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Where Have All The Supporting Actors Gone...?


joefilmone
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I've been noticing a major difference between the classic film era and our current mulitiplex productions. In the old films supporting actors are an essential element to the sucess of the movie- even a major star Davis for example did not carry "Now Voyager" by herself she had Claude Rains to lend stellar support. In "The Women" even the smaller roles were brilliantly cast. And "All About Eve" is filled with wonderful bits like Monroe. In modern films the star name Depp, Pitt ect have to carry the movie- the supporting players are usually given nothing to do.

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Come to think of it, Joe, you're mostly right!

 

 

Back in the day character actors were CLASSIFIED as such, and wore the designation as a badge of honor. It was somewhat comforting to the movie goer to see Charles Lane, or Percy Helton, or Al Jenkins show up in yet ANOTHER movie.

 

 

Today, it seems those doing what once were "character" roles are otherwise major stars taking on a lesser role, probably as a favor, or they need the money, or to maintain exposure.

 

 

Sepiatone

 

 

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Supporting actors are just CGI extras these days. You don't need supporting actors in films that are about people dressed in skin-tight leather doing slow-motion acrobatics while wielding an automatic weapon of some sort. For that matter you don't have any up and coming leading actors and actresses either. When they get too old to play the leads in sex farces or superhero/action films - cutoff is about age 30 - they are relegated to the dust bin.

 

Edited by: calvinnme on Jul 14, 2013 12:22 PM

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I would consider folks like Jihn Goodman and Morgan Freeman supporting actors for the most part. Sam Jackson too. They've all had major roles in films, but I don't think most movies are marketed with them being the selling point. You're free to disagree with me.

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My point is that in the studio era - they had under contract stock players that would fill up the supporting roles to perfection. Now they have to spend so much money to hire an over price star who often fails to deliver an audience ( like Will Smith) that there is no budget left over to hire a good supporting cast.

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My guesses as to why this seems to be are twofold here, Joe.

 

First, the screenwriters of old are no longer or at least seldom around anymore who knew how to give great little dialogue to even the most minor characters involved with the plot.

 

And secondly, the idea of watching "crusty old men" and "smart-mouthed old bitties" especially and who gave many of those old comedies those special little memorable moments has fallen out of favor in Hollywood's apparent attempt to cash in on the primary modern movie-going audience of today...the youth market.

 

Nope, I have a feelin' most of that youth market just doesn't enjoy watching "those old people" on screen anymore.

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But even an action movie needs interesting characters- I just saw "World War Z" which is basically Brad Pitt vs the Zombies - but the supporting roles are all filled with non descript actors which have nothing to play. A good modern example of great supporting players is "Tootsie" im which almost everyone gets a leat one grear comic moment - it not just Dustin Hoffman in drag.

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In more recent decades we had Ned Beatty, Jack Warden, James Whitmore and folks like that who may not have beenthe selling point of a movie but you sure knew you were going to get a performance worth your time. Those guys were always the supporting character actors, never the romantic or action lead. Morgan Freeman falls into that category, for me. I guess Robert Duvall would also be regarded as such. Gene Hackman doesn't act anymore and he never really had that leading man "look" so he kind of flowed into the character actor roles.

 

BUt yeah, we don't have a Charles Lane, Beulah Bondi, Guy Kibbee or even a John Fiedler/Elisha Cook, Jr to play the mousy little guy.

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I believe that movies in which story is more important than explosions still have many good supporting roles. A prime example of this is the Harry Potter series. The number of speaking roles is quite high and even the janitor gets into the act. :)

 

Pirates of the Caribbean is a series with many supporting roles also. Depp is surrounded with a wide cast each adding their personal marks.

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> {quote:title=SansFin wrote:}{quote}I believe that movies in which story is more important than explosions still have many good supporting roles. A prime example of this is the Harry Potter series. The number of speaking roles is quite high and even the janitor gets into the act. :)

>

> Pirates of the Caribbean is a series with many supporting roles also. Depp is surrounded with a wide cast each adding their personal marks.

I was just thinking of both those films! Great minds? LOL

The films of the Coen Brothers also seem to have interesting supporting casts. For example, RAISING ARIZONA stars Nicolas Cage and Holly Hunter, but has pretty great supporting roles for John Goodman, William Forsythe and Francis McDormand.

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> {quote:title=traceyk65 wrote:}{quote}

> The films of the Coen Brothers also seem to have interesting supporting casts.

 

I thought of the Coen Brothers but I did not know how to spell their last name and my searches for Cohn and Cohan revealed nothing related to movies except George M. ;) I drew a complete mental blank as to the names of their movies.

