Leading Men Have No Character

Published on March 30th, 2010 in: Movies, Over the Gadfly's Nest |

By Less Lee Moore

cillian murphy detectives
Cillian Murphy

Recently, the media announced that the latest Cillian Murphy film, Peacock, would not be released in theaters but would go straight to DVD. Another recent Murphy film, Watching The Detectives, suffered a similar fate; in addition, Hippie Hippie Shake, starring Murphy and Sienna Miller, was completed almost three years ago and has yet to find distribution. A commenter on ONTD noted that, “[Cillian Murphy] really used to excite me, then too many of his movies went straight to DVD and I lost interest.” Ouch.

An online friend of my own framed the news in a less harsh, but more problematic way, saying that Cillian Murphy looks to be on his way to being a character actor. The contradictory nature of the term “character actor” suddenly seemed frustratingly inappropriate, particularly to an actor of Murphy’s caliber.

We all know Character Actors; in fact, the “That Guy”! website has a whole list of them. “That Guy is easy to recognize,” the site explains. “You can describe him but not name him.” That Guy’s resume “indicates quantity over quality,” says the site. “The guys on this page didn’t turn down a lot of roles. . . [they] had to work to get paid.” Deal breakers include being “too famous” (“you can’t be a ‘That Guy’ if too many people know your name”) or “too popular at the moment.”

james rebhorn
James Rebhorn

Granted, with the exception of The Edge Of Love, Cillian Murphy hasn’t had a starring role in a mainstream Hollywood movie since 2007’s Sunshine (and unless you are a fan of his or director Danny Boyle, chances are you haven’t seen that one). Not that there’s anything wrong with that; some film fans (and actors) feel it’s better to be choosy than to churn out subpar product.

So is Cillian Murphy destined to become “That Guy,” along with other character actors like James Rebhorn, Clancy Brown, or Giovanni Ribisi? And besides, other than the criteria listed on “That Guy”!, what is the real difference between a leading man and a character actor, since both are ostensibly portraying characters? Is it the talent or the physiognomy that separates the Cillian Murphys from the Chris Coopers (the latter of whom won an Oscar for his role in Adaptation)?

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2 Responses to “Leading Men Have No Character”

  1. jemiah:
    March 31st, 2010 at 1:05 pm

    Cillian Murphy just needs to keep working. The industry will do what it wants to do; his job is to get roles, and act the shit out of them the way only he can. I realized after watching several of his films that he is actually more talented than he is good-looking; perhaps with age, his face will take on a different character that appeals to male viewers as much as it does to female ones (and gay boys, represent!). That factor goes a long way to explain his career; he doesn’t visually appeal to straight men, and unfortunately, they kind of rule the industry right now. Give it time. And give him some good roles.

  2. Popshifter:
    March 31st, 2010 at 1:56 pm

    I agree! At this point I think that it is his talent that actually makes him so good looking. If he wasn’t so talented, I would have lost interest in his career a long time ago.


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