Jennifer Aniston, Michael Cera, and, you know, Katharine Hepburn: Is it bad when an actor is always the same?

jennifer-aniston-ceraImage Credit: Kerry HayesLately, I’ve been hearing a lot of bellyaching from readers about actors who, you say, essentially give the same performance in film after film. The prime offender — as, according to this criticism, she has been for years — is Jennifer Aniston, who is accused of never having grown past her performance as Rachel on Friends: same cheerleader- next-door sexy wholesomeness, same silky straight goddess-of- shampoo-commercial hair, same lonely-princess aura. But in the last year or so, a lot of folks have been singing a similar song about Michael Cera, with his flat turtle stare and high school girl’s voice and 21st century Woody Allen neurotic-nerd patter. I hear what you’re saying (let’s agree right now that there’s some truth to it), but what’s amusing, and at times infuriating, about all this she/he is always the same! high dudgeon is the absolute, outraged presumption that if an actor doesn’t vary his or her personality very much (or, in fact, at all) from movie to movie, then that’s automatically a bad thing.

I have two words to say in disagreement with that idea: Katharine Hepburn.

Okay, you know the next line, so let’s all say it together out loud: Jennifer Aniston is no Katharine Hepburn!

There, do you feel better? Well, Jennifer Aniston certainly is no Katharine Hepburn, and no one else is either. But you get my point, which is not about the relative merits of The Break-Up and The Philadelphia Story but about the principle at stake. Hepburn, whose playful and melodious WASP trill is one of the glories of the American cinema, is arguably the most striking example of something that was true through most of classic Hollywood: that the actors we now consider American gods and goddesses didn’t vary their performances all that much. I would argue that even when they were great actors and did have range, the principle still holds.

Take James Stewart, who I often think of as my favorite American movie star. He always had a dark side (it’s there in It’s a Wonderful Life, and even in his very early performance in After the Thin Man), and over the course of his career he stretched his aw-shucks persona around a more and more daring palette of roles, especially when he worked with Alfred Hitchcock in Vertigo. But let’s be honest: The Jimmy Stewart we all know and love had a voice, a manner, and an inner decency so pronounced and captivating that people went to his movies for decades to see him be that guy.

The deep abiding mystery of Hollywood acting, and it is captured brilliantly in Jeanine Basinger’s 2007 book The Star Machine, is that the familiar personalities of the great old stars were themselves performances. In Casablanca, Humphrey Bogart isn’t just playing a cynical saloon keeper named Rick. He’s playing a tough, thick-voiced brooder named Humphrey Bogart who’s playing a cynical saloon keeper named Rick. Just as the British-born actor Archie Leach spent his entire career playing an outrageous character named Cary Grant who then played spies and thieves and paleontologists and pilots and newspaper editors. The actors who became the most mythological, like Bogart and Grant and Bette Davis, may have been the least varied in persona. That’s part of what sears their souls into ours.

If you accept all that, then the real problem with Jennifer Aniston or Michael Cera giving “the same performance” isn’t the lack of variety. It’s the perception that the performance has overstayed its welcome, that it has grown predictable and tiresome. And I guess on that basis, you could make the case that Aniston, say, should try to vary what she does a little more. Except that she keeps doing it because people, more often than not, keep going to her movies. I, for one, believe that in a good film (like, say, Marley & Me), that sunny/cute/flirtatious/homey Aniston personality is just dandy, and that she’s really a victim of the teeth-grindingly formulaic screenwriting that tends to dominate these days in her strong-suit genre, which is romantic comedy.

As for Cera, I myself invoked the he’s-always-the-same grumble about a year ago after I saw Youth in Revolt, but mostly because I wanted to praise him for trying out a personality change-up in that very movie. He played a guy who, like Woody Allen in Play It Again, Sam, concocted a badass alter ego to win a girl, and the make-believe tough clowning looked good on him. It wasn’t just a one-time thing, either. If you really watch Cera’s performance in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, you’ll see that he’s playing a different kind of character than he did in Superbad or Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist — an unlikely babe magnet who uses his insecurity to lure girls to him and even treats them, at times, quite callously. I bought it. In fact, part of what I liked about the movie is that it showed you how hormonally driven guyish insensitivity comes in many flavors. Sure, Cera played Scott without giving himself a complete and total personality transplant. But that doesn’t mean he wasn’t acting, or that he wasn’t different than before. Frankly, when I read all those complaints about him, I feel like what’s really starting to sound the same is the complainers.

Yet I think I have an idea about what’s driving some of them. It used to be that if you liked an actor or actress, all he or she had to do was show up and entertain you. These days, though, the thing that’s on everyone’s mind is cred. Not just what’s fun, but what’s smart and cool to like. The way that actors become cool is by trying to be like Sean Penn — a brilliant chameleon — who launched his career by trying to be like Robert De Niro, who launched his career by trying to be like Marlon Brando. “Acting,” in other words, is cool; just “being,” on the other hand, is lame.

But isn’t that false to the way that we’ve always watched, and enjoyed, certain movie stars? Okay, maybe Jennifer Aniston really is the same character in movie after movie. I, for one, like that character. The underlying point made by the she’s-always-the-same club isn’t really that she should change, but that so many people out there have so much hatred for who she is.

So here’s what I want to know: Who are the contemporary actors and actresses — they may even be among the most celebrated — who never change very much? Who, in fact, are always the same? Who are your favorites? And who are the ones who you think need to change?

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  • Go Figure

    Your question is confused. There is a big difference between being a “movie star” and an “actor”. Sometimes a movie star is also a great actor (generally have the background and training) but not necessarily. Totally different requirements. Film is shot in fragmented segments so if they are casting you as “you”, there is no problem. Actors generally must develop a character and follow it along. It is easier to do this without close up work. You can play a wider range. Hence the stage tends to have more actors. However, star or actor, both require talents.

    • Ceballos

      I think George Clooney would be an example of a “movie star who’s also a pretty great actor” (as you say).

      I’m a fan of Clooney’s, but I can definitely admit that there is a certain common thread to most of his performances. However, I also think he does a good job of calibrating his work to fit whatever project he’s in.

