Thursday, April 07, 2005

Life after the Rings

We all know what happened to the cast of the original Star Wars trilogy: Harrison Ford became an international superstar and sported a series of increasingly spiky haircuts; Carrie Fisher became a best-selling author, noted screenwriter, ex-Mrs. Paul Simon and train wreck; Mark Hamil became the voice of the Joker in the Batman cartoon series. Alec Guinness croaked. Billy Dee Williams did a few malt liquor ads.

Will a similar variety of fates befall the actors in this century's most beloved fantasy trilogy? Which Lord of the Rings actors will parlay their roles in Peter Jackson's fanboy opus into fame and glory, and which will fall by the wayside? One year after Return of the King laid waste to the Oscars, it's now time to take a look at which of the Fellowship have enjoyed a post-Rings bounce, and which suffered a post-Rings thud.

Sean Astin (Sam):
Remember when there was serious talk of a Best Supporting Actor nomination for Astin's soulful work as Frodo's longtime companion Sam Gamgee? Astin was probably the fourth in line for breakout potential behind Viggo Mortenson, Orlando Bloom and Elijah Wood. Unfortunately, Astin has been largely absent from the big screen since 2003. He's popped up in multiplex crap (50 First Dates) and a few straight-to-DVD releases, has several below-radar indies in various stages of production and has done a little TV work. But when's the last time you saw or thought about Sean Astin? Given his profile at the end of 2003, it's a shame he hasn't made more hay. Either he's happy living at the shallow end of the Hollywood money pool-- in which case, God bless him-- or it's time to fire his agent. GRADE: C-.

Sean Bean (Boromir):
Let's come to terms with it-- Sean Bean's Borimir was the best thing in The Fellowship of the Ring. Prior to LOTR, Bean's stock was just beginning to rise with well-received supporting parts as hammy Euro-trash villains in Ronin (1998) and the Michael Douglas vehicle Don't Say a Word (2001). Post-Rings, he's reverted back to his mid-tier player status with supporting roles in Troy and National Treasure. Seems as if he's content merely to make his mortgage payments. GRADE: B-.

Cate Blanchett (Galadriel):
Already a mid-tier star, Blanchett had a largely ceremonial roll in LOTR as one of Tolkien's gauzy, half-formed Virgin Mary stand-ins. Her recent Oscar win for channeling Katherine Hepburn cements her status as A-list talent. GRADE: A.

Orlando Bloom (Legolas):
The patron saint of teenage girls everywhere, Bloom is inarguably the premiere breakout star of the LOTR troupe. He's emerged as the poor girl's Brad Pitt, which isn't a bad place to find yourself. The smash hit Pirates of the Caribbean catapulted him onto the A list. But Pirates was really Johnny Depp's triumph-- Bloom could have been replaced by any one of a dozen Brit-sounding pretty boys, or at least by Heath Ledger. The biggest danger facing his career is that his teenaged fan base deserts him before he's established himself as a serious THES-pian. If he follows the DiCaprio game plan, he'll be fine. GRADE: A+.

Billy Boyd (Pippin):
When Boyd turned up as the coxswain in Master and Commander, possibly the best non-hobbit adventure film of the decade, the prognosis looked good. But that was a bit part, and Boyd has pretty much disappeared since then. He has a lead as a con man coming up in a comedy called Save Angel Hope, but for now, he's pretty much invisible. GRADE: D+.

Brad Dourif (Wormtongue):
Dourif has been around forever, usually showing up in scene-stealing cameos or straight-to-video releases. He's since turned up as Doc Cochran in HBO's excellent series Deadwood, where he'll be fine. GRADE: B.

Bernard Hill (Theoden):
Theoden was veteran character actor Bernard Hill's most high profile film role to date, and it's safe to say he knocked it out of the park. But Hill is what he is: a veteran character actor who makes a living in films whenever a casting agent needs a noble-sounding Brit who looks vaguely like Ernest Hemmingway. His upcoming parts in Boyd's Save Angel Hope and The League of Gentlemen's Apocalypse will keep him in the gravy. GRADE: C.

Christopher Lee (Saruman):
Christopher Lee needed no career boost from LOTR; his legend among true film fans is secure. His reprise of Count Dooku in the new Star Wars film will further burnish his mantle of greatness. GRADE: A.

