Are Named Actors Important?

Last night I watched Serenity, the movie that finished off the show Firefly even though it only ran for one season. That stars Nathan Fillion, who I’m much more familiar with starring as the eponymous writer in Castle.

I then really wanted to watch Once Upon a Time. However, I’m watching that with someone else and they are away for a week. Any episodes I watched now, I’d only have to watch again when they got back, so I might as well be patient. It’s only a week right? Well, yeah but when I really like something I want to watch it a lot. What I do is watch whatever the show is exclusively until I’ve seen it all, I then swap to another show and do the same. That’s why dvd boxsets are never wasted on me, I go back and rewatch entire seasons when I have a ‘season’ of that show.

Unable to watch Once Upon a Time I started browsing my Netflix queue for something I did feel like watching. That’s when I saw Stargate Universe. I am a mega huge fan of Stargate, I watched all of SG-1 and loved it, I watched all of Atlantis and loved it. I then went on to Universe, got four episodes in, and went back to start watching SG-1 from the beginning. I really did not like Universe at all. However, Stargate Universe stars Robert Carlyle, who plays Rumpelstiltskin/Mr Gold, aka my favourite character, in Once Upon a Time.

This made me think about the importance of named actors. Big movies like to put the stars names on the posters, to make a big deal about certain people being in it. True sometimes unknowns get to headline things but for any film that possibly can afford it, there’s a well known name cast somewhere.

That’s important to the studios but is it important to the viewer?

Background, where it all starts
My first real fandom was for the TV show Without a Trace. I was a member of a messageboard, called Your Tax Dollars at Work which had a subsection called Maple Street. I haven’t been there in years, I don’t even know if it still exists, I haven’t even been active in the fandom for that matter. The show itself was cancelled back in 2009 after seven seasons, of which I only watched four of them.

Why am I bringing this up? Because this board had a section for each of the starring actors. However, only one of them ever saw any kind of traffic, that was for the lead actor Anthony LaPaglia, who played Supervisory Special Agent Jack Malone. There were some very vocal fans of his there. I was young and I wanted to belong, so I joined in with saying he was great. Given that I was twelve/thirteen at the time, I didn’t think he was all that great, I mean to me he was really quite old. Looking back it was all pretty harmless and actually kinda educational.

You see for a brief time back then we had a Love Film dvd rental subscription. I searched their catalogue and added in all the projects I could find, that starred Anthony LaPaglia. Some of them were terrible, in fact there was this one particular film that has gone down in infamy. It was that bad, that boring, that really it fits the “hour of my life I’m never getting back” phrase almost more than anything else.

I say it’s educational because of the point of this post. Why do some people say they are fans of certain actors? Why do some people say “well if X is in it then yeah I’ll go see it”? As a certain actor being attached to a project in no way guarantees that the project will be any good. It definitely doesn’t guarantee that the project will be your cup of tea, as most actors prefer not to be typecast and will skip across style and genres.

However, having said that what did I do last night? I found a show that starred the same actor, a show I had previously given up on in disgust, and I watched an episode. What’s worse is I think I’m probably going to watch it again tonight. I doubt I would ever have given Stargate Universe a second look if it hadn’t been for Robert Carlyle.

Did I just torpedo my argument?
As I said I have never understood being a fan of a certain actor. Even back when I pretended to be a fan of Anthony LaPaglia I didn’t understand. I am a fan of shows, of certain movies, I would never consider myself to be a fan of an actor.

I like to believe in what I watch, I like to pretend just for a moment that it’s real. Obviously I know it’s not, I’m not saying that I think it’s real, I just like to suspend disbelief, immerse myself in that fictional universe. To that end I have never really liked behind the scenes documentaries. I watch them because I find them fascinating. Part of me loves to see how it all works, the other part of me hates it because it tears down the illusion that it’s real.

Watching actor interviews can be weird, especially if they have a very different accent naturally than the one they use in the show/movie. Also if they are a very different person, which I know is odd but I just find it jarring. I suppose it makes them a better actor, if they can transform themselves so completely for the role.

Anyway, my point is generally speaking I don’t like to think of the characters, as actors playing a role. I like to just think of the characters. It comes back to believing in the show/movie, a very important part of that is believing in the characters. If the actor is any good, then I can see the same actor play different roles and I can believe in the character each time. An example of this would be Robert Downey Jr. who I’ve seen play Tony Stark/Iron Man and Sherlock Holmes, I believed in both.