      • Kathy

        George is, to some extent, CLOONEY in every film. But each character is nuanced and believable. I, for one, WANT to see that persona when I go to his films.

      • Hutchy

        Honestly, although he really is a world class D-bag in real life, Russell Crowe is a master at shifting gears and roles. Gladiator, The Insider, and Body of Lies couldnt be more different. You honestly can barely believe the same guy played all 3 roles.

      • me here

        both come from tv shows that’s why….

      • Anthony

        will smith comes to mind…. however…. people don’t complain because the personality he has is very likable… i agree whole heartedly owen! great article!

      • emily

        Will Ferrel comes to mind my

      • Jackie Venice

        Clooney is no mnovie star. The reason I say that is because nearly one of his films – the ones that don’t also star Brad Pitt – bombs at the box office. Hollywood loves him but nearly the rest of America doesn’t.

        He’s a Cary Grant wanna-be and it will never happen. Not that long ago, Burt Reynolds ruled the box office. Now, nobody thinks about him. Soon, Clooney will also be a footnote because nobody is interested in keeping his legacy alive.

      • Fish

        Hugh Grant always plays Hugh Grant.

      • Shiny

        Good points all around, but please forgive fans for tiring of a set of schtick, especially if the actors are as ubiquitious as Cera and Anniston. Mark Ruffalo made some 20 (okay, felt like 20) movies one year that were variations on his schlubby persona, but he wisely cut down to a few good projects and now he’s enjoying a great career; he was wonderful in Brothers Bloom and I hear in Kids; I say this as someone who is not a Ruffalo fan. If the projects are good then I say go for the tried and true, but if the actors have a ton of duds then maybe it’s time to either change up the mojo or chose better projects. And by better I mean projects that suit them, rather than playing same character and wedging it into any film just to get a paycheck.

      • The Other Guy

        Why are people talking about acting that way? Yeah, Tom Hanks and Dustin Hoffman and people are that are really good, but acting isn’t a quality, it’s a job. So like it or not, Aniston’s an actor, even if she’s not that good at it.

      • Anno

        George Clooney is another one of those overrated movie stars. He has never impressed me as an actor and his smugness is incredibly annoying.

      • Arbee

        @ Anthony -how can you put ‘Will Smith’ down as a personality actor? His work in ‘Ali’, ‘The Pursuit of Happyness’ and ‘Seven Pounds’ amongst other movies counteracts that point. Will Smith has shown he has some range.

      • Gwendolen421

        The quintessential guy who always played himself was John Wayne. I figured that out when I was 12! Always loved him anyway.

        The quintessential chameleon is the actress who played three different roles in Angels in America… We all know who she is so I don’t have to write out her name. She nailed Julia Childs in that film on making all those recipies.
        I love her because she is a quintessential actress.

      • Chiana

        Agreed. Also Angelina Jolie.

      • Grumpster

        dailaozisa – where do losers like you come from?

    • octoberman

      The only difference between “actor” and “movie star” is the person decides he or she wants to be an actor…we, the public, decide if they’re going to be a movie star.

      • Stormy

        The real difference is that an actor can wear the persona of his role. An actor can make you love his character or hate them. Dustin Hoffman is an actor, Johnny Depp is an actor, Laurence Olivier was an actor. Jennifer Anniston is a line reader and maybe a movie star, but certainly not an actor.

      • Brenda Barrett

        I agree with Stormy. In fact, Octoberman, I think you’ve got it a bit backwards — someone wanting to BE an actor and even getting acting roles does not make them a good actor. Rob Schneider, Steven Seagal, Aniston and more are “movie stars” but none of them are really capable of acting.

      • Mr Shefield

        JENNIFER ANISTON IS A GODDES!! She owns all of you in looks charsima class and money. And while you waste your time posting comments on ew HATING on her she is somewhere enjoying her VAST and immense fortune!!

      • lorna

        michael cera is the biggest tool and bore in hollywood.

      • jennrae

        Mr Shefield, money? We’re supposed to like her more because she’s rich? Personally, I like Jennifer Aniston, but money has nothing to do with it. I certainly don’t think she is better than anyone because of the amount of money she makes. It’s interesting because that is brought up a lot from hardcore fans of various famous people, this idea that being rich means we should bow down to them. It makes it really easy to sort out the crazies from just the regular fans.

      • octoberman

        @Brenda Barrett

        I didn’t say anything about “good”. That has nothing to do with it, and your point about Schneider, Seagal & Aniston proves my point. Go Figure’s original point was he had an issue with Owen’s premise, saying he conflated the idea of being “movie star” and “actor”. I agree with Stormy as well, and I think she makes my point. Whatever appeal Jennifer Aniston has allows her to get movies made, get top billing, etc….movie star. George Clooney’s movie’s may bomb, as somebody else mentioned, but he sure as heck gets to keep making ‘em, and they’re all marketed with his name on top…movie star. The movie buying public did that.

      • Jaret Morlan

        Wrong. Movie star is when a part is made to fit your “persona”. Actor is when you are hired to fit a part.

    • as

      Jennifer Aniston is not an actor of significance in my opinion or a movie star. She is a CELEBRITY…that’s her profession at this point and it’s getting OLD.

      • kate

        You are so correct. This author is dead wrong or perhaps he was hired by J Aniston to write this. You cant copare what is going on in movies now with Katherine H. days. People just didnt know any better back then. They didnt make that many different types of movies. What really is baffeling is why she never says no to these idiotic roles she plays, and why they keep hiring her. So many actresses out there and she is repeatedly hired for 3,4 6 movies a year. I for once am SICK of her and have never thought she had what it takes for the big screen.

      • Stormy

        Precisely. She’s Heather Locklear, Megan Fox, Denise Richards, Katherine Heigl, etc. No range, no emotion, no talent.

      • betko

        as, I totally agree with you.

      • Mary

        I too agree and the results of her latest movie proves the point.

