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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

question of the day: Which actors deserve to be bigger stars than they are?

Peter Bradshaw at the Guardian’s Film blog the other day asked, “Why isn’t Salt star Chiwetel Ejiofor up there with Russell Crowe?” Which is an excellent question. Bradshaw:

Well, there’s certainly nothing to object to in Ejiofor’s Olivier-winning career as an actor, and it’s arguably naive to complain, because a professional actor has to make a living in the real world and make the parts he’s getting come alive. This Ejiofor unquestionably does. But he’s one of those performers who, infuriatingly, isn’t blazing on screen the way I thought he would at the beginning of the last decade. He is treated like a utility player, when he should be a star striker.

Ejiofor is sailing uncomfortably close to the doldrums with these utilitarian roles. It’s not, I think, a question of being marginalised as a black man, but as a highly competent and intelligent Brit who can do a first-class accent, is a strong and compelling presence and, perhaps, won’t break the budget with his fee.

It’s not a criticism of him – it’s a criticism of something short-sighted in the business which won’t respond fully to his star quality. Chiwetel Ejiofor should be up there at the Russell Crowe level, but annoyingly for his fans, like me, he’s not. Or not yet. Perhaps if he could get an action lead, that would shake things up. As it is, he’s doing these respectable middleweight supporting roles.

Yes yes yes to all, as well as Bradshaw’s hoorah for Ejiofor in his debut, Dirty Pretty Things, one of the best little movies of the past decade.

I, like Bradshaw, would love to see Ejiofor get his due, but it got me thinking about which other middling-big names should be bigger than they are. (Bradshaw also mentions Eric Bana and Naomi Watts, for instance.)

So: Which actors deserve to be bigger stars than they are?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)

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  • Kathryn

    Nathan Fillion Nathan Fillion Nathan Fillion Nathan Fillion!

    Why on earth is this man NOT starring in big studio blockbusters? (Serenity doesn’t count)

  • Viola Davis!!

    The guy who plays the husband on that ghost show on CBS, gah, what the heck is it called…what’s he called…bah…not the Ghost whisperer, but the one with with the wife who’s psychic and works with the police? Yeah,that one. He starred in Darabont’s The Mist…? Anybody? Bueller?

  • Karl Morton IV

    Our mutual friend L. will no doubt snigger derisively when she reads this but I’ve never been able to understand why Carla Gugino isn’t more massively A-list then she is. Then again, maybe she’s happy being an Actress than she would be as a Movie Star? She, Chiwetel, and others in their position (Clive Owen?) have the choice of MUCH more interesting parts that they would not be allowed to play if their films had to make back their $20 million paycheck. I’m not sure Helen Mirren would have had the career she has if she’d peaked when she was 30 and been out of, for example, Peter Greenaway’s league when he was casting “The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover.”

  • *snigger*

  • Kevin

    Melissa Leo

  • sm

    Lee Pace! Seriously, the man needs leading roles in everything, pronto!

  • @Orodemniades I don’t know what CBS show you’re talking about, but the star of The Mist is Thomas Jane, who is a cool dude.

  • SaintAndy

    @Orodemniades&Tyler Foster

    You’re both talking about Jake Webber, who is indeed a talented actor. He seems to be comfortable doing mainly TV work, although he did have a memorable part in Dawn of the Dead.

  • Rob

    David Tennant, for one. And not to just stick to Doctor Who names, but Catherine Tate is really only known in the US for Donna, even though her sketch show is brilliant. I actually think she’s much more funny and talented at the “woman-with-a-thousand-faces” shtick than Tracey Ullmann, who is known here.

  • Damn. HTML slip-up there with the link. Sorry about that. (Wish I could go back and edit.)

  • bronxbee

    yes, yes… to: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Carla Gugino, and especially Jake Weber who made me sit up and take vivid notice in the otherwise just okay U-571 and who is one of the main reasons i continue to watch Medium (although i like the show in general) — i’m very discontented whenever there’s a “joe-less” episode.

    and i’m going to say, probably for the millioneth time, why isn’t Alfre Woodard a major major star? she’s an asset to any film or show she’s ever been in, and is the best thing on Memphis Blues (sorry jason lee) and she’s just an incredible, warm and vivid actor not getting her due. maybe a cable program will find something for her like there have been well-done shows for other mature women.

  • Daniel


    Jim Sturgess.

