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The Stars That Never Were: The “Next Big Thing” That Never Quite Happened…

I was watching Safe House over the weekend. It was fairly okay, but I couldn’t get over the fact that I was watching Ryan Reynolds headlining a film with Denzel Washington. It was only last year that it seemed Reynolds was being given a massive push by Hollywood. It’s always interesting to look at the actors who received a very substantial push from Hollywood, only to barely miss their shot at legitimate stardom – those actors and actresses heralded as “the next big thing”, seemingly the subject of every talk show and newspaper clipping for the better part of a year, only to fall a little bit short of the mark and to end up fading. It’s a cruel industry, and it is sometimes a little disheartening to see the way that certain performers get swallowed up whole by it.

Not quite playing it Safe (House)…

It’s worth noting from the outset that talent isn’t necessarily the biggest factor here. I don’t think that Ryan Reynolds is the next Lawrence Olivier, but he’s a charming lead performer. Reynolds was certainly far from the worst thing about Green Lantern, but a script that cast his character as a selfish entitled douchebag without the wit or energy of Robert Downey Jr. didn’t help. Reynolds managed to hold the screen solo in Buried, a somewhat flawed high-concept that managed to pick a convincing lead man.

However, his blockbuster roles last year and this year failed to solidify him as a Hollywood leading man. There was the disappointing Green Lantern and the mess of The Change-Up and the less-than-overwhelming Safe House. Outside of a lead role in Safe House, the actor has an uncredited (yet charming) cameo in Ted this year. Next year, he’s headlining two animated films (Turbo and The Croods), one “off-kilter” thriller (R.I.P.D.) and one smaller drama with Reese Witherspoon (Big Eyes).

A little bit too Green (Lantern)…?

None of these seem to be quite as high-profile as his starring turns in Green Lantern, Safe House or even The Change-Up. That said, he is attached to two potential blockbusters in the Highlander reboot and the perpetually “in development” Deadpool spin-off from X-Men: Origins – Wolverine. It is possible that either film could be a massive box office success solidifying his cache as a leading man, but it seems like his slate is a bit more low-key than it had been.

Of course, Reynolds isn’t the only movie star to receive a massive push only to fade slightly to quirkier and more low-key roles. Hollywood seems to be in the business of producing actors and actresses as brands, sold to the audience as a commodity somehow more significant than the movie. This is, of course, why celebrity weddings and divorces are such a big deal – the notion that these are more than merely professionals providing a service – but that they are attractions in their own right.

Fox-y lady!

Megan Fox comes to mind as another performer who received a great deal of attention and hype from Hollywood and the press, only to stumble along the way. Fox, of course, launched her career starring in the first two Transformers films with Michael Bay directing – only to rather spectacularly burn her bridges with the director. Despite any number of high-profile roles for the young actress with relatively little experience, Fox hasn’t quite taken off in the way that we might have expected.

Jennifer’s Body seemed to demonstrate she could not carry her own vehicle, while Jonah Hex was a disaster that Josh Brolin and Michael Shannon were lucky to escape. Even Fox’s prestige picture, a supporting role in the bizarre Passion Play, failed to earn her indie cred. She is, however, more slowly building credibility with supporting roles in comedies like Friends with Kids and This is 40. It seems like Fox’s stardom didn’t quite materialise as the hype may have led us to believe.

A Bourne star?

Of course, there are exceptions to the rule – actors who seem to come out of nowhere and are immediately pushed towards stardom with headlining (or prominent) roles in big budget blockbusters and who seem to land on their feet. Jeremy Renner, for example, emerged from next-to-nowhere in The Hurt Locker, and suddenly landed important high-profile roles in Mission: Impossible 4 and The Avengers, as well as succeeding Matt Damon as the leading actor in The Bourne Legacy. Perhaps it’s too early to tell whether Renner’s fame and influence will endure, but he seems to be popping up everywhere.

