Last week, I wrote about eight actresses who only take challenging roles, and this week, I want to switch up the gender but focus on the same theme. The very idea that these actors get handed dozens of scripts a year, and only seem to take the roles that will demand the most out of them. In some cases, roles that even demand them to push themselves, physically and emotionally. Be it losing or gaining weight in extremes, or needed to go to some “dark places.”
Much like with females, it would be probably be easiest for these guys to just pick romantic movies where they can grin, wink, and look good, but basically dial in their performances. The thing is, the one thing that all these actors on this list have in common is that they don’t ever do that. Here are six actors who primarily only take challenging roles. By the way, the “primarily” is there as a disclaimer. Obviously, a few of these actors have made a few mainstream bombs, but I think we can ignore those for the sake of this list. Well, I hope we can.
We all knew I had to start the list with Bale. Granted, his last movie didn’t impress me that much (Out of the Furnace), but for the most part, Bale throws himself so deeply into roles it is hard to tell where the man ends and the character begins. A few extreme examples of this are The Machinist (when he lived off an apple and day and cigarettes), The Boxer (where I am convinced he went off and became an actual crackhead for that role) and American Psycho (naked and psychotic, no one can do better).
Hell, even his movies he chose as a child were all brutal. Wait, he was in Newsies, huh? Aw, screw it. That movie was surprisingly good.
Daniel Day Lewis
Is there anyone else you think of when it comes to method acting and overall intensity? Well, in American cinema, there shouldn’t be. Daniel Day Lewis is very much the Michael Jordan of American cinema, and I think few can argue this. Few can also argue that he picks roles that would break many other actors. Just think of the intensity and toll it would take trying to deliver the performance he delivered in There Will Be Blood. Also, try to imagine any actor in that role. The “I drink your milkshake” speech is one of the greatest moments ever committed to film, and that is because of his venom spitting conviction.
Also, let’s not forget My Left Foot. The movie where he really went around being all paralyzed off set, too. Is he bat shit insane or is he a genius. The answer is yes to both, and in the best ways possible.
Choi Min-sik (Min-sik Choi)
Another method actor who is bat shit insane, but one that also manages to play characters so dark and troubled, you would think the prospect of playing some of these characters would scare lesser men away. But not Choi Min-sik (or whatever direction you choose to say his name depending on where you are from). I know everyone talks about the octopus eating of Old Boy, but let’s look even deeper for a moment at the film “I Saw the Devil”, where he plays serial killer Kyung Chul. I can tell you, Christian Bale’s psycho was psychotic, but also campy and fun. Choi’s psychos are the guys who sit inside your nightmares, waiting to ply your teeth out and rape your bleeding mouth. He doesn’t just look the part. When you watch his films and characters, he FEELS the part.
I know South Korean cinema tends to focus on elements of revenge and death and the blurred lines between right and wrong, so really, it is not like Choi could have just chosen Disney movies. But regardless, he can completely enthrall us by managing to do things on film that, if anyone else was doing it, would have just appalled us.
I have sung this man’s praises time and time again (here in-depth) and with very good reason. Cassel is what I would call a true artists among doodlers. Though to see his seminal work, you need to enjoy French cinema, to miss it for any fan of film would be a travesty.
I know many people think of Irreversible when they think of Cassel, and they should. That film set the tone for many American viewers on just what to expect from his body of work. This is not a man picking family friendly films. No. This is a man who finds roles that scare him, and then he throws himself into them with reckless abandon.
For an AMAZING example of his work, I highly recommend the Mesrine saga, about real life French gangster Jacques Mesrine. Maybe the best “gangster” movies not enough of you have seen. Ooooh, that sounds like a good list idea.
I think it is natural for us to think of No Country For Old Men when we think of Bardem. His performance as Anton Chigurh in that film is one of the most unforgettable performances of all time. Tw0-Face’s lame coin flipping has nothing on Chigurh’s. But if you do not know some of Bardem’s other work, you are truly miss out on just how much scope he has. Yes, he can play the dead pan killer like no other. But you need to see the movie “Biutiful” to see just how far this man goes into roles, and just how demanding those roles are.
If it could be said that Naomi Watts mainly picks very depressing and powerful roles, in many ways, Bardem is her male counter part right now.
Just don’t confuse him with this guy. Apples and oranges that just happen to look like friggin’ twins.
I imagine Sean Penn is a lot like Debbie Downer in real life. You tell the guy a joke, he turns it into a monologue about the sex trade and how people are suffering. Thing is, you don’t need to hang out with him in real life to appreciate the kinds of roles he takes. I could sit here and list a dozen, uber-intense, uber-depressing movies right now, but really, all I have to say is Mystic River. To be A Dad who loses his daughter would be brutal enough, but the twist that comes in that movie just makes you wonder how he got himself out of bed each morning to go to work during the shooting of that movie.
That is kind of my point with all these guys. How do they draw the line? How do they go home at the end of the day and leave those moments behind? Maybe if they did one or two twisted movies each, you could see it. But for most of the actors mentioned here, every role they take is intense and draining. So really, how do they look so long into the abyss, and not have it begin to look back? That’s the thing.
I think it does.