      • jodipo

        Wow Kate, your telling me that the generation before s are too stupid to know what a good actor is? Well now aren’t you just “little miss voice of a generation!” maybe you should go play with your barbies and leave actual thoughts to the grown ups

      • googliezoo

        I like Jennifer Aniston. I think she’s a very capable actress, if a bit stronger in comedy than drama. I don’t understand what she did to deserve all the hate. So she’s not the best actress ever, so what? I haven’t enjoyed many of her recent movies, but that’s cause movies generally are pretty sucky lately. That’s true across the board in all genres, though, not just the romantic comedies that Jen tends to do. I can’t remember the last time I saw a new movie and thought it was really good (maybe “Up”). That’s not Jen’s fault.

      • LD

        I agree with as, but the biggest celeb that hollywood wants to be an actor is Julia Roberts. She is the same in everything. They can not make a movie without her big mouth loudly laughing. At least they do not put Jen on a pedestal and give her oscars. Jen’s movie are just fun, they make out like Julia does master pieces.

      • rose m

        @ Katy: The actor yesterday and today take idiotic roles because as Carey Grant himself noted, the bills need to be paid.

      • Stef

        Right on, googliezoo. I don’t understand why so much of the focus is put on Aniston in terms of “always being the same” — I think honestly she’s just become a sort of posterchild for all the complainers — it’s easy to just dump all the criticism on her. No she’s not the greatest actress of all time and never will be, but she’s certainly not the only one who always does the same thing. And she actually HAS played different roles (anyone seen The Good Girl?), even if they are few and far between. So maybe the joke is on everyone else, because she continues to get hired and make money — which at the end of the day is what all actors/movie stars, regardless of talent, are trying to do.

      • Brian

        I don’t see that many Jennifer Anniston movies but the ones I have seen range from bad to good like anyones. She is just a small part of the equation. The director, the screenwriter, the story and costars help a lot. I think she was much better on Friends then she has ever been in movies. Week after week maybe more of her personality came out and she grew into that character.

        I personally enjoy movies a lot more these days with actors I’m unfamiliar with. Going to see a Tom Cruise movie takes away from my enjoyment of the story because now it’s a Tom Cruise vehicle. Not always, it depends on the movie. I thought Valkyrie would have been so much better with unknown actors.

      • FYI

        The Good Girl is one of my favorite movies. She was terrific in Object of my affection and critics praised her in the indie film Friends With Money where she played a totally different character. the oppisite of sunny and happy.

      • @kate

        In old Hollywood, actors were, for the most part, loved because they reliably brought the same presence to their roles. However nuanced the characters were, the actors were pretty much always seen as actors; until Marlon Brando made method acting popular, acting wasn’t about realism or “disappearing into the character”. It really just has to do with a change in tastes.

      • Arizona

        THANK YOU for pointing out “The Good Girl.” Jen Aniston’s entire persona in that film was just about the exact diametric opposite of Rachel, and she gave a measured, grounded, remarkably mature performance—don’t tell me she can’t act. I like her Rachel persona just fine, although I think in light of what she’s really capable of that it’s a real shame she doesn’t stretch as an actress a little more often. But not everybody’s cut out to be Johnny Depp, and just because most Movie Stars don’t spend every waking moment trying to passive-aggressively self-immolate with risky career moves doesn’t mean that a familiar persona is automatically a signifier of laziness or lack of talent. Look at how Tom Cruise turned his own archetype inside out in “Jerry Maguire.” Look at how Keanu Reeves—no one’s idea of a Great Actor by any means—still projected a pitch-perfect screen presence in films as diverse as “Bill and Ted” and “Speed” and the freakin’ “Matrix” trilogy. (I’ve tried to block “Much Ado About Nothing” from my memory, to no avail.) Hell, look at Johnny Depp, who against all odds has somehow managed to become instantly recognizable no matter how thick his makeup or accent or mannerisms, simply by virtue of being that guy who’s crazy enough to take every character to the limit; even when he’s playing a regular Joe, he plays the role To The Hilt. I don’t see this as a negative. Every actor has a persona, and it’s on the basis of that persona that they get offered work, period. You want to blame somebody, blame unimaginative casting directors and the people writing by-the-numbers scripts, not the people trying to make a living by opening themselves up to this kind of petty criticism.

      • m1

        @Arizona: Jennifer Aniston is a decent, underrated actress who could do wonders in the right role (e.g. The Good Girl). About Reeves, I didn’t think he was horrible, just over-the-top. But Beckinsale really surprised me. How did a promising actress like her get stuck in below-average films?

      • jennrae

        Jennifer Aniston continues to get hired because she does exactly what she’s hired to do. No one expects Harry Potter ticket sales with Jennifer Aniston (or Julia Roberts, for that matter). With most movies they are happy for middling ticket sales. I mean, no one expected The Switch to be a classic.

      • Julia

        In terms of actors/actresses who always do the same thing that’s getting rather dull – Aniston, Hiegl, Affleck, Hugh Grant, Keanu Reeves, Owen Wilson, Melanie Griffith, Cher (is she even an actress?), Tom Cruise, Nicholas Cage, McConoughey, Vaughn.

      • Whatevs

        @LD: I totally agree about Julia Roberts. I used to heart her so much until I picked up on the fact that it was the same line reading film after film. In “My Best Friend’s Wedding” and “The Mexican” she even SAID the same lines. something about “psychosomatic manifestation.” Drivel.

      • vmf

        You are so wrong.And Kate, before you post maybe you should use spell check.Your argument just does not ring true. Celebrities don’t keep getting hired to “star” in movies. Jennifer Aniston DOES! CASE CLOSED

      • Chiana

        @googliezoo: Why is it that if somebody disagrees with your opinion they’re a hater? I personally don’t hate Jennifer, but I’m a little confused as to why she is paid so much for movies that usually bomb. She is not a reliable attraction to pull in audiences, not like a George Clooney or Angelina Jolie. I’m sure she is a nice enough person, but a little bit spoiled by all of her financial success. Prob. because that seems to be her focus. The best actors work at their craft, and take roles that challenge them, not financially reward them. I don’t think she has the craft to succeed at small roles even if she tried them, but if she studied her craft more I’m sure she’d be better. (There are plenty of successful actors that continue to study with acting coaches and take classes). If you are merely adequate at your occupation then you have to expect some negative comments now and again.

