Sunday, June 17, 2012

THE PROBLEM WITH HOLLYWOOD & FOREIGNERS


The box office for the sci-fi horror movie PROMETHEUS dropped over 50% from last weekend to this one. That’s not good news for its star Noomi Rapace. The movie and her performance got mixed reviews. And now word-of-mouth is hurting it too. The film’s problems don’t rest on her shoulders alone, but its failure may hurt the Swedish actress in her quest for a Hollywood career. Join the international club, Miss Rapace.
Noomi Rapace in PROMETHEUS.


Time and time again, a foreign actor or actress becomes a worldwide sensation and then when Tinsel Town comes a-calling, they screw up. They end up finding themselves miscast, in roles that don’t play to their strengths, and struggling to emote well in English. Then after a couple of duds, they are either relegated to the scrap heap of the forgotten or return to their native lands, tail tucked between their legs. Remember Audrey Tautou, that beguiling ingénue from France? After AMELIE she was going to be our next Audrey Hepburn. Then she did THE DA VINCI CODE, a movie where she was completely miscast as a feisty heroine and struggled to speak coherent English. Soon after, she wisely returned to France to take better roles more suited to her guileless strengths.

Hers is not the only time she and Hollywood didn’t quite know what to do. The film industry too often is completely baffled by stars with foreign accents. And sadly, more often than not, studio executives seem to think that anyone who is not a “red, white & blue American” should be pigeonholed in antagonist roles. Is that xenophobia or just plain ignorance? I’d suggest both. Take the story of Mikhail Nyqvist. He became famous worldwide playing the likable hero in the Swedish version of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, yet once Hollywood got its mitts on him, he was cast as the villain in back-to-back action pictures ABDUCTION and MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: GHOST PROTOCOL. I understand why Christoph Waltz from INGLORIOUS BASTERDS gets placed in such parts, but Nyqvist?  That is prejudice of the highest order. Or just plain stupidity. 
Penelope Cruz in VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA.


Foreign ladies don’t fare much better. They’re usually relegated to arm candy roles that any young actress, foreign or otherwise, could play. Penelope Cruz bombed in one movie after another when Hollywood tried to make her an all-purpose ingénue. The roles she played in ALL THE PRETTY HORSES and SAHARA did her no favors. She had to return to her native Spain to remind Hollywood that she was an accomplished talent who could play strong, earthy sensualists. Her successes in VOLVER and VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA showed Tinseltown what she could really do. And since then, Cruz has established a sterling career for herself at home and in America.

For every Monica Belluci or Roberto Benigni who have stumbled or failed to capitalize on their international success here in America, there have been stars that have succeeded admirably. French actress Juliette Binoche achieved huge success here with THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING and THE ENGLISH PATIENT but wisely chose English speaking follow-up roles that suited her quiet strengths, like in CHOCOLAT. She also continued to take parts where she could speak in her native tongue, like in BLUE and CACHE. Thus, she has remained well-reviewed and good box office the world over.
Vincent Cassel in BLACK SWAN.


Another way foreign actors can ensure success in American films is by taking character parts. Vincent Cassel is a leading man in France, but he’s wise enough to take good roles, even if they’re supporting parts, when he appears in English-speaking roles. His turns in EASTERN PROMISES and BLACK SWAN were excellent performances and he continues to be very much in demand in both countries.

This year’s Oscar-winning Best Actor Jean Dujardin is learning English now to capitalize on his fame from THE ARTIST. It remains to be seen if he will be the next Binoche or the next Tautou, but right now, he is remaining in French movies until he masters that second language. His enormous talent should help his chances too as he can sing, dance, play comedy and drama. Harvey Weinstein thinks he could be the next Marcello Mastroianni, a leading man for the international world. He may be right as Dujardin has a lot going for him, including a cheeky awareness of the pitfalls awaiting foreign actors. Check out his hilarious spoof of how foreign actors get instantly cast as villains in this short film at FunnyOrDie.com.
It would be wise for Dujardin to take a page from Javier Bardem’s playbook. Bardem is tremendously successful, both at home and abroad because he alternates his American, English-speaking roles with those in his native Spain. Still, Bardem did succumb to the egregious cliché of foreign-tongued baddie by getting himself cast as one in the next James Bond film SKYFALL. He’ll likely go on with aplomb after that, and it certainly doesn’t hurt that his follow-up to that Christmas release is ALACRAN ENAMORADO, a thriller from Spain.
Javier Bardem with Daniel Craig announcing their upcoming Bond film SKYFALL.

Which brings me back to Rapace. I, as many others, adored her as Lisbeth Salander. She was feisty, smart, sexy, physically commanding and acted like she owned the screen. But that role also required her to play a badass, something that she hasn’t done in her American roles thus far. She took the innocuous ‘girl part’ in SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS and her turn in PROMETHEUS was that of heroic lead. Perhaps if she takes darker roles, she’ll fare better. And while she’s courting stardom in LA, it’s wise for her to remain active in Sweden. Hopefully she can have the best of both worlds. And we, her audience, can too.

2 comments:

  1. Poor Noomi. Our expectations after Lisbeth were so high.

    Where are today’s Ingrid Bergmans (Sweden), Greta Garbos (Sweden again), Marlene Dietrichs (Germany) and Sophia Lorens (Italy)?

    Apparently these days it’s hard enough for a foreign actor to forge a consistently successful Hollywood career, much less ascend to legendary status.

    Will we remember Noomi, and so many others, 50 years from now?

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  2. Sorry it took me so long to respond to this, Fan! As always, thanks for posting and for your insightful comments. I'd argue that Marion Cotillard and Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem are now hitting a stride in America as well as in their respective countries, but there are few others. Sadly.

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