Seven Actresses Not Afraid To Pick Incredibly Challenging Roles

I cannot imagine how tough it would be to try and attempt to be a successful and respected actress in Hollywood. Not only because I am a man and it would be physically impossible for me, but also because of the difference in gender roles in Hollywood. The roles that will be asked of you if you are a woman will often require nudity and dehumanization.

You will often be paid less to do roles that, in every way, would be more demanding than what is expected from your male counterparts and co-stars. And on top of it, you can change the world and make truly amazing films as a woman, and magazines like Maxim will still (and media always will) reduce you to little more than an object. Hell, I try and even I’m not above it, sometimes.

But there is no denying that some actresses go above and beyond and take roles most people, male OR female, would be broken by. Here are a few actresses who never fail to raise the bar on what can be delivered in a performance, and, at the same time, blow my mind for how far some people are willing to go for the sake of art.

Meryl Streep

When I was young, I had no scope for just what actors or actresses were doing. Ultimately, they’re playing pretend, just like we all did when we were kids. But does anyone have the bravery required to go to the places Meryl Streep has gone, time and time again?

No one does an up close celebrity shot quite like Martin Schoeller. Trust me, Google him.

Just think about the dilemma she gets faced with in the movie Sophie’s Choice. I would say SPOILER ALERT, but the truth is, if you need spoiler tags for a film that is thirty years old, you should probably be catching up on your classic cinema instead of reading about it.

Sophie’s Choice is boils down to her character being asked which one of her two kids she would choose to be killed in the gas chamber during World War 2. Yeah, a real family friendly film. People will want to comment and say her choice was which child LIVED, but when you have two kids, it is the same question.

It is like that game show, Deal or No Deal. Except there is no money.  And they kill one of your kids. So it is nothing like that show, actually.

And that was me just plucking one film from her history. Meryl Streep has so many roles that are breathtaking (Silkwood, The Deer Hunter, Kramer vs. Kramer) I felt I had to mention her here because I know that most of the younger generation who reads this site only knows her from The Devil Wears Prada. And to only know Meryl Streep from The Devil Wears Prada is to not know Meryl Streep.

She is an actress famous truly embedding herself in her performances (think method acting on par with Daniel Day Lewis) so think what she had to do to make herself endure these roles. And the crazy thing is, Meryl Streep has been doing this, good and consistently, for thirty plus years. How amazing is that?

Monica Bellucci 

In beauty, most woman can rest enough knowing they will sway men and alter moods just by walking in a room. But Monica Belluci clearly wasn’t comfortable resting on that fact alone. While she did rise to fame as an Italian supermodel (and justfiably so), she wanted to take it further and start acting. But Belluci didn’t do what most would have, which is jumped right in to making romantic comedies. No, Monica has followed a very different ideal than that when choosing her films.

This picture’s very existence proves my theory about the objectification of strong actresses in Hollywood.

While I can list quite a few roles she has stood out in(not enough of you guys appreciated the embraced insanity of Shoot ‘Em Up with Clive Owen), we all know she is here because of the movie Irreversible. A movie so brutal, that the end result is that is oft misunderstood. Irreversible is about a day in the life of a couple, as told in reverse. When I say a day in the life, please know, it is a day in the life that you would not wish upon your worst enemy.

Though I recommend the film to few for its unflinching glimpse into the hopelessness that permeates daily life, Monica Bellucci is undeniably staggering in the film.

So people who have seen Irreversible are thinking one thing right now: So you think she is brave for doing a nine minute rape scene? Yes. Yes, I do.

I think rape is a facet of life, maybe the worst aspect, actually, and we all know that it exists. But I feel like we dance around it would rather pretend it doesn’t, which is an understandable coping technique. But as far as actresses, or anyone in general, I feel only the bravest and strongest woman are willing to “go there”. See Jodie Foster in The Accused, for example. When you see a face, and you see a victim, I think  it makes it more real. And again, I don’t think you would find many modern actresses who were willing to do this role.

The red alleyway scene will ruin you, though. Make no mistakes.