      • MrsDolly

        I wish she would do something (anything) to tell the characters apart. Don’t flat iron her hair, wear a brown wig, stop wearing Rachel’s clothes. Anything.

    • erin

      I completely agree, Go Figure. I am personally most interested in watching performances by versatile actors (Dustin Hoffman, Gary Oldman, Johnny Depp, Helen Mirren, etc.)
      I do understand the appeal of likeable stars who basically play themselves in every role, though.

      • Andrew

        To me Johnny Depp seems to be playing generally the same character lately from what I’ve seen, just with big costume changes.

      • Dawna

        I love Johnny Depp and do think he has played some vastly different characters over his career. However, you can still see Johnny underneath each character, in some of his mannerisms, expressions. To me that’s not a bad thing.

    • Elena

      Meryl Streep is an actor who happens to be a movie star; Michael Cera is a non-actor, who clearly is no movie star, and who is lucky he keeps getting gigs playing Michael Cera.

    • Lee

      I agree with Go Figure. While I am not a fan of Aniston, and have (admitedly) begun to tire of Cera, people don’t realize how much talent it takes to be watchable on screen for two hours. It seems very easy and effortless (esp if you don’t like the actor) but trust me there are millions of actors out there who do not have that ability.

      • Not Moby

        Cameron Diaz being one. I can’t stand to watch her. She is just terrible in everything she does. It’s unclear to me how she has a career.

      • jennrae

        I agree, Lee. It’s so easy for us to say Jennifer Aniston or Michael Cera or whoever is dreadful to watch, but these people have massive amounts of fans who WANT to see their movies. These aren’t a couple of nobodies who are lucky if their mom buys a ticket. It’s not hard to figure out why they continue to get work. It’s pretty simple, in fact.

    • Not Moby

      Plus George Clooney is just so darn handsome.

    • FYI

      The Good Girl is one of my favorite movies. She was terrific in Object of my affection and critics praised her in the indie film Friends With Money where she played a totally different character. The exact oppisite of her typical characters.

    • Linus

      Clooney was excellent in “Syriana.” Generally, he is an above-average actor, but he is also an excellent director (see “Good Night & Good Luck”). Michael Cera & Hugh Grant are personalities, which is fine for lighter fare. John Wayne is easily the most celebrated AWFUL actor in the history of cinema. Actors such as Geoffrey Rush, Daniel Day Lewis, & Johnny Depp are like chameleons, which is very impressive.

    • purses

      I sort of feel like the problem is that we haven’t ‘accepted’ these people as movie stars, but that they are being forced down our collective throats by the powers that be. I feel this way increasingly lately. There are a lot of celebrities out there that just don’t seem to have earned or deserve their place in stardom. Shia LaBeaof is the worst/best example to me, but the same could be said for a gazillion reality stars that have been getting too much attention. I just don’t get why they keep getting jobs/attention.

    • Allyson

      You convinced me. You’re right. 100 million people are wrong.

  • steph

    “..the familiar personalities of the great old stars were themselves performances.”
    incredibly important point when discussing hepburn. many people remember from ‘philadelphia story’ on but her 30s work is the most interesting to me. the performances are inconsistent but they are varied, sometimes daring, and seem closest to the idea many people have of ‘tough gal, trouser wearing kate.’ the public hated that kate and her movies. she recreated herself, polished up the katherine hepburn persona and came back to let grant, tracy, bogart, & america repeatedly put the original kate in her place.

  • goober

    Katherine Hiegl, ever since Knocked up her movie roles and acting have been so monotonous

    • Hutchy

      I think part of her problem is the widely held (and evidently pretty accurate) perception that she, behind the scenes, is apparently a huge Bi……well, not a very nice person.

      • Amy

        I have to admit I’m one of those people who just thinks she seems really unlikable as a person and pretty much everything I’ve heard her say in interviews is grating. Also, she just isn’t a very good actress.

    • gv

      That’s because she’s a terrible actress with no charisma or charm. BOR-ing!

    • Adam

      Katherine Hiegl let the popularity of “Grey’s Anatomy” go to her head… she assumed that she was now a big star and too good for the series (especially after her film “Knocked Up” did well), and reacted by making a lot of negative remarks about the show and its writers, creators, etc. Her latest movie was a disaster, however, and there seems to be something of a backlash against her now (or maybe simply audience indifference). Either way, if she doesn’t have a hit film or give an acclaimed performance soon, she’s probably gonna come crawling back to television, assuming she could find a producer who’d want to hire a known diva who might bolt again if the show became a hit.

    • AK

      Man, I’m loving that everybody talks about her like they know her. Stop throwing your perceptions against her until they stick.

    • catmom

      Katherine Heigl has another movie coming out this year, is currently filming one, and has at least five more in development. I guess people who know her better than we do still like to work with her.

      • Jalal

        I agree with Hutchy. Heigl keeps biting that hand that fed her. She talked s**t about Grey’s Anatomy and Knocked Up, the two things that made her the celebrity she is today. I think she is talented but now I am just sick of her being a whiny bitch.

      • jennrae

        What got me was that she talked so much sh-t about Knocked Up being chauvinistic and then turned around and made The Ugly Truth, which involved wearing vibrating panties (and she was also a producer). Tell me how that is better? At least Knocked Up was funny. I also get a laugh at people who think they know Jennifer Aniston is a b-tch and then get offended when someone attacks their precious Katy.

      • Pickles

        Well, she is, regrettably, starring as Stephanie Plum in an upcoming film. I am a HUGE fan of the Plum book series and I will NOT be seeing this film, because Heigl is portray this beloved character. How she was picked is beyond me! I cringe when I think about it. I cannot stand her.

  • ryan

    Very good article Owen–the quality of the scripts and the films themselves often play a huge role in the “we’re tired on so-and-so playing the same character over and over…”

    Cary Grant, for example, didn’t vary too much from his screen persona (if i were that dashing, charasmatic, and funny i probably wouldn’t either)–although check out the great doc on him “a class apart” for a look at which directors brought out different shades of the ‘Cary Grant persona’.

