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Check Your Listings: The Displaced Cast List…

It happens every once in a while when I view a poster, or a DVD, or even browse the end credits of a film. I’m sure you’ve noticed it too. There’s a certain actor, who happens to be relatively well known (even in a particular geographic region) whose name happens to be featured rather prominently on those lists, ranking just below the leads of the given film. The only problem? Well, the person in question only appears in the film for a scene-and-a-bit, and actually warrants inclusion towards the end of the cast list… if at all.

One of these is the UK poster. Guess which one. Go on.

In fairness, the Hall Pass poster (above) is the most extreme example I can think of in recent memory. Stephen Merchant, the co-writer of the British version of The Office and frequent Ricky Gervais collaborator, doesn’t even get a billing on the poster for the US release of the film (listing Owen Wilson, Jason Sudeikis, Jenna Fischer, Richard Jenkins and Christina Applegate). However, looking at the theatrical poster (and DVD cover) for the United Kingdom, Merchant has actually been inserted into the poster with the two leads, creating an almost surreal “three amigos” impression.

The strange nature of the situation was only heightened when, upon seeing the photo at a local cinema, I wondered aloud to myself, “Is Stephen Merchant co-headlining US comedies now?” And I found myself quite perplexed by the fact that his name wasn’t even on the poster in the first place. Which, to be honest, struck me as quite strange. I mean, I know Merchant is on his way to becoming a major name in the United Kingdom, but – if you’re going you use his face to sell a movie – surely you at least owe it to him to have his name on the frickin’ poster.

A Strong contender for third place...

Another, slightly more recent example happened when I attended The Guard last week. It essentially follows Irish police officer Gerry Boyle and FBI Agent Wendell Everett as they attempt to crack a drug-smuggling operation being led by Dublin gangster Sheehy (and manned by his two associates, British gangster Clive Cornell and “sociopath” Liam O’Leary). Of course, Brendan Gleeson and Don Cheadle got the two big credits, but I was quite surprised at who was listed directly below them. Personally, I would have figured that there were two possible option: the brilliant Liam Cunningham as the drug kingpin Sheehy, or the wonderful Fionnula Flannigan as Boyle’s suffering mother. It was neither.

It was Sheehy’s British right-hand man, Clive Cornell. Of course, Cornell is played by Mark Strong who, even if he’s not a matinee name, has one of the most recognisable faces in cinema at the moment. Strong has, of late, popped up as the villain in Sherlock Holmes, Robin Hood and Kick-Ass, and the soon-to-be villain (if it gets a sequel) of Green Lantern. All of which are solid performances (even if the films aren’t always superb). While I’m always glad to see a really good actor get some well deserved recognition (and, like virtually everybody else in the film, he give a great performance), I did find it odd to see him ranked so highly.

Note which one of them actually plays Batman...

I don’t know, I guess I personally always figured that recognising big-name actors in supporting roles was accomplished not be artificially bumping them higher up the cast listing, but by giving them their own distinct “and” or “with” credits on the movie poster. That way it doesn’t matter how large of small your celebrity’s role is in a given film, you can still get that matinee-idol name up on the poster in big bold letters to trick their fans into going to see it.

In fairness, it’s not exactly new. After all, Jack Nicholson was apparently the star of Tim Burton’s Batman and Marlon Brando headlined Apocalypse Now. I’m not really complaining – in theory, a good actor should get recognised for their work no matter how far down the cast list they are (look at Michael Shannon’s career taking off after Revolutionary Road, for example). I just find this sort of thing especially fascinating. It’s quite funny how Hollywood works sometimes.

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