Like I said, I recommend this movie to very few people. But everyone who does see it seem to walk away from it feeling like this woman truly got destroyed, mentally and physically. And it sickens us as viewers, as it should. I watched it and had to remind myself: Remy, she is acting . It’s like I wanted to tweet her after watching the film and see if she was OK, even though I knew she was. Now that’s powerful acting.

Naomi Watts

If you were to sit down and watch all of Naomi Watt’s movies consecutively, in a row, at the end of that period, you would feel suicidal. But if anything, that stands as a testimony to just how demanding the roles she picks are, and to the same extent, makes us wonder how her film choices haven’t caused all her hair to turn gray yet.

In pics like this, I always imagine something amazing is happening off frame. Here, I imagine it’s a monkey fight.

I could sit here and list all the films Watts has done that have been emotionally intense (21 Grams, Mulholland Drive, Stay) but I want to focus on one performance from one film in particular. As much as I never tell people to see movie remakes (especially when foreign films are made into American films, as was the case here) but Naomi Watts delivers a performance in the movie Funny Games (along with Tim Roth) that induces chills. And every point, you can feel this woman’s suffering. And it sticks with you.

It never gets gory, it never has an ‘action scene’ or a ‘kill scene’, but  Funny Games stays with you, forever.

Most of you guys probably don’t know it, and how could you, but it was Funny Games that got me the job at Unreality.  And now I think: HOW? I look at that article now and I see it as damn-near unreadable (format wise), so I thank all of you who actually read it. And again, Paul for taking the shot (and taking my advice and watching this film, which, in his own word, made him angry) But confession time: I saw this American version of Funny Games long before I saw the original.

I only watched the original because of how floored I was by this version. It actually matters little because both are frame for frame, word for word, and by the same director ( this may seem strange, but the satire was aimed at American audience’s obsession with violence) And it was Watts who really sold the movie to me. Seeing Mullholland Drive and 21 Grams also drove home the point to me that Naomi Watts seemed to be willing to go where very few woman (or anyone, for that matter) would dare tread.

First rule about this scene from Mulholland Drive is that we don’t talk about this scene.

Naomi Watts is the only character I can ever remember actually feeling genuine fear and sadness for in a horror film. What she goes through is insane, and the fact that the whole time you believe, it only shows you how amazing and brave of an actress she truly is.

  • ORA

    I disagrre with the statement that hackers is nto a real Movie. I personally place that as one of my top 10 guilty pleasure films. no matter what time of the day it is if that movice is playing on tv and i notice it I’m watching it.

    BTW nice list overall and agree totally with the talented Bellucci

  • ORA

    Sorry for spelling errors at work and in a rush typing.

  • Piratey

    The fact it’s a “guilty” pleasure, proves it’s not a real movie 😉

  • Monchofos

    Hackers is one the greatest love stories of our time! But really, I just loved the hell out hackers, it was so incredible really, and it made me a fan of The Prodigy which rules. I think you should have added the Changeling to Jolie’s list, its the one movie which made me realize that even though she may do crap like Mr. and Mrs Smith, when she really gets down to it, she can rock the shit out of a role and give us a great movie. I still cringe when I talk about the Changeling.
    Also a brutal Bellucci movie is of course Malena, not as much as Irreversible but I remember going into as a kid and think “yay boobies” but then was like “ugh, this is really sad”.
    Watts lost me when she did King King, i just did not care about that movie, i just saw it as a whole lot of money going to waste but I really liked her in the International.

  • Beorach

    Is Let Me In the American remake of Let the Right One In? Even the American dub of the latter was irritating relative to the original soundtrack (largely because of the voice of the young girl (not to give anything away)).

  • FrankenPC

    I CAN NOT believe you didn’t include Jennifer Jason Leigh. Seriously. All she does are challenging roles. BRUTAL roles sometimes.

    List denied.

  • trashcanman

    Excellent list of immense talent and beauty.

  • Ethan

    What about Eliza Dushku?

  • Javier

    well, Chloe Moretz is set to star in Carrie, and if she pulls a job as good as if not better than Sissy Spacek did for the original, she can at least get a nomination

  • Draugr


    What about her…She doesn’t belong on this list.

