Yay! Scotland didn’t break up with the UK! I do hope everybody gets what they want out of even having the referendum.
It’s Week 8(ish) for Steve and Suzie and me! They’re spectacularly Scottish and awesomely English respectively, and I’m American, and here we are once again listing our favorite things about our countries. This week it’s actors and actresses! Also, from this point on, when I say “actors”, I mean “actors and actresses”.
I thought actors would be easy, but when I started mentally cataloguing my favorites, I ran into two problems. First, I don’t really do the Hollywood thing. I don’t watch that many movies anymore, having not a lot of spare time with two young children running underfoot. It’s a 2-ish hour commitment that I just can’t make when I could curl up with a book for 30 minutes and fall asleep. Second, I found my favorite actors to be largely English. There’s just no escaping the anglophilia.
Then, when I thought about my favorite American actors, I found myself reluctant to talk about some of them because as famous white men, they already receive a ton of accolades (and a lot more money). I thought about taking a page from Steve’s playbook and listing my favorite actors acting “American”, and realized I’d have to put David Spade (Joe Dirt), Jeff Foxworthy (The Jeff Foxworthy Show) and Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln) on the list, and Daniel Day-Lewis isn’t even American.
So here’s the criteria I’ve settled with: I’m going to list my favorite American actors who aren’t famous white men. Because what’s more American than the people on whose backs and with whose support America was created??
1. Jennifer Lawrence
I’ve talked about my Jennifer Lawrence hard-on before, I think. I like how frank she is and how she seems to remember her roots. I like how she speaks plainly and doesn’t seem to care what people think, but not in that Rihanna I-Don’t-Want-To-Be-Your-Child’s-Role-Model sort of way. I like that her name is actually “Jennifer Lawrence”, and she didn’t feel the need to change it to Ginnifer or some stupid shit like that. And I like that despite her young age, she’s already so actively involved with charities.
Favorite Film Role: Tiffany in Silver Linings Playbook
Next Most Favorite Role: Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games
Favorite Off-screen Moment: the Post 2013 Oscar Awards Interview and when she left the red carpet to comfort a crying fan.
2. Whoopi Goldberg
Oh Whoopi Goldberg. I don’t even care that your liberal heart bled all over the stage of The View, or that weird thing with Ted Danson where he left his wife for you, and then you wrote that weird act where he yelled racial slurs and put on blackface to roast you. You win my heart forever for stabbing Q in the hand and playing a singing and dancing nun in Sister Act. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention your iconic portrayal of Celie in The Color Purple.
Favorite Film Role: Celie in The Color Purple, Shenzi in The Lion King
Next Most Favorite Role: Guinan on Star Trek: The Next Generation
Favorite Off-screen Moment: Any time Whoopi got into an argument with Elisabeth Hasselbeck on The View.
3. Pat Morita
You didn’t even know he could speak perfect English, did you? DID YOU?? Or that he was held in an internment camp?
Everybody loved Mr. Miyagi. To this day, I still say “squish…just like grape“. Yet he had a complexity you couldn’t possibly be aware of. I once saw this B movie starring Pat Morita – the name escapes me now, and I can’t be bothered to figure it out – playing an evil mob boss with several ladies of the night in his employ. The only scene I can recall, because it shattered my pristine vision of a wise, kindly Mr. Miyagi, is the one where one of these ladies starts to give Pat Morita’s character a massage. She says, “There are two-hundred and six bones in the human body!” somewhat vapidly, reaches under Pat Morita’s towel, ostensibly to “massage” his “stiffness” away, and then coyly says, “Make that two-hundred and seven.”
And thus, by memory the saintly old man who patiently taught a poor kid karate was squished, just like grape.
Favorite Film Role: Arnold on Happy Days
Next Most Favorite Role: The Emperor in Mulan
Favorite Off-screen Moment: His legacy. Pat’s daughter’s piece about how playing Mr. Miyagi in The Karate Kid brought him both success and destruction
4. James Earl Jones
One thing common in all my favorite actors is diversity. James Earl Jones can do drama, comedy, action, fantasy, commercials, or anything else he damn well pleases. He can play good guys, bad guys, good guys who act like bad guys, or bad guys who act like good guys. His voice acting skills allowed him to run the gamut in fathers, from a shitty dad like Darth Vader to a dad so devoted that he’d risk his own life, die, and then force his incorporeal spirit to appear just to give his boy a pep talk.
“You are my son” just wrecks me every time. Also, look at all these accolades!
Favorite Film Role: I can’t choose, so I’m listing several. Darth Vader in Star Wars, Thulsa Doom in Conan the Barbarian, Terence Mann in Field of Dreams
Next Most Favorite Role: The king in Coming to America, Frank Couzo in Best of the Best
Favorite Off-screen Moment: When the poor guy thought he’d won a Tony in 2012
5. John Leguizamo
Another very versatile actor on both stage and screen, John Leguizamo has the kind of face where I can’t decide if he’s very handsome or very haggard. I recently saw Chef with Earl, and I was impressed that I could buy him as a sous chef as easily as I can buy him as a gangster, or a singing dwarf, or drug dealer, or a soldier. He’s brilliant and eloquent, and he’s a family man, and he supports funding for the arts, and he says things like this:
“Latin people for Republicans are like roaches for raid,” he adds. “It doesn’t make sense. [Republicans are] not for us. You’re not for my values. We’re working class people mostly and blue collar. We’re your cops, we’re your firemen, we’re your carpenters and the things we need – we need to protect our unions, we need to protect our Medicare, we need to protect the working class person.”
