The era of the break out film star is long dead. The time of the Marylin Monroes and James Deans of the world has been over for a long time. And yet it seems year over year, so many flocking to Hollywood in hopes of becoming a film star or just being recognized as a professional actor/actress, seem to not have grasped how the world of film making and casting has been working for decades now.
This week saw the news of the official casting of Star Wars: Episode 7, and I guess seeing a few relative unknowns in main roles, it can be easy for one to think this is somehow normal. Because most people who see films, see popular films, you see the films the actors and actresses are in after they have done the work for years in multiple small roles in big films or any roles in small films. These actors who you’ve come to know and love and become fans of were once just as unknown and underrated as the ones you don’t know today. But I can harp on this over and over, going in circles or I can make my point. So let’s begin…
Meet Keira Knightley…
29 year old Keira Knightley is one of the most well known actresses in the world today. But how many are aware that she had a very tiny role in Star Wars? You see, in 1999, a very unknown Keira Knightley appeared in the role of Sabé, the ill-fated body double of Padme Amidala, who dies in an explosion, right in the opening act of Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace. At this Point in her career, Keira had already appeared in 2 tv shows and 4 movies, 3 of which were made-for-TV features. She appeared in her first role at the age of 8, in 1993, and in 1999, she was still yet to become famous, It wasn’t until 2002’s Bend It Like Beckham , that she first started garnering notice, and it wouldn’t be until Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl in 2003, that she would finally become a bonafide Hollywood starlet.
Now moving on from Keira, there is one film in particular that is a favorite of mine, but that also embodies many of the lessons regarding Hollywood stars, business, and the path they take. That film is Black Hawk Down.
Black Hawk Down is not one of those action blockbusters, it is a war film and like many war films, it didn’t do great numbers at the box office but it did well enough. And it also happens to feature one of the most talented cast of actors featured in a film that is not some ensemble Christmas or Valentines day film. The film is produced by Hollywood Action Producer Jerry Bruckheimer, he is one of the most popular producers in the genre, and probably the most popular to be fairly honest. Anyone who’s anyone that intends to work in action films, either knows of him, knows him or wants to know him. He produced franchises such as Beverly Hills Cop, Bad Boys, Pirates of the Caribbean, CSI and more. He is the executive producer of some of the biggest and most famous movies of the 80s and 90s, such as American Gigolo, Top Gun, Flashdance, Crimson Tide, Top Gun, The Rock, Con-Air, Armageddon, Enemy of The State, Gone in 60 Seconds, Remember the Titans and though it is often joked about as it is more a romance movie than the story of Pearl Harbor… Pearl Harbor. Because 441 million dollars at the box office in 2001 was not something to scoff at, and it still isn’t.
Executive Producer Jerry Bruckheimer
So why am I telling you all this?
Well you see, Jerry Bruckheimer produces a lot of films, he has more credits as an executive producer than some actors have as actors in 20 years of acting. When Black Hawk Down was released in 2001, the biggest names in that film at the time were Ewan McGregor Josh Hartnett and Tom Sizemore. Fast Forward to today and two of those 3 then big names of that film, are still making films in relative anonymity, while Ewan McGregor and two relative unknowns from that time are some of the most popular today. Before I get to that though, I want to show you a different pattern.
People work with People they trust.
Josh Hartnett was arguably what would be the main character in Black Hawk Down, if that film had a main character, he was also in that very year, featured in another Jerry Bruckheimer Production, Pearl Harbor. Another BHD alum Hugh Dancy, currently appears in the TV show Hannibal, with co star Mads Mikkelsen… both of these actors appeared together in King Arthur, produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, alongside Ioan Gruffudd(well know for his role as Mr Fantastic in The Fantastic Four), Ioan Gruffudd and Hugh dancy both appeared in small roles in Black Hawk Down. Jerry Bruckheimer’s Pirates of the Caribbean, which stars Keira Knightley, Johnny Depp and Orlando Bloom is the big blockbuster that made Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom, stars.
Orlando Bloom in Black Hawk Down
Orlando Bloom is another actor who’d previously appeared in Black Hawk Down. Lets not forget Johnny Depp appeared in The Lone Ranger, another Jerry Bruckheimer produced feature. You have to understand that certain Producers tend to work with certain directors, they build working relationships, those directors and producers also build working relationships with talent agents and casting agents who bring them talent they enjoy working with. It’s a business, but in this business, it is just as important to these people to make a lot of money, as it is to know who to trust to do their part.
Director Michael Bay
This year alone, two films Michael Bay is involved in feature 3 actors that have worked on set with him before. He worked with Mark Wahlberg on Pain and Gain and now Mark Wahlberg is starring in Transformers: Age of Extinction. He worked with Megan Fox on Transformers, a franchise Spielberg later had him fire her from, but yet he has allowed her to be part of the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles feature he is not directing. TMNT also features William Fitchner in the role of Shredder, Fichtner has previously worked with Michael bay on Armageddon, and has featured in other Jerry Bruckheimer produced and Michael Bay directed films, including Bruckheimer’s Black Hawk Down.
William Fitchner in Black Hawk Down
Now back to Black Hawk Down… Black Hawk Down starred Josh Hartnett and Tom Sizemore. And at the time along with Ewan McGregor, they were easily the more well known actors in the film. It also starred Orlando Bloom, William Fichtner, Eric Bana(Who has since been in more blockbusters than most if not all actors in this list, and not in small roles. He is also starring in a new Jerry Bruckheimer thriller this year), Glenn Morshower, Jeremy Piven(Now famous for his turn as Ari Gold on Entourage), Sam Shepard, Ewen Bremner, Kim Coates, Zeljko Ivanek, Steven Ford, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Brian Van Holt, Jason Isaacs, Enrique Murciano, George Harris, Razaaq Adoti, Ty Burrell, Boyd Kestner and last but certainly not least Tom Hardy.
Tom Hardy as ‘Twombly’ in Black Hawk Down
To put it simply, if Black Hawk Down were a war film being made in this day and age with this very same cast, it would likely be pegged as a summer blockbuster bloated with talent. An all star cast of well known actors in a war film. Lone Survivor did this with only 5 well known actors, including Eric Bana. As someone who has watched and re-watched Black Hawk Down, more times than I care to admit, you’d be surprised how long it took me to realize Tom Hardy was in the film.
Tom Hardy as Bane, the role he is most well known for… in The Dark Knight Rises.
The point remains, it’s not just a matter of talent because all these actors have that in spades. It’s not just a matter of going to the right casting call, there are very few break out star stories happening in Hollywood. But there are a lot of working actors putting in the work, year over year. Some of them are character actors you know well and have seen in many TVshows and movies but you don’t know their names, they play similar roles, roles they are good at, they work with similar people, because they put in the work and earned their connections and reputation and each and every part they receive is a testament to that ethic.
The era of the break out film star is long dead. But the show must go on… So play your part.