In Friday’s “Read On” column, Matt linked to Kyle Buchanan’s Vulture article about Captain America star Chris Evans’ decision to quit acting, due to a decade-plus of anxiety issues and not getting great roles. Our commenters had a variety of reactions to Evans’ plight:
riobravo79: Boy, that Chris Evans piece was depressing. There is a candor to his acting that makes him a constant surprise when people just expect a certain physicality. He just keeps getting these shit flicks. Push? The Losers? He was fantastic in Sunshine, but that tanked and now the Marvel machine looks to have him typecast even further. A lot of people seem to call him out as being ungrateful and what not, but I can’t imagine the frustration of spending years doing the kinds of roles you never wanted.
menocu: Whether or not he’s picking roles based on an agent or manager’s advice, he’s ultimately chosen the roles he’s taken. If he signed onto movies knowing they were likely to be terrible to begin with, he has no one to blame but himself, and it's worked out pretty well for him considering he’s now an A-lister leading a major franchise. And if he thought they were going to be legitimately good movies but it turned out otherwise it’s not very gracious to call them pieces “of shit” in hindsight. Presumably a lot of people worked hard to make those movies good and not all those people think they’re so terrible. And saying this in conjunction with “what I really want to do is direct” is a sure sign that someone’s ego has gotten wildly out of control.
Drinking_with_skeletons: Clearly there are avenues for actors who want to make something different from blockbusters, even if they aren’t necessarily better. Elijah Wood has been acting since childhood and has had an extremely varied career; how he managed to avoid being typecast after the Lord Of The Rings is beyond me (though perhaps “hobbit with heavy burden” isn’t as in-demand as we might expect) but regardless he turns up in all sorts of things. Alec Baldwin had perhaps his greatest role on a TV show. Evans’ fellow Marvel employee Robert Downey, Jr. has had a pretty fruitful career as well, and has certainly not resigned himself to being Iron Man for every project. I’m not saying it’s simple, but there are clearly opportunities for actors who want to do something besides big, special effects heavy blockbusters.
Acting is a profession where the career path is difficult to control. Actors who don’t also direct and/or produce—and aren’t established stars—are subject to the whims of other people, making presumptions about they can or can’t do. Whenever actors complain about the price of fame, and their fans counter that they knew what they were getting into when they chose this job, I think, “Well, not necessarily.” Not every actor sets out to be Tom Cruise or Will Smith. Some aspire to be Paul Giamatti, and make a good living doing mostly smaller, funkier films, without ever becoming household names. (Yes, I know, Giamatti’s in the new Spider-Man movie. How many ads have you seen that trumpet his participation?)
A couple of weeks ago, I went to see a touring company of Sweet Charity, and came away very impressed by the two leads; but I also worried about them a little, because the path to the big time (in theater in particular) is a lot like the path from the minors to Major League Baseball, in that the clock ticks quickly, and even the best player on a team starts to lose value once the late 20s approach. It’s not that actors don’t become stars later in life (because they do), but it’s more that there’s a system in place to funnel people through, and if you’re not in that system by a certain age, it gets harder and harder to break in.
Given that, it’s no wonder actors take whatever gigs are available when they’re young, so that they can make a living and so that they can become a name and face that casting directors recognize. The trade-off is that each job takes time that could be spent chasing better jobs. I have a lot of sympathy for young actors who are thrilled to land a role on a hit TV series, and then find five or six years later that they’ve squandered their youth playing one character, with whom they’re going to be identified for the rest of their lives.
Evans was reportedly convinced to become Captain America by Robert Downey, Jr., who said that the money and name-recognition would give him the clout to make all the smaller films he wanted. I’m not sure that’s true. While I have no doubt that a long line of fledgling indie filmmakers would be thrilled to have Evans play the lead in their low-budget dramedy and raise the project’s profile, I also know that film festivals are cluttered with mediocre movies that only got made because of some sitcom star on hiatus or some young franchise player looking to stretch. That’s not exactly the route to a fulfilling career. By and large, the great young directors—the ones making the kinds of movies Evans reportedly wants to be in—aren’t thinking, “We need The Human Torch in this.”
That said—and while keeping Evans’ social anxiety issues in mind—it doesn’t hurt to be a little more gracious in public about opportunities that other actors would kill to have. It also doesn’t hurt to make the most of those opportunities. Some actors are able to further their careers by being delightful during interviews and talk show appearances; others make it by being very good at their jobs. Think again of Giamatti. Actors who stand out in small roles early in their careers tend to get the attention of the great filmmakers, and then can pick and choose what they want to do. Just being one of the leads in a blockbuster isn’t enough.
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