6 Actors Who Made Their Mark In Film History

Posted: September 20, 2013 in Thoughts and Reflections

For as long as we can recollect, film has been a staple component of our everyday lives. As young kids, the precepts and life lessons we learn from the movies we love have a profound influence on the adults we become. In our adulthood, we hunger for films that will do more than simply entertain, but ultimately challenge us morally and solidify our trust in humanity. This is why good in the end always triumphs over evil.

But the key component that drives films forward and elevates them to greatness are the cast—-the men and women who utilize their talents in bringing to life the timeless and original stories that we so enduringly love. Although there are a great many people from film’s long history—-past and present—-to be acknowledged, there are only a small handful who went above and beyond to completely embody their persona, who actually became  their character. No one will ever be able to replace these people in their respective roles, because they completely own their character.

 

Johnny Depp  —  Captain Jack Sparrow

Johnny Depp_Jack-Sparrow

Pirates of the Caribbean  itself was a fluke, according to film analysts. The high-seas summer adventure film wasn’t supposed  to become as popular as it was, because how can a Disneyland-inspired pirate flick actually be any good? Well I attest that the main reason for its unprecedented success was due in large to its man in the lead role.

Johnny Depp has proven now that he can adapt to any role he is given, and his role as the legendary Jack Sparrow is for certain an attribute of his marvelous acting skills. From his terse, witty banter and his clever little quips to his comedic oddities, Captain Jack is the one we all root for and want to succeed in the end, even though his ways may be unlawful and unethical.

But it’s not that we gravitate to his immorality, but in actuality it’s his character that we admire through the sheer amusement and comic relief he gives. He appears strange and altogether weird, but in the end he is always one-up from everyone else. His eccentric nature is what we all like about the character, and Johnny Depp’s overall performance is purely unique. Could you imagine anyone else in the role? Apparently Disney couldn’t either, because it was estimated that the protean actor made close to a whopping $75 million for his last Pirates  film alone, let alone the $300-some million he’s made from the franchise.

But think how greatly the series succeeded with  him, and think how much they would suffer without  him. Statistics and audience response have proven that the great Johnny Depp is truly the only man who can properly breathe life into the immortal Captain Jack. Even if an equally talented actor like, say, Benedict Cumberbatch were to take his place, pronouncing the classic phrase “I’m Captain Jack Sparrow,” the character would still feel incongruous. Only Johnny has life-long dibs.

 

Robert Downey Jr.  —  Tony Stark

Robert Downey Jr._Tony-Stark

Iron Man was really the first Marvel film that ground itself in reality without becoming the clichéd superhero melodrama. Its characters were genuine, the technology was plausible, and its plot was relevant to today’s time. But the man who really made the film great and set the bar for future Marvel films was the incomparable Robert Downey Jr.

Downey Jr. proved that heroes need not always have a charismatic nature, or even be likeable at times. Before he grew up and learned to play nice with others, Tony Stark was just a rich kid (a “genius billionaire playboy,” if you would) who was living life for himself. He didn’t deserve Iron Man. He had to earn it.

What Downey Jr. brought to the role was a very witty, comedic character who didn’t thrive on his humorous nature. He thrived on being the best, the smartest, and the richest. He’s cocky and arrogant, yes, but these are things that make Tony Stark who he his. And this is why we are attracted to him, oddly enough. But I believe the reason behind this strange attraction comes not from the character himself, but from the actor.

Robert Downey Jr. and Tony Stark have become synonymous, and it really would be difficult to differentiate the two. That’s called ideal casting. The man was born to play the part. He embodies the character so well that we never sense acting, we only sense realism. Not only is he a brilliant, top-notch actor, but he truly is the perfect Tony Stark. His power is not a suit of armor, but the effervescent words he says and a witty nature that is unmatched.

 

Daniel Day-Lewis  —  Abraham Lincoln

Daniel Day-Lewis_Lincoln

Very rarely in cinematic history are we treated to a truly one-of-a-kind performance as Daniel Day-Lewis gave us in Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln. I mean, when was the last time you could ever say that an actor literally gave their all  in their performance? Imagine the thoughts running through the seasoned actor’s mind when he was offered the role of America’s most well-known and well-loved public figure. I could imagine that the look on his face was a mixture of pride and panic.

Indeed, what must one do to personify the body and soul of our greatest U.S. president? You do what Daniel Day-Lewis did—-an entire year devoted to researching and finding out every possible known thing you can about President Lincoln, including his mannerisms, his gait, his style of speech, the way in which he presented himself, as well as spending a significant portion of that time with your makeup artist attaining the perfect look. The government ought to consider revising the penny to put Day-Lewis’ likeness on it. And the $5 bill as well. In fact, whenever I hear the name Lincoln I will forever think of Daniel Day-Lewis. That is the legacy he has made through his single, definitive performance.