    • RDP

      I was going to use Cary Grant as an example as well. He played against type in Suspicion and I believe Alfred Hitchcock was forced to change the ending because the studio didn’t want to mess with Cary’s suave, dashing persona.

      Regarding the rest of Owen’s post, I do think you have to take into account the entire studio system set-up of the Golden Age, when a star signed a contract with Warner, or MGM, to work for them exclusively. Studios had more control over everything back then. These days, it’s a choice, be it conscious or not, that is exercised by actors these days to do the same thing over and over.

    • E

      Ryan, the scripts are a problem, yes, but the actor knows what is choosing, and in the case of JA, MC, and so many others, they ALWAYS keep themselves in their comfort zone.

    • Tarc

      You have an interesting view of the process: most actors are offered parts that other choose to offer TO them. Most are very lucky to be in that tiny group of actors that actually have choices. Even so, if all of the parts being offered are of a certain type, you really get no choice. Hence, all the biz chatter about not being ‘pigeonholed’ as doing one tyoe of role, etc. The bottom line is that CASTING DIRECTORS often chose what actors get to vastly more oftne than actors do.

      • Amy

        Also, a lot of the time, agents read scripts and choose which ones to send to their actor clients.

  • Christian

    Steve Carrell.

    • Matt

      Steve Carrell? Have you seen Little Miss Sunshine?

      • Brian

        Or Dan in Real Life.

      • Pat

        yeah i have seen it – and Christian’s comment still applies.

      • Tarc

        Apparently Pat and Christian really haven’t watched many Carell films. I’m noe even much of a fan, but… please.

      • Rob

        Steve Carell is an amazing actor. He is pretty funny, and even in not-so-good movies like Date Night, he plays his character very well. His role Little Miss Sunshine was a work of art.

    • Hutchy

      The guy in Dan in Real Life was NOTHING like Michael Scott, or the guy from 40 Year Old Virgin for that matter. Its like George Clooney: there are a few truly, amazingly gifted actors (Depp and Day Lewis spring to mind) who truly have to ability to become something completely different with each role. However, the vast majority are playing within a template of themselves, with subtle nuanced differences within the characters. George Clooney is the master of this: O Brother Where Art Thou, Burn Before Reading, and Michael Clayton couldnt be more different. However, they are all Clooney, just differences within his persona. Brad Pitt is the same way, no matter how different his roles are, I always see a bit of Pitt shining through. Not saying thats a bad thing, acting wise.

      • MCS

        Im so glad you said Daniel Day Lewis. I think he is one of the last real actors, rather than movie stars. How good is he at just becoming a role? There Will be Blood was amazing. Gangs of New York he was amazing. AND his older work! I think Depp is amazing too, but he has been wearing thin a bit on me lately, his post Jack-Sparrow characters can sometimes blend together when he does the eccentric thing. BUT then he does something great and different like Public Enemies, so it’s okay

      • Rob

        I personnally don’t enjoy Johnny Depp as an actor, but I can’t deny that he is a very talented one, and has a range of acting abilities.

      • Rob

        Gene Wilder is great too.

      • Erin

        I think Ledger achieved it. From Ennis in BB to The Joker to DN – two unbelievably different characters very well portrayed.

        And as someone said above, Russell Crowe has the goods. Not a fan of the dude behind the actor but the actor himself? He is a star.

      • jennrae

        I just wanted to add My Left Foot for Daniel Day Lewis. Now there’s an actor.

  • John C

    I don’t know why making an observation is called “bellyaching”. I don’t think anyone really cares that much about either one of these two. The box office they generate lately supports that claim. Katherine Hepburn hardly had the competition she would have had in 2010. How many movies were released in a year on average in her heyday? Katheine Hepburn might have been Katherine Heigl in this era.

    • Mac

      You assume too much.

    • Zach

      More movies were made back then.

      • Shawn

        This statement is just 100% false.

      • B.A.

        Agree,Zach–MGM made a film every week and I’m sure the other studios did,too.

    • Tom

      Yeah not true. You need to look at the numbers. People made MORE movies then not less. Most major actors were shooting 3-4 movies a year and often for directors, like John Ford and Otto Preminger, that were beyond demanding. The expectations directors had for most actors back then would make the current batch of complaints from stars appear ridiculous.

      • Shawn

        But there were less studios and less movies being released overall in the 40s, 50s, 60s…I think John C is making the point that there was less competition simply because of that.

      • Pat

        and funny how we only celebrate only a handful of roles each of these legends made given the frequency of movies they made. I guess they also had their share of mediocrity….

    • Lee

      I doubt very highly that Heigl would find herself in “The Lion in Winter.” Hepburn cannot be compared.

    • Erin

      Ick – comparing the two Katherine’s is just wrong, I get what you’re saying, things are certainly different these days. But Hepburn compared to Heigl? No, blasphemy!!!

      • Ana

        Blasphemy indeed.

        To me, KH will always be the annoying Izzie and her movies don’t prove me wrong. She plays Izzie. That’s all there is to KH.

  • Bruce from Missouri

    All the people you listed are pre-modern-era actors. The entire game changed with Brando and the other Method actors. When you talk about the great actors of the modern era, most of them do quite a bit more variation in their performances.

    I find a lot of pre-1950 movies hard to watch because the acting is so bad by modern standards. It would be nice if they gave even half an effort to disappear into their characters.

    Modern actors who never change:
    Seth Rogen, Lucy Lui, Angie Harmon, Samuel L. Jackson.

    • Joe

      I’ll argue Sam Jackson. Yes, there is a sameness to when he’s acting in a “big” movie that requires “Iconic Sam Jackson” (which we love), but if you really look at his overall career, he does a wider variety of stuff than you might expect.

      • erin

        Jungle Fever, Black Snake Moan

      • hushy

        time to kill

      • teekay

        The Caveman’s Valentine

    • Anna C.

      add Angelina Jolie (tough chick), Amy Adams (ditzy smart girl), Katie Holmes, Drew Barrymoore, Ben Afleck, Gerald Butler, Will Smith.. ahh the list goes on. Not much really changes. I think the reason people think Aniston is inferior is because, she appears a bit of an airhead while, say Julia Roberts has a don’t mess with me vibe.

