Six Unbankably Versatile Actors

Toni Collette

Films stink. They really do. Especially films made by Hollywood.

It must have something to do with money. It costs a lot of money to make a film, and then a lot of money to promote it, so funding a film is like taking two big gambles before you see either pay off. As a consequence, the people with the money try to make the safest bets. Which is why Seth Rogen appears in so many films. You know there must be something wrong with a world where Seth Rogen is rich and famous.

Somehow, for reasons that I would rather not understand, Seth Rogen is bankable. To be bankable, it is good to be consistent. Consistency means the audience gets what they wanted, and will know what they get next time. Seth Rogen has been the same in every film he appeared in, since he fluked that minor part as the stockroom guy in 40 Year Old Virgin. He has played the same useless boring lump in every film since, including the ones he wrote, which tells you something about both his writing and acting range. When Seth Rogen plays an alien, or a cop, a gelatinous mutant, or a comedian, his performances are identical, and equally unfunny. But Seth Rogan is bankable.

I guess some American teens in nowhere towns, high on weed or aerosol cheese, like to watch Seth Rogen because he is a useless goon made good. Or maybe Rogen is sufficiently middle of the road that men do not mind taking women to date movies that feature him. Sometimes ordinary people like stars because they are attainably attractive. Not only is Seth Rogen attainably attractive, he is attainably funny. Anyone can imagine themselves as witty and as good-looking as Seth Rogen, which says everything you need to know about the man’s comedy-based career.

Whilst Seth Rogen is bankable, and hence appears in lots of films as exactly what the audience expect him to be, you sometimes see films which contain a completely different kind of performer. They are called actors and they are noticeably different because they can act. Or rather, they are unnoticeably different, because audiences may not notice them. The actors are so busy acting, that the audience cannot recognize them from one film to another, and will not pay to see them. Even if they do recognize the actor, they are not sure what the actor will do from one movie to the next. Such unpredictability makes the actors unbankable, whilst untouchable. Think of Mark Wahlberg, and Anne Hathaway, and Jamie Foxx, and Tom Cruise. Then think of people who are the opposite of them, if you can. The ones who acted them off the screen, but maybe do not look as good. The people who were in that really good film you saw, but who you do not know the name of, and you do not recognize. They are the actors I am talking about. And if you could not think of any of them, here is a list of six of the best from Hollywood. Look out for them, coming to a movie screen near you soon…

1. Colm Meaney

On the big screen, this Irish actor has played Benjamin Franklin, H.L. Mencken, and Leeds United Manager Don Revie. He has played London mobsters, American mayors, and Welsh busy-bodies. He was a plumy English pilot in Die Hard 2, was consumed with hate in How Harry Became a Tree and was the azz-kicking DEA agent in Con Air. With five of his films currently in post-production, expect to see plenty more of Colm Meaney in future.

2. Franka Potente

This German actress first attained some international prominence for playing the lead in Lola Rennt a crafty film in which Potente literally runs through three different versions of the same story. She entered the English-speaking mainstream with appearances alongside Johnny Depp in Blow and playing the love interest for Matt Damon in The Bourne Identity. Though often stunning to watch, Potente is in a different class to the eye candy that clutter so many films. She was exceptional when playing the female lead in Australian film Romulus, My Father and her supporting role in Che: Part 2 demanded attention for its nuanced subtlety, as well as demonstrating that language is no barrier to Potente’s acting. If her acting career was not enough, Potente is also a published author. This fascinating woman is bound to engage audiences for many years to come.

3. Chris Cooper

Cooper is another Bourne alumnus, making a name for himself through gritty roles in spy drama Breach and playing a homophobic ex-soldier in American Beauty. Often content to be secondary to the movie stars, Cooper got deserved recognition for Adaptation, a film that almost fell apart through its excessive cleverness, but was held together by its strong performances. However, I most enjoyed Cooper for one of his rare leading performances, as Sheriff Sam Deeds in Lone Star. This masterful ensemble piece sees Cooper stitching together both clues and characters in a mystery that straddles the border of Mexico and the US. Cooper makes Sheriff Deeds personable, down to earth and humane, which is a sharp contrast to many of the other roles Cooper has played. Hollywood’s obsession with looks and stereotypes may sometimes have held Cooper back. With some luck, there will be more roles to stretch Cooper’s range in future.