 

The movies of George Roy Hill had large casts but he seems of an era past and perhaps not relevant to the spirit of the thread.

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I agree with all that has been said in this thread. How I miss thses wonderful old character actors. I always pay attention to the credits at the beginning of the movies on TCM, looking for these familiar names. . As an example, whenever I see Kathleen Freeman's name in the credits, I'm always anticipating the first scene I see her in. And that list of actors goes on and on. We just don't have this anymore.

 

 

 

 

 

Terrence.

 

 

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I think you are correct when you point out the major differences of today's films compared to the Golden Age of Hollywood.

 

The problem with today's films is the fact that everyone is a freelancer now. Back in the studio system, when everyone was under contract, you went where they told you and if you got the part, then everything was okay.

 

Today it sure does not work that way. I have the DVD of Kevin Costner's Open Range. On the DVD there are behind the scenes videos of the making of the movie. One of the videos has a section where Costner is shown working with his casting director on the selection of supporting actors. Fairly fascinating to watch starting at about the 1:53 mark:

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QCzS654xCrM

 

I disagree with one thing you said about today's stars having to carry the film. In many ways films of today do have strong supporting characters. Films like Lincoln, and Zero Dark Thirty, Django Unchained, Les Mis?rables, Argo, Silver Linings Playbook, and Skyfall all required heavy usage of supporting actors to make the films work. In these films, the main character either was not strong enough to carry the film themselves, or the films were written with allowances for a great deal of input from supporting character actors.

 

That is not to say that every film made today does not feature great supporting actors in far more substantial roles. But there are many films that have one or two grade A actors with a good amount of supporting actors around them. I give as an example the film I wrote about earlier, Open Range. Here you had Robert Duvall, Kevin Costner and Annette Bening in the major roles with a very good supporting cast around them:

 

Michael Gambon, Michael Jeter, Diego Luna, James Russo, Abraham Benrubi, Dean McDermott, Herb Kohler, Peter MacNeill, and Cliff Saunders

 

All of these folks had some pretty good scenes, although they were clearly supporting the main cast.

 

As far as character actors working today, I have compiled a list (yes, I know, another list?). This list is of male actors only, but it involves quite a few actors, some of whom have exceeded their supporting acting style and have ventured into the lead acting category in some films.....

 

Morgan Freeman

Bruce Greenwood

Steven Culp

Karl Urban

Paul Giamatti

John C Reilly

Benicio Del Torro

Brian Dennehy

David Strathairn

Michael Madsen

Danny DeVito

James Russo

Gary Oldman

Joaquin Phoenix

William H. Macy

Christopher Walken

Ian Holm

Brian Cox

William Fichtner

Djimon Hounsou

Steve Buscemi

Terence Stamp

Sam Rockwell

Harvey Keitel

Will Patton

James Cromwell

Dean McDermott

Alan Rickman

Charles S. Dutton

Giovanni Ribisi

Oliver Platt

Barry Pepper

Kevin Pollack

F. Murray Abraham

Clifton Collins, Jr.

