Some actors are chameleons. Upon first viewing of any movie Gary Oldman has ever been in, you likely found yourself asking, “Is that- is that Gary Oldman?” Then exclaiming, “Holy crap, that’s Gary Oldman!”
Other actors are whatever the opposite of a chameleon is. basically playing themselves role after role, and not always convincingly. Hey, who are we to judge? If we could pull seven-figure paydays for showing up somewhere to look, act, and talk like ourselves, we’d be far too busy snorting gold flakes and mainlining liquefied money to write any of these silly lists.
But it can be truly startling when such one-note actors seem to suddenly discover all the other notes. It sometimes happens, and here’s the proof …
10. Ryan Reynolds – The Nines
This underrated 2007 psychological thriller was seen by about sixteen people, all of whose brains were on the floor by the time the credits were rolling. The film consists of three short, loosely connected films featuring the same three actors in different roles. If that sounds intriguing, take our advice and go watch the movie immediately; “underrated” and “intriguing” don’t really do it justice.
The three actors are Hope Davis (good actress), Melissa McCarthy (really good actress) and, um, Ryan Reynolds, who is usually known for genial mugging, and not much else. Displaying a range not in evidence before or since, he creates three totally unique characters that are connected to each other in a way that … well, we won’t spoil it for you. But you won’t believe you’re watching Reynolds, who more than holds his own opposite McCarthy and Davis.
9. Jean-Claude Van Damme – JCVD
Nobody would ever accuse Van Damme of being any kind of serious actor. French director Mabrouk El Mechri conceived and wrote this film, wherein Van Damme plays a slightly fictionalized version of himself caught up in a bank heist and, for awhile, it plays out exactly like the meta-joke it sounds like. But then a moment comes when you’re not sure if you should be laughing, and the “Muscles From Brussels“, well … crushes it.
Van Damme breaks the fourth wall to deliver an uninterrupted, six-minute monologue addressing his image, failed marriages, and substance abuse problems, that is startling in its directness and authenticity. Even though it’s primarily in another language, you can feel his earnestness and seriousness throughout. Nothing we’ve seen out of Van Damme before suggests he’s capable of such a thing; honestly, this kind of makes us wish he’d get cast in some more serious films, because the dude can obviously act.
8. Kristen Stewart – Welcome To The Rileys
In this small indie drama, the famously wooden and sullen (or is it sullen and wooden?) Stewart plays a 16-year-old stripper who helps a family recover from the untimely death of their only daughter. Debuting at Sundance, the film cost $10 million to make and did a whole $300,000 box office. However, no less a critic than the late, great Roger Ebert said:
“Stewart is, quite simply, a wonderful actress. I must not hold the “Twilight” movies against her. She played the idiotic fall-girl written for her, as well as that silly girl could be played … in recent film after film, she shows a sure hand and an intrinsic power. I last saw her in “Welcome to the Rileys,” where she played a runaway working as a hooker in New Orleans. In both films she had many scenes with experienced older actors. In both she was rock solid.”
So the next time Stewart plays yet another bland, barely-emotional vessel for the male lead to love for no good reason, remember that it’s a sad result of the Hollywood Typecast Machine, and she can actually do much, much more.
NSFW language and content in the video:
7. Dwayne Johnson – Southland Tales
Donnie Darko director Richard Kelly’s epic mindscrew is legendarily divisive. Depending on who you ask, it’s either the worst piece of crap anyone has ever crapped out into the crapper, or it’s some kind of twisted masterpiece (hint: “masterpiece” is the correct answer). At the center of it all is amnesiac actor Boxer Santaros, who thinks he is his character Jericho Cane, and is played by Dwayne Johnson. Yes, The Rock.
For a guy who’s built a career on his badass, cocky, uber-charismatic persona, Johnson conveys meek, befuddled powerlessness as Boxer so effectively, that it’s hard to believe it’s really him. In addition, when the Jericho Cane persona is on display, Johnson’s charisma leaps off the screen.
6. Hayden Christensen – Shattered Glass
Hayden Christensen is most famous for playing a sentient block of wood in the Star Wars prequel trilogy, and he’s one of the main reasons that trilogy is oft-maligned. However, in 2003, Christensen turned in a nervous, mannered performance as disgraced journalist Stephen Glass, the New Republic reporter who literally fabricated most of his stories. Hayden acts circles around veterans Peter Sarsgaard and Hank Azaria, and proves that sometimes, having the wrong director can make an otherwise-good actor look really, really bad.