      • casi

        Jolie doesn’t change? She’s no Merle Streep -no one is – But like her or not she has star power and she’s no one trick pony: Gia, Girl Interrupted, wife of southern governor George Wallace,A Mighty Heart . . . From 1998-2009 she’s received 16 awards (

      • Lee

        I think Jolie’s problem is that audience seem to not accept her in anything other than a Tomb Raider/Salt type of role. She seems she wants to grow as an actor (ala Pitt) but audiences and/or studios won’t have it.

      • hushy

        Will Smith starred in six degrees of seperation and 7 pounds…def. not his usual stuff…

      • LD

        Julia is the same old stuff too. She makes fun movies, nothing she has done deseverd an oscar, nothing

      • Pat

        i think that’s the point – Jolie has those 2 or 3 roles where she tried different. Same could be said for Aniston. For both ladies, they weren’t earth shattering performances but they were against type and competently done. that’s the point. I think for several actors mentioned, each of them have a couple of roles where they tried to stretch. Let’s quit hanging all the sins of HW and it’s mediocrity on the shoulders of one actor who decided doing a big TV show was not enough for her. Every grievance you have against her, are grievances that we could most likely lay at the feet of other actors.

        At the end, our opinions are not definitive fact. Art is subjective, and tastes are subjective. Some people like Cera and Aniston – why can’t we just leave it at that?

      • Amy

        Amy Adams should definitely have a different role in the upcoming The Fighter. She plays a bartender in Boston.

      • jennrae

        Ugh, I just can’t buy Jolie as vulnerable. She is a tough girl, period. Whenever I see her crying in something I feel like I’m being manipulated.

      • vmf

        Jolie’s best attribute is stealing other’s men. Can’t stand her and won’t watch ANYTHING she does. She has about as much talent as her father. YUCK!

      • Chiana

        I wouldn’t put Angelina and Will Smith in that category. Yes, they’re both “movie stars” that can pull in a lot of fans with their likability/charisma, but they have pulled off incredibly complex characterizations. And have to admit I agree with ONE of vmf’s comments – Angelina does have as much talent as her father. Both incredible thespians. I don’t care about their sex lives as much. What Angelina (and Brad) have done for so many people leaves much more of an impression on me.

      • Kathleen

        Anna, first of all, it’s Gerard Butler, not Gerald. He doesn’t change? How about 300, Phantom of the Opera, Timeline, Gamer, PS I Love You, the 2nd Tombraider movie, Mrs. Brown, RocknRolla, all different types of roles.

    • Sara

      I think the greatest game-changer was the internet. Now anyone with a computer is an expert and knows more about everything than anyone else.

      • Jan

        Oh Sara, trying to bring reality into everyone’s little internet ego trips.

      • anonymous

        I want to get a facebook just to “like” this comment.

      • Pires

        Pat you should have seen some of Jolie movies before writing what you wrote. Check out Hackers, George Wallace, Playing by Heart, Gia, Girl, Interrupted, Changelling,A Mighty Heart, The Good Shephered and some of her action too Wanted, MAMS, Salt. All different roles, different characters, differently play.

        Any comparison between Oscar winner Angelina Jolie and Jennifer Aniston is an insult to Jolie and acting.

        Jolie is one of the best actress in HW and she has the awards to prove it. At 35 year jolie has
        2 Oscar nominations 1 win
        5 Golden Globe nominations 3 wins
        4 Screen Actors Guild Awards nominations 2 wins
        And many other awards and nominations.
        Not only Jolie can act, but she has charisma and a strong presence on screen.

        Aniston plays the same character over and over again. She can’t act, is lazy and has no Charisma or screen presence.

    • Amy

      Pre-1950s acting isn’t at all bad. It’s just different.

  • Andy B

    I’m pretty sure after Steel Magnolias, Julia Roberts has played the same character in a movie.

    • agreed

      agreed about Julia Roberts. we should add Sandra Bullock to this list as well

      • m1

        The Blind Side? Crash?

      • yeah

        Putting on a southern accent or looking vaguely depressed for an entire film does not a character change.
        Bullock and Roberts both trade on their likeability, and as such, cannot change much from film to film because that’s what they make the big bucks for: staying the same. Movies like Erin Brockavich or The Blind Side win these women Oscars because they are the very rare departures from the bland, romcom identities they have created.
        What appears to be “amazing” acting is just difference. It’s the same reason people win Oscars for playing handicapped people, gaining weight etc.

      • Tarc

        Bullock had done quite a few films where her character is substantially different. The trouble is, people didn’t like her in them (so she did the msart thing and gave them more of what they wanted. Aniston has also done a few *excellent* things that are NOTHING like her regular persona (see The Good Girl). It was barely an indie audience (and was excellent, BTW – certainly good enough to prove her acting chops for all time). Again, the public voted with their dollars. Julia Roberts os much the same: it’s called a ‘personality actor’. We, collectively, love them.

      • Nick

        I think Sandra Bullock can definitely change her character. In Crash, she is a bitter and unhappy racist. How is that not a departure from her usual bubbly and happy roles? I think she did well in that role.

      • Pat

        but the point is that the majority of time there IS limited range. They could choose to do it but they very often don’t…

      • jennrae

        Sandra Bullock winning the Oscar for The Blind Side is nothing short of a (Hollywood) travesty. There was absolutely nothing special about her performance. Compare it to, say, Annette Benning in American Beauty, who LOST and then tell me she deserved to win. I mean, she’s likeable, but last I checked Academy Awards are supposed to be awarded for acting, not likability. I know they campaign for those things, but how anyone campaigned for Bullock to win with a straight face is beyond me. I wouldn’t have been able to look at myself in the mirror.