I suppose the same could also be said in reverse. If I have seen an actor play a character so chillingly well in something, that if I see them in something else, I might have trouble divorcing this new character from the one I saw first. There’s this actor, I had to just look his name up on IMDB, Conor O’Farrell who played a character called Graham Spaulding in an episode of Without a Trace. This character was a pedophile and his performance was incredibly memorable.

There’s a conversation between Spaulding and Malone and unsettling doesn’t quite cover it. I have no idea if there were even nominated for an award, or what kind of award it would have been but they should have won something for that. I haven’t rewatched the show in years but a decade on I still remember it. Well O’Farrell popped up in a guest spot on Castle, playing a doted father and a campaigner for public decency. I almost threw up, it was so wrong. I knew it was an actor playing a different role, but watching him pretend to be a decent human being was just impossible to believe. He had been too good at playing that slimeball, that was all I could see.

What am I actually saying?
I usually try and have a point to these posts. With a subject like this even though my style remains conversational, and very casual, I try and approach it more like an essay. I have a hypothesis, I need to talk around the subject, cover positives and negatives and then reach a conclusion.

I suspect I’m being disorganized in my approach as I’m not sure which side of the argument I’m seeking to prove. I guess I see some value in both arguments but only if certain conditions are met.

Given how I like to suspend disbelief and get into what I’m watching, it’s very rare for me to think of the actors at all while I’m actually watching. I named one exception above, when the actor that played Spaulding guest starred in Castle. However, another example would be Once Upon a Time. Watching Rumpelstiltskin, as much as I was believing in the show like normal, I couldn’t help but mentally note what a fantastic job the actor was doing. It was an exceptional performance.

I’ve said this a few times recently to different people so I feel a bit like a broken record. I’m not going all fangirl on Robert Carlyle. I have seen a couple of other things he’s done, both movies as it happens, The World is Not Enough and the Full Monty. For the Bond film I can scarcely believe it was him, I saw it some years back and thinking on it now, I just can’t recall him at all.

When in doubt go to YouTube, found a clip and wow he had a shaved head, he didn’t look like himself. If I close my eyes I can sort of hear it but not really. He looked and sounded like himself in the Full Monty, though that was over a decade though and he looked a lot younger – obviously. That’s something else that can be weird when following actors over a long period. I really struggle to watch the early Harry Potter films now, it’s just too odd seeing the adults they became in those little kids.

A point I haven’t made is about points of entry. What I mean by that is the different ways someone might discover a project, be it TV show, movie or even a book. As an indie author, having multiple points of entry into your book catalogue is essential if you can arrange it. Theoretically it increases not only the chances of people finding you, but also the number of people who might find you.

I suppose named actors are one point of entry when it comes to different projects. Someone might read that actor X is going to be in this movie, they are bored one evening and decide to go to the cinema and have to pick what to see from the selection. If they are torn between movies, or they have no particular preference, then the actor might tip the balance towards one film.

The importance of perspective
This a little bit off topic but it’s something I’ve blogged about before, I’m not going to blog about it again but I think it’s worth saying. Perspective or mentality is everything when forming an opinion of something, it’s also something that can change over time. When I first started Stargate Universe, I went into it with a fierce love of Stargate SG-1 and Atlantis. I wanted to love Universe like I loved those shows, I went into it primed to love it and I was bitterly disappointed.

I googled to see if anyone else felt the same. I found a review where someone else had the same experience, this was obviously a well known reviewer as the showrunner/creator/executive producer/whatever the title had sent them a response. I actually found the article where they talked about the response, before I found the original review. The response was basically that they had tried something new with Universe, a departure from the format, that it was supposed to be grittier and edgier. That basically if you didn’t like it then it was because you were too stupid to understand their vision. That if you didn’t like it that was because you wanted it to be more of the same, like SG-1 and Atlantis, and that was your own fault, that you didn’t give the show a chance.

I found that response really quite horrifying, which just proves that I should never look up interviews or behind the scenes, the picture is not always a pretty one. I went into Universe giving it every chance, I went into it wanting to like it and as I said I was bitterly disappointed. Did I not like it because it wasn’t what I subconsciously expected? Honestly, no I don’t think so, I just didn’t like the new direction, nothing to do with it being different. As an aside, that response? Talk about disrespecting your audience, especially one that stayed with you for fifteen seasons.

