cagney had Yankee Doodle Dandy. Neither Jennifer Aniston nor Michael Cera have done their challenge film yet. So then why does classic Hollywood get a pass while Aniston and Cera get slammed?

The obvious reason is because we don’t find them interesting. Classic actors had a way of drawing you into their stock persona, of making what you’ve seen for them a dozen times before fresh and interesting. John Wayne played a rugged man’s man, the kind that you wanted to be despite his shortcomings or flaws. Clint Eastwood was the laconic individualist defending the law from lawlessness by acting outside the law. Jimmy Stewart was the everyman, your neighbor next door the postman that delivers your mail, ect. By comparison, Michael Cera plays the bumbling, goofy child on the verge of manhood who’s looking at adulthood and still doesn’t know how to express or relate his feelings. And yes, we’ve all been there, but it’s an awkward and uncomfortable age; therefore, Michael Cera is an awkward and uncomfortable character.

Jennifer Aniston has a big advantage over Michael Cera, though. She’s at an age where her persona can be believable for a couple decades more. I can see ‘Rachel’ pretty much acting the same way in her mid-life crisis and post-menopausal years as she did when she was in her 30’s, and I’m sure most everyone else can too. Michael Cera, though, *has* to evolve. His persona is going to be funny up to the mid 20’s, but then people are going to wonder why he keeps playing these men that never quite leave their adolescence and make it into adulthood.

Not that I would know anything about clinging onto your adolescence into your 30’s and beyond…

Categories: Movies

2 Responses to “In Defense of Actor Stereotypes”

  1. Dan says:

    Yes, there’s nothing wrong at all with actors playing themselves. Usually it happens because they are good at it.

    Take Bruce Willis. Yes, he sometimes does do a more complex role and is well up to the task. But I like Bruce when he’s Bruce.

    I have no idea about Michael Cera as I’ve never actually seen a film with him in (a few are on my list though). However I’d hate to be him trapped in a lift with you guys as I suspect he’d be coming out crying :)

  2. Hern says:

    “The obvious reason is because we don’t find them interesting. ”

    You forgot another more important reason: these people could act, while these two nitwits can’t.

Leave a Reply