Even when the cameras weren’t rolling, Day-Lewis made sure to stay in character so as not to lose the effect. What devotion to your profession! If he were like any typical actor or actress he would arrive in the morning, do what he was hired to do, punch in his time card, and collect his $5 million at the end of the shoot. But only Daniel Day-Lewis would give such particular and immaculate attention to the miniscule details. No one ever earned their paycheck or their Best Actor academy award more.

 

Heath Ledger  —  The Joker

Heath Ledger_The-Joker

By definition, the word “actor” implies the need to act. The word “act” means to pretend. This is what the vast majority of the cinema’s long line of prestigious actors and actresses have done in the past. They acted; they pretended. But sometimes acting, in its rawest and purest form, is not even enough to attain the perfect performance or the most ideal character.

Prior to his groundbreaking performance as the Joker in Chris Nolan’s The Dark Knight, Heath Ledger was not known as being adept in the role of villain. In fact, his knowledge in the area was minimal to none. When news that he was cast surfaced there was an intense concern over it, partially because the character of the Joker was so well-established through Jack Nicholson in Tim Burton’s Batman, but also because the Australian-born actor had very little experience in such an iconic and momentous role.

But then the first trailer for the film was released and through a simple total of 30 seconds audiences knew that there was something different, if not unique, about the character. When the movie was released, both audiences and critics alike were absolutely blown away and enthralled with the actor’s sheer talent and ability to take the clichéd comic book villain to an exceptional level.

Even though he died shortly after filming, the once-conventional actor became a celebrity overnight with comic book fanboys and film critics taking to their computers to rave about the unbelievable and utterly inconceivable performance they had witnessed. At the following academy awards, the late actor was acknowledged with a Best Supporting Actor award, the second posthumous award ever given in an acting category.

It is unfortunate that the performance that easily became Ledger’s most iconic was also his last, and the cause of his death. It’s a bittersweet thing to talk about, because his performance is easily among the top five in movie history, but it also came at a great price: his life.

 

Harrison Ford  —  Indiana Jones

Harrison Ford_Indiana-Jones

A jungle. A small group of men make their way through the dense foliage. At the front is the one who leads them; a mysterious, unknown figure dressed in a worn leather jacket and a faded brown fedora, a coiled bullwhip hanging from his side. As he pulls out a torn, tattered map, a gun is pulled on him. Without blinking an eye, the mysterious man whisks the whip from his side and in a single deafening crack! the gun is wrenched from the hand of his assailant. Thus is the thrilling introduction to one of the screen’s most legendary heroes of all time.

The character of Indiana Jones is instantly appealing: a tenured professor who moonlights as a scruffy archeologist. His pursuit for fortune and glory, as misplaced as his morals may be, is what we as humans ultimately identify with. Although history and many religions have taught that gold and treasure are not what brings true happiness and contentment, a good old-fashioned treasure hunt movie never goes amiss.

In the wake of his colossal performance as the roguish Han Solo, Harrison Ford never expected that his archeologist character would ever compare to his galactic character in popularity. As much as he is equally known for both roles, Indiana Jones is really the one he is identified with the most.

Like Han Solo, Indy is a character defined by his little quips and jabs. Many of his one-liners were improvised by Ford himself, often a spur-of-the-moment reaction. His attitude may seem devil-may-care, and he may be a bit coarse and unrefined when not in his pin striped tweed suit, but a larger-than-life character like that certainly finds his way into the hearts of the movie-going public. Could you imagine how different the character would have turned out had Tom Selleck played him as originally intended?

 

Hugh Jackman — The Wolverine

Hugh Jackman_The-Wolverine

Hugh Jackman has spent more years in a superhero role than any other actor. Since 2000, Jackman has played the iconic Marvel character six times over the past thirteen years, and is the only actor to have appeared in every X-Men film, including the upcoming X-Men: Days of Future Past. The Wolverine is considered to be the staple of the X-Men universe, surpassing even Professor X and Magneto. It’s his dedicated performance that won the fans over with his gruff, uncouth mannerisms and warrior-like fighting styles.

By his nature, the Wolverine is the loner—-the Ivanhoe who must save the day and win the admiration of the audience. It’s often the unsung, lowly heroes of the tale that we have high regard for: the humble knight who saved the damsel in distress, not the stuffy king; the lone cowboy dedicated to justice, not the self-righteous sheriff; the simple private given the Purple Heart because of his act of bravery, not the seasoned war general. Often it’s the people who aren’t in the spotlight that we admire and appreciate.

Eventually the X-Men franchise will be rebooted and the Wolverine will have a different actor, but will he really be all that Hugh Jackman made him to be? Will his slovenly nature compliment his true heroic character so well? As for me, I contend that we will be fortunate indeed if we ever get a better Wolverine than what we have now.

 

 

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