However, my point and I promise I have one, is that perspective changes everything. When I watched it last night I wasn’t bored and I wasn’t annoyed. I spent most of the episode sniggering at my own comments, which I thought were quite witty but probably weren’t. I know it’s bad to laugh at your own jokes but it made watching the show quite enjoyable. I was basically taking the mick out of it, something I would never have done the first time I tried it as it was Stargate, it was something I loved, not something to laugh at. With time and distance that’s changed. I still love Stargate but I can separate Universe from that, consider it as it’s own entity.

I think what I’ve basically tried to say, in an admittedly rather confused fashion, is that most of the time actors are irrelevant. Obviously they should be good at all times, as if they aren’t a good actor then it’ll just wreck everything. However, aside from the really obvious point of them being able to act, they don’t really mean all that much.

That being said obviously they do sometimes have some value. They might enable people to find projects they would otherwise have never discovered, to introduce them to something new which they surprise themselves by liking. In essence they persuade people to give certain projects a chance, whereas they might otherwise pass them over.

They might also persuade people to give something a second chance. My friend asked me a little while ago what I was working on, I said a blog post and told them the subject. They laughed and asked if it was about Gold (Robert Carlyle), I replied honestly and said that’s what prompted it but it was about more than that.

Without actors the characters we love would never come to life. At the end of the day, whether you follow an actors career or not, that’s what is really important.

3 thoughts on “Are Named Actors Important?

  1. I feel the same way about people who say they like all films by a specific actor because personally I don’t see how that is possible. There are some actors I enjoy watching and will give a film they’re in a watch, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I’ll enjoy the film. Actors play a lot of different genres, and unless you’re a fan of every single genre and storyline it seems a little naive to say you love everything they’re in.

  2. Not sure where I stand on this tbh. On one hand, the movie itself must be able to stand on its own, _but_ if it has an actor in it that I like (has done well/believable parts in other films/shows I’ve seen them in) that usually gives the show priority for me as something I will at least give a shot to see how it is.

    I actually didn’t plan to reply to this at all, but what you wrote about the response to the SGU review made me do it because I think that was just horribly handled by whoever made the reply. Change can be good. In some cases change is necessary and can bring new life to something people have started to abandon. Telling fans of the original concept that they’re idiots for not liking the new direction you’re trying out, well that’s pretty much retarded..

    For instance, I’ve got a bunch of friends who like star trek, and sometimes we have arguments of which series is the best and why. That’s always tongue-in-cheek though, a bit of fun that usually reminds us about parts from the parts we liked less that we might not remember, but in general we love all of it. Now say someone decided to make a new star trek film that was more of an action movie (I’m looking at you J.J. Abrams)…well, most of us don’t like or care for it, we think it’s fine but, like you with SGU, see it as a thing of it’s own, something that borrowed/stole from a universe we love and made their own “twisted” version of it. Does that make us idiots?

    Or, since everyone and their mother seem to love GoT these days, what if from season 6 and forward they made it into more of a comedy? What if the kingdom would be at peace and they wouldn’t kill of every character you every loved? Actually that last part sounds good, but all that killing has us a bit on edge and constantly searching for new characters to love, so I guess it’s got some merit..

    But I digress, the point I was going to make is that I watch a show because of what I expect to get out of it. If things change too much I might just stop watching and write it off as something that doesn’t belong to the “main universe”. I mean, if I’m in the mood for action, I’d be fairly disappointed if the latest bond movie turned out to be a romantic drama because the director, or whoever, felt it was time for a change.. =P

    • Oh wow that’s some comment 🙂 Thank you so much! Yeah I agree with you completely, or perhaps we agree with each other I don’t know heh, but no it doesn’t make us idiots and you make perfect sense. I like the new Star Trek films probably for two reasons 1) They are shiny. 2) I didn’t watch the original TV series, I saw the movies first, I know bad form /slaps self.

      I suppose when it comes to SGU, it’s grown on me. There’s still an awful lot I don’t like but it stands on it’s own well enough, a little bit like coffee it proved to be an acquired taste. However, the new trilogy of Stargate movies, they will definitely be “twisted” versions for all that the original creator is behind them. I rather like that turn of phrase, I may have to borrow it 🙂

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