Ian McKellen (Gandalf):
That's Sir Ian McKellen to you, bub. McKellen has earned his marble bust in the Geek Hall of Fame with his turns as Gandalf and the X-Men series' Magneto, two of the highest-profile roles imaginable in the realm of sci-fi and fantasy. Sir Ian has nothing left to prove. GRADE: A.

Dominic Monaghan (Merry):
Monaghan at first looked like the odd hobbit out, but now he's sitting pretty with a starring role on a hit television series. His role as ex-rocker and lovestruck junkie Charlie on ABC's Lost has made his fans forget all about Merry Brandybuck, and that's no small feat-- pun intended. GRADE: A-.

Viggo Mortensen (Aragorn):
Ah, the tragedy of wasted potential. With his smoldering, humble performance as Aragorn of Arathorn, Mortensen did for his female Gen-X fans what Orlando Bloom did for teenaged girls-- gave them the screaming thigh-sweats. Out of all the cast, he had the greatest chance to vault into Harrison Ford-level superstardom. And then came Hidalgo-- which had a few fans, but proved to Hollywood that he couldn't open a picture. Mortensen is, however, a quick study. He has wisely opted out of the box office race to try his hand in artier fare, such as the new David Cronenberg picture A History of Violence and the Spanish-language adventure Alatriste. Like water, Mortenson will seek his own level. GRADE: C.

John Noble (Denethor):
This veteran Australian television actor is a little long in the tooth to vault to any new career heights, but he'll keep working in Australia and New Zealand as long as he wants to. GRADE: C-.

Miranda Otto (Eowyn):
Otto is now poised to become Cate Blachett's understudy-- the only question is whether she truly has the goods. Her pointless part in the pointless remake Flight of the Phoenix didn't help her, but starring opposite Tom Cruise in Spielberg's War of the Worlds ought to raise her stock a little. Plus, she's a babe. GRADE: B.

John Rhys-Davies (Gimli):
Rhys-Davies exists at the same level as Bernard Hill, with extra points for playing Sallah in the Indiana Jones films. He's beloved by geeks everywhere, he'll keep working until he's dead, and always in the same bit parts. GRADE: C.

Andy Serkis (Gollum/Smeagol):
You have to hand it to Serkis-- he parlayed a thankless job as the clown wearing the motion-capture suit into serious talk of a Best Supporting Actor nod for a role in which he almost never appears on screen. Now he's back wearing the goofy motion-capture suit for Peter Jackson's King Kong, and you have to wonder if he'll do anything besides wear goofy motion-capture suits ever again. GRADE: C+.

Hugo Weaving (Elrond):
His Elrond was a bit of a cold fish, and we all got sick of Agent Smith by the end of the third Matrix film. But my hat's off to anybody who winds up with big parts in two epic fantasy trilogies simultaneously. Before LOTR and The Matrix, Weaving's highest-profile role was as a drag queen in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Now "Misssster AN-derssson" has entered the pop culture lexicon. Upcoming projects include films with Jackie Chan (downgrade) and Cate Blanchett (upgrade). GRADE: B+.

Liv Tyler (Arwen):
She had the worst role in the Trilogy, she can't really act, and her beauty will only carry her so far. My advice is to land a television series quickly. Boston Legal will take anybody, it seems. GRADE: D.

Karl Urban (Eomer):
In a low-key, non-Orlando Bloom kind of way, Urban has quietly established himself in Hollywood. Vaulting from an unknown Kiwi into the star of the upcoming $70 million production Doom, that ain't too bad. The movie will probably suck, but still. GRADE: B+.

David Wenham (Faramir):
Wenham has wisely gone back to his native Australia to build his career from the ground up. Starring roles in two Australian films, The Proposition and Three Dollars, will give him a leg up. He's too old to become the next Mel Gibson, but ought to be able to live off of Russell Crowe's table scraps. GRADE: C+.

Elijah Wood (Frodo):
If any of this cast was in danger of becoming the Mark Hamil of LOTR, it was Wood. He must have lain awake at night wondering if he would be forever typecast as the tousle-haired, moist-eyed hobbit with the Christ complex. He's fought against this inevitability by taking wonderful cameos in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Sin City, and he's soon set to star in Liev Schrieber's directorial debut Everything is Illuminated. I would have cast him as Jimmy Olsen in the upcoming Superman movie, but that's me. GRADE: B+.

J.R.R. Tolkien (author):
Still dead, and selling more books than ever. GRADE: A+.


At 2:02 PM, Blogger meauxjeaux said...

seems to me sean astin is the movie equivalent of andy richter, both in looks and visibility.


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