Wouldn’t you know it, it seems that Hollywood’s A-list actors may not have it all. Everything that money can buy, perhaps. And in today’s ever changing film industry, one now dominated by a revitalized independent filmmaking market abounding with the freshest and most imaginative stories available in the most accessible of forms to the greatest masses, it is becoming clear that there is, at least one thing, money can’t buy: credibility.
This happens to be a problem that has worked itself out quite nicely with the indie world. The nature of indie movies, whose limiting smaller budgets translates into smaller marketing, resulting in smaller box office returns, used to make it almost impossible to draw accomplished actors to these projects. But in recent months, it has been evident that established actors continue to star in indie movies, with the full awareness that it will give them validation from audiences.
Possibly taking their notes from the firestorm success that was this year’s Sundance film festival, where nearly 40 films were sold to studios, big name actors have attached themselves to indie films, and to ones whose stories are so singularly based upon their lead characters. Just look at some of this year’s new releases, and how the billed talent and premise relate.
Everything Must Go starring funnyman Will Ferrell sums up what sort of dual back-scratching opportunity can be achieved. In this instance, Ferrell plays Nick Porter a struggling salesperson who, after being both fired from his job and being left and locked out of the house by his wife, stages a yard sale in which he lives out existential crisis surrounded by his possessions. Here, the stakes are low, and we can feel comfortable knowing that the character’s woes are more comically adept rather than harmfully so. What this allows Ferrell is a chance to break from routinely expected man-child humor and step into a non-risk environment where his “average joe” character can be perceived as a more dramatically-tuned performance with its awareness for restraint and understanding. And of course Roadside Attractions will profit by selling Ferrell. The poster is already evidence of this, featuring a singular photo of an unglamorous Will, whose name is almost as dominant as the title itself.
We can also look at this year’s art house films Hesher and The Other Woman, both featuring recent Oscar-winner Natalie Portman, who continues her success with her chosen performances. In Hesher, which Portman also produced, she stars alongside Joseph Gordon Levitt as the title character, and ends up as a pawn in a dark and gritty world for them both to explore. In The Other Woman, Portman is a stepmother to an unforgiving son, giving her credibility both protagonist and “anti-hero” status. IFC films, who released the film, was able to promote the movie with its Best Actress winner and solidified a ready-made fan base.
As the trend continues, look for more A-list actors to break from the rigors and demands of their regular film roles, and explore different roles in smaller scopes. The results are usually worthwhile, and in the cases of Everything Must Go, Hesher, and The Other Woman, they really do succeed in terms of building credibility, and not just for themselves, but for indie filmmaking on the whole.