03 February 2009

Actor (Actress) in a Supporting Role

Something I spent a lot of time considering as I filled out my Muriels ballot this year:

If an actor in a role that isn't billed as the lead role (let's call him Heath) completely takes over the film, is he really a supporting actor? Isn't he then an Actor in a Leading Role? Doesn't that inherently go against the whole point?

To me, a supporting actor is one who makes everything and everyone else in the film better, not someone who dominates his or her scenes. This isn't basketball where coming off the bench and taking over is a virtue.

[edit] My girlfriend points out that she said pretty much the same thing 3 days ago at a bar. She's usually right (and when she isn't, it isn't worth pointing out).


Ryan Estes said...

It's a fair point. But doesn't he deserve to win (or at least the chance to not have you disqualify him on technical grounds) in SOME category for this role?

lucas mcnelly said...

Of course.

I considered him in the Lead Actor category, where he ended up ranked 6th, one spot off the ballot.

Jonathan Pacheco said...

I see it a little differently.

I think it is like the basketball analogy. You have starters, and you have bench players. Sometimes the bench players are much better than a few starters. That's okay.

To me, it's always been dictated by the movie, by the story. Who's the film about? Who's perspective do we see events from? That's why it always bothered me that Denzel Washington got a Best (Lead) Actor Oscar for Training Day. To me, Ethan Hawke is the lead of the film, because the film follows his character. He's obviously the "main" character, so how is Denzel the lead? In the same sense, The Dark Knight follows Batman. Sure, we see a few scenes from the perspective of the Joker, Dent, Gordon, and others, but you can't deny that Batman is the main character. So for me, it makes perfect sense that Ledger is a supporting actor. (Big Nashville-style ensembles with a whole bunch of "supporting" characters are a whole other beast)

I think it comes down to how you define "lead" and "supporting." I think I define them a little more literally than you do. Which is fine, if you ask me.

lucas mcnelly said...

so, just to clarify, you'd say Kate Winslet in The Reader is supporting, right? Because clearly the Fiennes/Kross character is the film's perspective, etc.

I think Denzel is the lead not because the film is from his perspective but because the film is about him. his character is the reason the film exists. Ethan Hawke could be anyone.

To use the basketball example again...it's like when Kevin McHale came off the bench for the Celtics. Yeah he wasn't technically a starter, but who were they kidding? He was one of the guys the team revolved around. He was a starter who just happened to come off the bench.

I was reminded today that Anthony Hopkins was a Lead Actor for Silence of the Lambs, and he's in, what, a third of the film?

Jonathan Pacheco said...

Regarding The Reader, Winslet might be the female lead. But if you had to pick one lead, yes, I'd pick either Fiennes or the man who played the younger version of the character.

And I think I could just as easily argue the other way for Training Day. I'm not so sure you can put anyone else in place of Ethan Hawke's character. Denzel's guy must train people all the time, and they all go along with his corrupt ways. The point of the film is that here's this young, honest cop who doesn't want to go along, who fights back and takes down the corrupt giant. He's "special" in that sense as well. If I were to describe the film to someone who hadn't seen it, I'd start out with, "There's this young up-and-coming cop...." To me, that tells me a lot.

I think it's easy to argue in Denzel's favor simply because A) He was better in the film B) He was flashier C) His role seemed to have more "meat" D) His character seemed to have more impact. In that sense, I agree, the film may be more "about" his character. But I still think we're seeing it differently because we're both looking at the situation with different interpretations.

I think I was wrong in what I said earlier. It's more of how you define "role." I think you interpret it, based on your McHale analogy, as the role of leading the film. Who's carrying the film? Who is driving the film home to the audience? In that sense, you're right, bench players can be the leaders of teams if their passion and performance are what help drive the team to excellence.

Once again, if I'm trying to figure out for an awards ceremony like the Oscars who the "lead" is, I'm looking more literally at the word "role." The "role" as in the character in the story, not the role they played in helping the film be stronger, etc. The role, as in "the role of Alice the Maid."

The person in the "lead role" in the sense that you're talking about IS more important to a film -- I totally agree, and in another context, I'd be totally with you. All I'm saying is that if I'm thinking about passing out awards, specifically the Oscars, and I see those categories, that's how I interpret it. Very literal -- who's the main character, regardless of the meat on the role, if it's just a "straight man," etc. It's less ambiguous for me (which is what I'd like for something as relatively trivial as award ceremonies).

Jonathan Pacheco said...

To be clear: I'm not saying you're wrong for seeing it the way you do, because I see it that way as well. I simply choose to interpret it a different way for occasions such as these, which I found kind of interesting :-)

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