Tom Wilkinson

J.K. Simmons

Jay O. Sanders

Chris Cooper

Willem Dafoe

Martin Landau

David Paymer

Danny Aiello

Kevin Dunn

David Morse

Ian McKellen

Michael Shannon

Christopher Plummer

Eli Wallach

Ned Beatty

Stephen Root

Raymond J. Berry

Mark Margolis

Philip Casnoff

Keith David

Chi McBride

Daniel Roebuck

Stephen Tobolowsky

Gregg Henry

Clancy Brown

Danny Trejo

Philip Baker Hall

Dylan Baker

Ron Pearlman

Alfred Molina

Richard Riehle

Dean Norris

Victor Garber

Peter Dinklage

Kurt Fuller

Kurtwood Smith

Ray Wise

Peter Stormare

Stellan Skarsg?rd

Henry Czerny

Dennis Haysbert

Donal Logue

John Goodman

Mark Strong

William Hurt

John Turturro

Bryan Cranston

Brendan Gleeson

Phillip Seymour Hoffman

Christoph Waltz

Jeffrey Wright

Mads Mikkelsen

Michael Stuhlbarg

John Hawkes

Stanley Tucci

Richard Jenkins

Greg Kinnear

Jake Gyllenhaal

James Franco

Ewan McGregor

Matt Damon

Delroy Lindo

Ray Winstone

William Sanderson

John Malkovich

Sam Elliot

Brad Dourif

Joe Pesci

Michael Caine

Don Cheadle

William Sadler

William Forsythe

William Atherton

Tim Curry

Alan Alda

Jeremy Davies

Colm Feore

Brian Cox

James Rebhorn

Donald Moffat

Fritz Weaver

Michael Ironside

Clint Howard

Bob Gunton

Anthony Zerbe

Bruce McGill

Christopher McDonald

Harris Yulin

Luis Guzman

Kevin Tighe

Mike Starr

Michael Lerner

James Tolkan

Dan Hedaya

Michael Rooker

Saul Rubinek

Fred Ward

Edward Hermann

Peter Jason

Colm Meaney

Tommy Lee Jones

Charles Martin Smith

Andy Garcia

Bill Pullman

Jeff Fahey

Steve Zahn

Dabney Coleman

Hugh Grant

Aidan Quinn

Henry Thomas

Frank Langella

Len Cariou

Dermot Mulroney

Ed Harris

Paul Guilfoyle

Jason Lee

Billy Crudup

Josh Brolin

Ted Levine

Cuba Gooding, Jr.

Alec Baldwin

Jude Law

Mark Walhberg

Scott Glenn

Albert Finney

Danny Huston

Bill Nighy

Matt Dillon

Terrance Howard

Aaron Eckhart

Jeroen Krabbe

Joe Pantoliano

Pierce Brosnan

Timothy Hutton

Robert Pugh

Jeff Daniels

Jeffrey DeMunn

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Yeah, I miss Kathleen, Terrence. She was GREAT!

 

 

 

Come to think of it, there ARE a few well regarded "character actors" in movies today. Maybe getting long in the tooth, but still brightened up just about any movie they appeared in.

 

 

 

Steve Buscemi is one of those guys. Another two who wind up in several films in small but pivotal roles are RICHARD JENKINS and JOSEF SOMMER. Most of the rest have names that many have yet to commit to memory. And as one earlier stated, nobody CARES anymore.

 

 

 

Sepiatone

 

Edited by: Sepiatone on Jul 15, 2013 12:02 PM

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Well, I hate to disagree, but I care and so do a lot of other fans of today's films. I think the people who do not care are people who write here on the forums who are specifically Old Hollywood fans.

 

To them nothing after 1960 means anything to them. And that is alright. Heck, I'm not a fan at all of the silent era. So there.

 

Some recent movies like Lincoln, Les Miserables, True Grit, even Star Trek are films to look forward to. They all have very strong supporting casts and that helps tell the story of the movie better.

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> {quote:title=fxreyman wrote:}{quote}Well, I hate to disagree, but I care and so do a lot of other fans of today's films. I think the people who do not care are people who write here on the forums who are specifically Old Hollywood fans.

>

> To them nothing after 1960 means anything to them. And that is alright. Heck, I'm not a fan at all of the silent era. So there.

>

> Some recent movies like Lincoln, Les Miserables, True Grit, even Star Trek are films to look forward to. They all have very strong supporting casts and that helps tell the story of the movie better.

I think the point of this thread was that you don;t get those groups of supporting players that you could recognize, in every movie every time, even if you didn't know their names. They generally specialized in a certain "type" of character--the gruff dad/older man with heart of gold (ala Eugene Pallette or Charles Coburn), wise-cracking sidekick/best friend (ala Eve Arden or Thelma Ritter) the other man/woman who loses (ala Gail Patrick or Ralph Bellamy) the crazy/eccentric of indeterminate nationality (Mischa Auer or Sam Jaffe) etc etc. That was just part of the reality of the studio system--each studio had a staff of players of various types they could pull from (listen to me, going on like you all don;t know this. LOL) and you could expect to see certain people depending on which studio made the film.

That's been lost today, as someone said, because most actors are free lance. The only time you see the kind of consistency you used to get is when a director puts together an informal "company." For example, in a Coen Bros film, you can reasonably expect to see Frances McDormand, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi and John Turturro, among others. They also have a team of creative and support people they tend to work with.

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I think a number of really great character actors like Jim Beaver (*Deadwood*, *Justified*), Terry O'Quinn, Powers Booth, the always magnificent Margo Martindale, Walton Goggins, Ian MacShane, Gabriel Byrne, etc are working more in television (network, cable and prem. cable) than movies these days.

 

Jim Beaver and Margo Martindale are, by far, two of the best!

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I didn't respond to this thread because, to me, the answer to the question was related to the studio era system. Duh. All I can add is that sometimes the fact the same character actors were used in movie after movie added to the 'just a programmer' vibe of many of the 30s movies.

 

 

 

 

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