      • Bunny

        I agree jeenrae. While The Blind Side was a lovely story and we all felt good afterwards, it was hardly a performance worth an Oscar. I didn’t think her character was really that much of a departure from most, her hair was a different color and she had an accent and the character was less goofy, but it was still the same ol’ America’s Sweetheart. I don’t have a problem with it. I usually like her in movies and don’t really care if her characters are basically the same. I just think her performance was overrated. It hasn’t been that long ago that people were lamenting about SB the way they are about JA. Now that she dyed her hair blond for a feel good true story movie and her jerk husband cheated on her, suddenly she is on a pedestal in the eyes of many. It doesn’t make you a great actress, just someone we want to have a good life. Crash was another overrated movie with overrated performances.

        I like intelligent films and appreciate actors who have great range. It is equally possible to enjoy those actors who are “always the same” without being a lesser film fan.

      • Chiana

        No, I’ve seen a few movies where she pulled out all the stops. Plus she is immensely likable – one could argue about her acting talents possibly, but I think she is definitely a Movie Star. The America’s Sweetheart that Julia Roberts and Jennifer Anniston can only pretend to be. Guess to be a movie star you have to at least give the illusion that you would be a nice person to meet. Everything I’ve heard about Sandra backs that up 100%.

    • LD

      THANK YOU Andy B! 100% agrred!

    • m1

      This reminds me: how come no one is mentioning Jennifer Garner? Good actress, but after Juno, Valentine’s Day, 13 Going on 30, and Catch and Release, she isn’t much different from Aniston.

      • jennrae

        Not true. Have you seen those dimples?

      • RyanK


      • chester

        I was thinking the same thing about JG….9 times out of 10 her movies just bomb. I wish she would just go away…same with her untalented skanky husband.

      • Chiana

        Yes but at least she isn’t over-saturating the market like Jennifer Aniston, and I find her more likable and interesting. I’m sure if she showed up in a lot of movies I’d be sick of her too, but her presence in a cast wouldn’t turn me off seeing a movie the way Julia and Jennifer Aniston would. (So personality – almost movie star type yes, an “actor” – no not really. Not based on the movies I’ve seen her in anyway.

    • Kristin

      Absolutely agree with Julia Roberts. Haven’t liked her since Mystic Pizza. Lilli Taylor can act circles around her but Roberts gets the fame. Go figure.

  • jt

    I love the characters they play as well. Michael and Jennifer both succeed wildly in those roles. There is no need, really, to change accents or looks, etc. in every film. Julia Roberts also doesn’t change that much from film to film. So, I totally agree that people need to quit whining about it.

    • Chiana

      Who’s whining? The whole point of this article was to find out if we were tired of actors playing variations of themselves, or if that was acceptable if they were larger than life, movie star types. It’s called a discussion – if you don’t want to discover what other people’s opinions are, you shouldn’t be reading these comments.

  • Anno

    Maybe it’s not such a bad thing to play the same type of character as long as the movie is well done and both the movie and the character are memorable and interesting. If not, the actor risks becoming boring and all of their movies start running together which, imo, is the case with Aniston.

    • m1

      Oh, YES!!!

  • Christian

    I love how Sandra Bullock CHANGES her character…but they ALWAYS are loved by the audience at the end!

    • ugh

      watch All About Steve and try and tell me you love her character by the end

      • Mat

        I did love her by the end ~ it was a sweet movie & she was pretty cool, dorky cool!

      • m1

        That movie and character sucked. I was annoyed by her character throughout. However, she is likable in nearly everything else.

  • ariadne


    • ugh


      • MCS


      • Ashlee C.

        LOL *my caps are not locked

      • jennrae

        Oh my god, I almost peed on myself.

      • Kimber

        Awesome – spewing coffee and getting strange looks….

      • Chiana

        Awesome! The funniest comment Ive read today. :))

      • Courtney

        LOL That was hilarious!

    • Stever_B

      Michael Cera as Sawyer in Brokeback Mountain? Who is Sawyer?

    • Peacenik

      I agree with capslock, its called type-casting, I think a lot of actors and movie stars get caught into it. This is because we as the audience prefer to see actors in certain roles. I went to see Jennifer Aniston in The Switch last night, which I liked her in. She did some pretty good acting in the Good Girl, but the Switch will make more money, so we will see her in the same role again soon. It really is about the all mighty dollar.

      • Amy

        It really shouldn’t be, though. An actress as successful as Jennifer Aniston, for example, shouldn’t be doing movies for cash.

      • j

        Yes – getting a paycheck is better than not getting a paycheck and I’m sure these actors are taking the “type cast” rolls for fear that, one day, the rolls – any rolls – will stop coming. So why not take the roll the studio wants you to play while you have the chance? If we, the audience, do not like the rolls the actor is taking, then the only way the studio is going to start caring about that is if we stop buying tickets.

  • Kurt

    I have no problem with Michael Cera playing George Michael with a different name in every movie. My problem is that outside of “Arrested Development” I find the character and the actor tiresome.

    • Stein

      I agree. Michael Cera’s “character” doesn’t hold up that well when he is the lead. But honestly I can’t see him as any other character because he’s so boring. Even his tough french guy thing was painful.

      • aj

        Cera sucks

    • Amy

      Maybe it’s just me, but even though he plays similar characters all the time and the movies themselves aren’t always good, I still find Michael Cera rather funny.

  • James

    Since you bring up Jennifer Aniston, the main thing that annoys me about her is that she constantly plays characters who can’t find love or something like that, when in real life, she has a different man every month. It’s pretty difficult to imagine her so “down on her luck” and all that when she is posing scantily clad for magazines and playing human punball with John Mayer, Vince Vaughn, Brad Pitt, ect…. Katharine Hepburn, Samuel L. Jackson, even Michael Cera…..they are (or were) constantly challenging themselves with different roles and different types of movies. Lets see Jennifer Aniston actually try something creative.

    • James

      * pinball

    • Mac

      Well, she was definitely different in The Good Girl. That year, there was buzz of an Oscar nomination.

      • one performance does not a career make.

      • Lyn

        Very SLIGHTLY different, I would say. A slightly more dowdy, slight more immoral character than her usual.

      • jmcg

        People keep mentioning the Good Girl but I thought her performance wasn’t all that great. She had that same frozen, depressing look on her face in the whole movie and it looked uncomfortable for her. She is very limited in her acting ability.

