By Daniel Lieberson
Celebrity actors are often risk takers that act, both on and off screen, in accordance to what the public wants of them. Others simply do not care what the public thinks and follow a career that is truly their own— molded not by global audiences, but rather their own desires and goals.
Kevin Spacey falls in the latter category. In an interview with the Hollywood Reporter earlier this month, Spacey acknowledges the possibility of negative perception from the public. “People thought I was crazy when I moved to London and started a theater company,” he says. “People thought we were crazy when we made the Netflix deal for ‘House of Cards.’ ‘They’re out of their minds, it’ll never work.’ I’m used to people thinking I’m nuts. And you know what? I kind of love it.”
Spacey’s deviation from expectation does not stop there. The actor recently sent Woody Allen a letter with a pre-paid Netflix subscription in efforts to lobby for a role in a future picture. “Unless it’s Martin Scorsese, and it’s a really significant role, f— off,” he says. “I’m not playing someone’s brother. I’m not playing the station manager. I’m not playing the FCC chairman.”
Some might view his contempt for smaller parts as a burdensome dormancy. But by carefully choosing his roles and being solicitous only when needed, Spacey succeeds at maintaining a unique persona that differentiates him from other stars. He might not necessarily shine brighter than the other stars but he certainty radiates a unique color — one that cannot help but capture the attention of the wandering eye.
Nevertheless, there are countless stars that do not share Spacey’s stratagem of appearing only in the biggest of projects. Two actors that have both played Batman have taken this alternate route in variegating their agenda with a mixture of film genres, refusing to limit themselves to the blockbuster.
Without a doubt, George Clooney and Micheal Keaton are stars, but over the past decades have taken roles in several independent features. The two show us that A-list actors can have multiple areas of strength when it comes to subject field. In fact, Clooney was nominated for three best actor-Oscars for his work in “Micheal Clayton,” “Up in the Air” and “The Descendants,” all of which are not blockbusters.
Clooney has the ability to weave in and out of the blockbuster spotlight as he just appeared in “Gravity.” The actor’s choices of roles clearly show that stars can alternate between films with a drastically differing budget and appeal while maintaining their image. Robert Downey Jr. is another example of this phenomenon. The “Iron Man” star will appear in Jon Favreau’s new indie film “Chef.” Even Robert DeNiro falls into this category, as he seems to be taking any role that comes his way– even when he does not have the necessity to do so.
In our minds, the stars’ distance away from us heightens their power. To see a star play a powerless man or woman in ordinary circumstances does not work. Thus, there is a very explicable reason why Leonardo DiCaprio will not be found in low-cost independent films. By doing so, he would demote himself, bringing himself closer to Earth – to reality. The fact that he solely exists in the highest budgeted films with the most acclaimed directors allows him to maintain his status as star. Even though we scarcely admit it, we all equate, albeit unconsciously, the characters actors play with their real-life personalities. Even to see DiCaprio act in the earlier scenes of “The Wolf of Wall Street” before his character lost humility and reserve, something seemed off. Smiling quietly as Matthew McConaughey lectured him, DiCaprio seemed too small with his character’s ethics intact– like a bull trapped inside a mouse’s body.
The title “The Wolf of Wall Street” is a fitting analog for DiCaprio, who is a lion-like figure in Hollywood. Even his name “Leo” brings up the connotation of the lion. His grandeur exists because the public only knows him through the extravagant roles he has played. While an actor like Clooney might be as talented or as financially successful as DiCaprio, Clooney is much closer to reality and in effect less of a star. The character on screen will always be inseparable from the actor.
Being a star does not necessarily equate to having talent. A star has an unparalleled state of eminence and one emerges when everything but their name on advertisements becomes immaterial. When those two or three words of their name unwillingly force the hand to reach towards the wallet, a star is born.
Daniel Lieberson is a staff writer. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.