Favorite Film Role: Sid in Ice Age, Toulouse-Lautrec in Moulin Rouge!, Chi-Chi in To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything, Love Julie Newmar
Next Most Favorite Role: Tybalt in Romeo + Juliet, Benny Blanco in Carlito’s Way
Favorite Off-screen Moment: Whenever he explains how he developed Sid’s voice. Also, the fact that he knows the difference between “nauseated” and “nauseating”
6. Jodie Foster
Jodie Foster is one of the few child actors who didn’t grow up to be a complete mess. The first movie I ever saw starring Jodie Foster was The Accused, which could very well be one of my earliest feminist influences. The only reason her portrayal of Sarah isn’t my favorite film role is because I haven’t had the nerve to see it again; I remember the visceral fear and feeling of betrayal she conveyed though. I have had the nerve to watch The Silence of the Lambs over and over though (hence pseudonymizing my children “Clarice” and “Dr. Lecter”).
She’s also had quite a bit of success as a director, and gave me such lovely lines as “Listen to me, Jane. If anything happens to him, anything at all, I’ll kill you. Now, I don’t mean that I’ll just hurt you. I mean that I’ll kill you.” This line from Little Man Tate was probably one of my earliest notions of motherhood, or at least the kind of mother I wanted to be.
Favorite Film Role: Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs
Next Most Favorite Role: Dede Tate in Little Man Tate, Sarah Tobias in The Accused
Favorite Off-screen Moment: Jodie Foster’s 2013 Golden Globes Lifetime Achievement acceptance speech
7. Joan Chen
“Who??” you ask. Her most famous role was probably as Pu Yi’s opium-addled wife in The Last Emperor. Joan Chen later developed an acting career on both American and Chinese screens, and later began rejecting American roles that were offered to her because she kept getting cast as the stereotypical “omg ur so exotic” dragonlady. In my opinion, her most overlooked role is the fleet-footed quick in the movie that brought us the sport of Jugger: The Blood of Heroes. Which is apparently called The Salute of the Jugger now. Talk about diverse roles! Here, watch Joan scramble around with a dog skull, and see if you can spot Vincent D’Onofrio not long after he decided his rifle was his best friend:
Favorite Film Role: The Empress in The Last Emperor
Next Most Favorite Role: Kidda in The Salute of the Jugger (formerly known as The Blood of Heroes), Yee Tai Tai in Lust, Caution
Favorite Off-screen Moment: Michel Martin interviewing Joan Chen on Tell Me More
8. Sigourney Weaver
I don’t think there’s a more badass heroine than Ripley. No superpowers, no wads of cash. Just grit, iron-clad resolve, and skillful taping together of a myriad weapons into one BFG. But then Sigourney Weaver did the voiceover for the American productions of Planet Earth, and although nobody can out-narrate Richard Attenborough, she did a remarkable job of it. She’s played a variety of roles as well: high-powered women, scientists, a huge asshole, a blond bombshell, and more. In my heart though, she will always be this maternal hardass right here:
Favorite Film Role: Ellen Ripley in Aliens, Gwen DeMarco in Galaxy Quest
Next Most Favorite Role: Dana Barrett in Ghostbusters
Favorite Off-screen Moment: Sigourney Weaver’s interview on the Graham Norton Show.
9. Forest Whitaker
I know Forest Whitaker is easy to hate because of his work on Criminal Minds, but I love him. The crazy thing is that I haven’t even seen his most notable films, like The Last King of Scotland, The Butler, or Ghost Dog. He just seems like the nicest fellow, which I suppose made it really handy in selling Idi Amin as a nice guy at first. He’s an utter sweetheart in Good Morning, Vietnam and Phenomenon, but then he’s good at being a jerk too! Maybe that’s thanks to James McAvoy (holler, Scotland!). Here, see him go from genial to bloodshot and scary:
Favorite Film Role: Edward Garlick in Good Morning, Vietnam
Next Most Favorite Role: Nate in Phenomenon
Favorite Off-screen Moment: When Forest Whitaker didn’t call anybody in on the clerk who aggressively patted him down and accused him of stealing even though he would have been perfectly right to, because he didn’t want the clerk to lose his job. Instead he asked that the store change their policy of TOTALLY NOT RACIALLY PROFILING! (The clerk was fired anyway).
10. Zoë Saldana
What? Not Alfre Woodard or Angela Bassett or Cicely Tyson or Regina King? Nope. I give it to Zoë because how the hell did she go from playing the last-minute principal ballerina in Center Stage (am I the only one who can’t resist watching this terrible movie whenever it comes on?) to Uhura and then to the voice actor for a giant blue alien with a tail? I haven’t made it to Guardians of the Galaxy yet, but I’m really looking forward to seeing her pull Gamora off. Just watch the intensity of her face in this even though she’s wearing all that gear for the graphics modeling!
Favorite Film Role: Neytiri in Avatar
Next Most Favorite Role: Eva in Center Stage
Favorite Off-screen Moment: This interview, where she’s a big nerd and swears a lot.
Ok folks. Whom have I missed? 🙂