      • Jane

        I agree that the Good Girl and even Friends With Money were a departure for Aniston. She needs to reach more into independent film or take better written scripts. I think she is likable, attractive but if she could pull a few underbelly performances from her belt, it would enhance her acting career. I’ve always hoped for a return aka The Good Girl.

      • mel

        “one performance does not a career make.”

        Wrong. Sometimes all it takes is one role to make someone a star.

      • Tarc

        Wrong. All it takes is one performance to prove difinitively that you can act. All it takes is one performance to win an Oscar. Heck, all it takes is one performance to disprove most of the posts in this thread.

      • Ellie

        The thing about the Good Girl is that Aniston’s performance was only the third-best tied with John C. Reilly. A then-unknown Jake Gyllenhahl and creepy Tim Blake Nelson were bigger stand-outs. I thought she was not bad though. Wish she had continued on that trajectory.

    • sigh

      wait – you have to look at her body of work for this? Marley &Me, Friends with money, good girl, derailed, even the break up were not about films about not being able to get the guy. Perhaps your problem is you always equate movies involving romance situations or guy/girl relationships to ‘girl never getting the guy’?

    • Bunny

      Wait James, are you saying that you don’t like JA’s films because the characters she plays are different than her actual life?

  • we embrace mediocrity

    There are millions of actors in this world. Why do we hold onto a dozen or so whose sameness and mediocrity we can count on? Let’s see some fresh talent, and retire the rest. And, by the way, Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant did play different roles in their movies. Jennifer Aniston is a joke. Michael Cera is just boring. Sandra Bullock is beyond mediocre; I will never understand how she got an oscar. Same with Julia Roberts. Instead of the same old, we need different new. Why don’t we get it?

    • Kat


      • Stormy

        Ditto. I not only don’t understand how Bullock got an Oscar, I can’t fathom how she got a job in films.

      • jd

        The Blind Side was one of the most over-rated movies last year. The acting was atrocious.

    • ugh

      maybe if you and the rest of the world actually saw Scott Pilgrim you’d realize that Michael Cera can be quite talented

      • Tarc

        ‘ugh’ isw what I’d say to seeing Scott Pilgrim. I haven’t seen a preview for a film that looks worse in a long time…

      • v

        Scott Pilgrim was a good movie, but let’s be honest: the supporting cast made the movie. Cera was dull, but it worked out nicely because the seven exes and girlfriends were engaging when they were on, while Kieran Culkin stole every seen he was in.

      • ugh

        if you read the comic then you’d realize that Cera nailed Scott Pilgrim

    • Tarc

      The problem is, they DO ‘get it’ and most people disagree with you. The dollars speak volumes. Personality actors are bank.

      • kate

        Really. she has had countless flops! shes Ok in ab ensemble but she is not a leading lady.

      • Tarc

        Again, Kate, dollars talk, and the movie biz is a biz. I’m guessing that you really have no idea what was and was not a ‘flop’ locally, regionally, globally, artistically, or financially. And there is no doubt that part of the reason that Bullock and Roberts have Oscars is that they: 1) made a lot of money for a lot of people, 2) doing parts that the general public loved. And Aniston has been in a string of what I think are poor quality movies lately, but she’s also done Oscar-level work in several films (The Good Girl, for example) – and as the leading lady.

      • kate

        OK which films has she done Oscar Level work….cant wait to hear this one!!

    • MCS

      we hold onto the same actors because we want to know a movie is good (or partly good) quality. I would rather see a Meryl Streep film than see an unknown who is probably just one of the terrible out of work actors who go on Survivor every year. The problem with the ‘millions of actors’ is that too many think they can act. They cant.

      • jennrae

        A lot of those unknowns are the real actors in the business. I’m not talking about the pretty people with defined abs who will take whatever reality show you offer them–it’s the extras you see on Law & Order, for example, who are the real actors. Dollars to doughnuts any one of them could carry the weight of a big movie, creatively speaking, but no one would see it because they don’t know their name. No one in the business really cares how good the acting is if money isn’t made.

    • Jane

      I think movie goers want what feels comfortable to them as opposed to something vastly different, in most cases. There are some exceptions. Day-Lewis was mentioned, Blanchett, Damon and several others have excellent skills. I also think some actors such as Streep are typically illuminating in every role, even if the film is poorly written.
      There are also actor’s such as Diane Keaton that have certain tics that they demonstrate when they perform on screen.
      I have high hopes for DiCaprio, I do think acting wise, he proven he has excellent skills. Ed Norton is a great actor, in sometimes mediocre roles, but good nonetheless.
      There are countless other actors that are overlooked continuously because there name doesn’t necessarily spell box office draw.
      It’s quite an interesting topic.

    • Chica12

      Americans don’t get cinematic diversity b/c the major studios are financed, produced and cast by narrow-minded, insecure, poorly educated, fraternity types who inherited their jobs for the past 40 years. In other words, the insipid/vapid DBs from that obnoxious Gamma Theta frat who were into beer bongs and ruffies — uhm, they’re all VPs now… LOL! Gimme vintage Wem Wenders anyday…

      • Chiana

        Can’t agree. That hideous Angels movie….visually stunning, but in every other way my brain went into hibernation. There are plenty of talented directors that can create something a little more mainstream. Like Peter Jackson.

    • Amy

      So, what you’re saying is actors are only good until they become famous?

    • anyone

      We don’t get different actors because people keep flocking to movies with same actors in droves. We aren’t going to get fresh talent until we demand it through ticket sales. We can hardly see a movie that isn’t a prequel/sequel these days and you want diversity? I’m OK with with actors who always seem to play the same role, as long as the stories are decent and I don’t have to see it in 2 or 3 films a year. One two or three years should be sufficient. Do commercials overseas if you can’t stretch your multi-million dollar paychecks in between.

    • vmf

      Sandra got the oscar because she can ACT, We embrace mediocracy! The Blind Side was a prime example of her ability to act. GREAT JOB! IMO she has never done a BAD acting job-just got Bad MOVIES

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