4. Forest Whitaker

Perhaps Whitaker is too well known to belong in this list, but his un-Hollywood looks and talent for transformation set Whitaker apart. His drooping eyelid seems to transcend his face, and somehow becomes intrinsic to his characters. However he is cast, Whitaker has had the ability to immerse himself in his part, and hence discover and present a whole new person to the audience. Whether he is playing jazz great Charlie Parker in Bird, a samurai hitman in Ghost Dog or Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland, it is impossible to tell where the character ends and Whitaker begins.

5. Toni Collette

Even more than Whitaker, Toni Collette has the ability to utterly transform herself from one role to the next, making this chameleon actress’ talents almost invisible to the ignorant eye. Like Whitaker, Collette transcends Hollywood’s obsession with looks, and is able to inject an irresistible believability into her characters. Her best known roles have been in Muriel’s Wedding, The Sixth Sense, About a Boy and Little Miss Sunshine. Whatever part she plays, Collette is never less than excellent, and always raises the standard of the film.

6. Vincent D’Onofrio

With his extraordinary ability to mutate from one part to the next, Vincent D’Onofrio is the absolute opposite of a Hollywood star. Even when you know who he is, it is hard to believe some of his characters were played by the same man. As Private Pyle in Full Metal Jacket, he was utterly convincing as a character that goes from mommy’s boy-cum-retard to deeply scary killer in less than a third of the film. In The Player he gave a wonderful and convincing turn as the angry and paranoid screenwriter murdered by Tim Robbins’ lead character. D’Onofrio then went on to appear alien, comic and scary, whilst playing the flesh-wearing nemesis to the Men in Black. He then amped up the duality he delivered in Full Metal Jacket, playing a laid-back geek taken over by the consciousness of a homicidal 20’s barman in the under-appreciated The Thirteenth Floor. Whilst film fame eluded him, D’Onofrio has attained mainstream television success in the US, through his leading role in one of the Law & Order stable. TV’s gain is film’s loss, though D’Onofrio continues to appear in big screen oddities and bit parts from time to time. But maybe the best of D’Onofrio is yet to come. His television popularity has helped D’Onofrio to land some interesting roles in some very interesting new films. Keep a look out for this ultimate actor’s actor, who may yet become a fan favourite.


  1. I regret you omitted Amy Ryan…..but I heartily agree with you about Vincent D’Onofrio. Could not agree with you more about him.

  2. I was just thinking about who the most successful Trek actor was (aside from Stewart and Shatner) and how I was seeing Colm Meaney everywhere. That man is good.

    Forest Whitaker is an Oscar winner for lead actor though. I see what you’re saying with him, but he was somewhat bankable but did some pretty terrible movies (due to bad writing and not his acting) since his Oscar win that took away his bankabilty. Then he did a bad spin-off of a popular show and put in a pretty lackluster performance at that. What he needs is a better agent because I can see Hollywood embracing him with open arms again. He just needs the right role whether it be background or lead.

    Toni Collette is extremely talented and she’s been nominated up the wazoo for awards. But for some reason, people don’t know her. It’s odd.

    I was kind of upset that Vincent D’Onofrio cashed into the TV market, especially into the L&O franchise. Can’t begrudge a guy for wanting a steady paycheck though. He surprisingly (or unsurprisingly I guess) made the role into one of the most memorable TV characters ever – and was never nominated for it. Damn shame really. His show has now ended and he’s got some interesting roles in some movies coming out next year.

  3. As a mad Vincent D’Onofrio fan, my only quibble with your assessment of him is your last line, that he may yet become a fan favourite. There are a lot of us out there for whom he is already the bee’s knees!

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