That said, most of these actors have put in years of work beforehand. It’s just their migration to the “big time” that seems to seems to come out of nowhere. (Renner, for example, had been one of the main characters in 28 Weeks Later.) It just seems like they’re being launched upon the world when it’s really the culmination of a large amount of work in relative obscurity.

Is Ryan Gosling’s career kicking into gear?

Ryan Gosling, for example, seems to be everywhere these days, but there’s no denying that he’s worked phenomenally hard. He seemed almost ubiquitous in 2011 with a strong slate of films including Drive and Stupid Crazy Love. And despite how incredible his upcoming slate might look, Only God Forgives, The Place Beyond the Pines and Gangster Squad are hardly bona fides blockbusters.

Still, there’s hope. Tom Hardy made a first impression with the disastrous Star Trek: Nemesis, only to almost immediately fade into obscurity. A decade later, the actor has built up a strong cult presence and a string of superb big-screen roles in films like Bronson, Inception and The Dark Knight Rises. Occasionally an actor or actress will carve out a particular niche for themselves. Gretchen Mol, for example, received a lot of hype after Rounders only to disappear. She has since re-emerged as a fine dramatic talent in her own right, headlining The Notorious Bettie Page and landing a regular role on the superb Boardwalk Empire.

Strip him down and build him up?

Although he never quite faded – with a string of high-profile if critically-disappointing romantic comedies – Matthew McConaughey was originally hailed as “the next Brad Pitt” following his turn in A Time to Kill. It seems that he’s only now capitalising on the dramatic credibility that offered him – again through a string of smaller films like Magic Mike, Bernie and Killer Joe.

It’s interesting to think about all the actors and actresses who get this major push. Some, of course, hold up. Angelina Jolie would be the most obvious example, but Tom Cruise’s success in the nineties was built on this. Still, inevitable, some fade. It’s reassuring to know that some come back, whether or not it’s headlining high-profile blockbusters or simply finding their feet on the indie scene.

8 Responses

  1. I’m glad you mentioned Matthew McConaughey. It annoyed me that when he hit the scene, he was being promoted as if he were the biggest star in the world despite coming out of nowhere. I feel the same way about Channing Tatum (or is it Tatum Channing?). It’s no wonder they were paired together in “Magic Mike.”

    • I felt the same way about Tatum, but I’ll confess he is slowly charming me with stuff like Magic Mike and 21 Jump Street.

  2. Great article. It’s such a shame Reynolds still can’t breakout, even after The Green Lantern. It usually just takes a superhero movie for someone to make it big and the failure of the film ruined Reynold’s chances. I, for one, think he’s a good actor and helped make Buried as good as it is. Not to plug myself, but I recently did a feature where I picked my six favorite movies of him- http://www.cinekatz.com/2012/07/pick-six-ryan-reynolds.html

    Moving on though… Megan Fox did get quite a push but unlike the other people on your list, she’s completely talentless. As for Gosling and Renner, they kick ass. If you can take a beating and dish one out in Hollywood, you are going places.

    • Thanks Nick. I loved Reynolds in Buried. I just thought the film had some fairly serious problems in terms of plotting and characterisation.

      I thought about saying something like that about Fox, as I’ll freely admit she hasn’t convinced me she’s a talented actress in any way shape or form, but I’m just waiting to give her a chance to prove me wrong.

  3. I think stars who have a good head on their shoulders and choose projects they’re passionate about, have longer lasting careers than ones who choose big roles that will make them a star. Gosling and Renner do passion projects. I don’t think Fox is much concerned with craft.

    • Thanks Amanda. Very fair point. Although I think a combination of the two helps – rather than choosing one approach or the other.

  4. I still hope Ryan Reynolds “makes it.” He is the best thing about Green Lantern and is great as Deadpool in Origins:Wolverine. I actually liked The Change-Up, and thought he was really goood in that too. It just doesn’t seem to be his time… still!

    • I have to admit a strange fondness for Reynolds, but I do think he has stronger comedic chops than dramatic talent.

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