  • Maria Sazon

    Really great list but what about Hilary Swank? I liked her in Boys Don’t Cry. Oh and Natalie Portman?

  • RemyCarreiro

    @ FrankenPC, Good call with Jennifer Jason Leigh. Right from the get-go (Fast Times and abortion) she tackled some tough stuff.
    @Ethan, you’re trolling, right??? Please tell me you’re trolling. Draugr hit the nail on the head with his reaction.
    And Maria, also a great call. I think I didn’t think of Swank because Boys Don’t Cry and Million Dollar Baby both messed me up so much.
    Also, note to me, how the HELL did I leave out Jennifer Connelly?????!!!!!
    Wow, I have problems….

  • Ethan

    The idea of what she had to do in Dollhouse was challenging. A new personality each week.

  • Monchofos

    I liked Connelly in the House of Sand and Fog, even though, I guess due to the film medium, her character is really much less sympathetic in the book than in the movie.
    And no to Swank I just really hate that ugly bitch.

  • Steve2

    Hackers pretty much paved the way for my love for electronic music (that and the soundtracks to the “Wipe-out’ video-games around the same time).

  • Eileen

    Have to give it to Meryl Streep as being my favorite actress and one of the BEST actresses of all time. She is so amazing! Gia, Angelina Jolie, made a complete hit. I think that’s one of the only movies that I really like her in besides the movie Hackers… and Charlize Theron….my God, need I say more about that woman? lol But hands down to this article! Meryl Streep is above all the rest for me 🙂 Great article as always 😉

  • koonta

    thefact monica bellucci agreed to take that photo says more about her then hollywood. enough with the objectification crap. she’s a big girl and CHOSE to take the simulated load on her ace

  • Draugr



  • Dude

    This post makes little sense to me, their job is to act and they get payed for it … they earn more per movie than I will in lifetime doing my 9-5 job. Not really fair division of wealth there but never mind there.

    So we need to say these are those who are ready to go extra mile? What? Act in a rape scene, and you deserve some special praise.

    You act good you get praise but please no bull**** with this “challenging” role stuff. I watched interview with Christian Bale the other day and the man says I am lucky to been cast for Batman, actually I am lucky to be cast in any movie since I feel privileged for that.

    If you know how to act then great! But no “kudos” for rape scenes and that bullshit, I would go now and let myself get raped just so I can have rest of my life to do what I want and have money for it. Do I get something for that?

    The guy ready to take on the most challenging experiences?

  • I enjoyed this article, but I’m not sure what version of Wanted you saw that was PG13. I’m not a huge fan of it, but you see a bullet go through a dude’s forehead in slow-motion in the opening scene.

  • anon

    LOL ELIZA DUSHKU? She is easily the worst actress that, for some damn reason I can’t figure out, Joss Whedon is obsessed with.

  • @Druagr,
    He would “whooshed” if he spelled face right. And that was the last thing I said about objectification in the whole piece, actually. And if I recall, I showed a picture of a woman crying while she is masturbating, and link a photo from my own website with a woman who has three tits, so am pretty sure I am made that point null by the end of the piece, on purpose. But it’s cool no one picked up on that. That just reflects on me as a shitty writer and definitely does not reflect anything for the readers.
    Oh, and by the way, the term is *Swoooosh for further reference.
    @Dude, Ok, man. Fair enough. Point taken. I think the roles are brave and it takes balls, and you seem to think spending forty hours on a set letting someone simulate raping you is no big deal. To you, that’s on par with Tom Greene taping sausages to his fingers. It is an actor “acting”. I think that is a limited scope, and a sad way to view it, but cool, glad you read the piece.

  • koonta


  • ^ftw

  • Dude: What. DaFuq.

  • iamnotmad

    # FrankenPC – Agree with you about JJLeigh. Think she will probably never be as widely known as she should because she never does conventional roles/movies. Irreversible was good but Monica Belluci was better in Malena – it was a part written for her. I just saw Rosario Dawson in ‘Unstoppable’ and no doubt it was an action movie but she nailed it. Think I’m going to go buy the Blu-Ray for that.