    Audrey Tautou.

    Hugo Weaving.

    Sarah Polley.

    Benedict Cumberbatch.

    Possibly Abbie Cornish. I haven’t decided yet.

    Maybe we should make another list of actors who should be less famous than they are.

    Oh, and also, if you could get this website to stop crashing Internet Explorer, that would be really nice.

  • JT

    I second Nathan Fillion. Also, Jackie Earle Haley, who’s turn in Watchmen was just amazing.

  • Isobel

    I really like Medium too – Jake Weber is brilliant and I also enjoy the fact that there are (for Hollywood) normal looking people, in a fairly normal sized house encountering normal(ish) problems (medium stuff aside! There’s always ongoing money/parenting stuff).

    Anyway, in terms of the question, who was the person who played Faramir in The Lord of the Rings? I saw him and thought he’d be huge and I don’t think I’ve seen him in anything since.

    I also hope Emily Blunt’s career continues to expand, because I think she’s fantastic.

  • RyanT

    I second LEE PACE. See every role he has ever done. The mind boggles that he’s not a bigger star.

  • bronxbee

    who was the person who played Faramir in The Lord of the Rings? I saw him and thought he’d be huge and I don’t think I’ve seen him in anything since.

    that’s David Wenham another one, (as well as Karl Urban who played Eomer) where i sat up and said “Wowzer!”. i know he’s been in a few other things in small parts, but seems to work quite regularly in Australia, including several tv series.

  • Tony Todd. Imposing, charismatic, intense…and that voice.

  • beccity98

    Paul Bettany

    He puts his all into every character, making them come alive, making them REAL.

    Even in that lame zombie/angel movie, Legion.

    Kevin Smith says he believes Ben Afflek could play anything well, even the shark in Jaws.

    Paul Bettany is my shark in Jaws guy.

  • Jen

    Mark Pellegrino. So much better than Lost would have you believe.
    Oh, and seconding Karl Urban.

  • Another vote for Lee Pace. And I’d like to see more of Jeffrey Wright and Clive Owen. And Sally Hawkins on the ladies side.

  • sm

    Oh, and from Dollhouse: Enver Gjokaj, a.k.a. Victor. Phenomenal range – I hope he gets some movie deals soon.

  • I_Sell_Books

    Jake Weber, yes! Please add Logan Marshall-Green aka Dean Bendis from Dark Blue, and the fabulous underrated Skipp Sudduth (Ronin, Third Watch).

  • Dev Patel, in more Slumdog-caliber roles.

  • So very Audrey Tatou. In particular, I’d like to see her playing against type. I’d love to see her hard-edged and world-weary.

    Thirding Karl Urban. I’m assuming he’s going to reprise his Star Trek role soon; here’s hoping he gets to dig into some of that wonderful McCoy-Spock verbal sparring that the original series did so well. But I’d like to see him doing something more dramatically hefty, too. Nolan could do wonders with him.

  • niamh

    Justin Kirk. After Angels in America, I don’t understand why he isn’t a headlining star.

  • Henry

    I love Audrey Tatou, but she’s had a fair number of starring roles; I think she’s just made some very mediocre choices when it has come to American films (Da Vinci code, anyone?).

    Of course, the roles for women in Hollywood are pretty much crap, as we’ve discussed extensively on this site, so, maybe she belongs on this list after all.

  • Martin

    I’ve been a fan and follower of Kristina Hughes since her fantastic introduction to me in a Fangoria review for her role in Green River. She dominated this film and I wish it had been seen more (or reviewed more). Limited theatrical release. She’s got some fun roles under her belt in ‘Old School’ and now she’s in this online show ‘The Resolve’. I’d like to see her on an edgy series or another dark film though I’m on her mailing list (www.kristinahughes.com) and she’s done some fun comedy in the vegan 101 series. Might I add she sent me an autograph. Lovely lady. Who is her rep? She needs to be out more.

  • @sm…hell yes to Enver Gjokaj! Damn, that guy is talented.

  • Anne-Kari

    A big yes to Ejiofor, who I’ve always loved (and desperately wanted to be the new Doctor Who), and THANK YOU sm for suggesting Enver Gjokaj. It took me a while to really appreciate what he did in “Dollhouse”, which actually speaks volumes about his acting.

    He was effortlessly believable as each and every (very disparate) personality. I never watched him and thought “wow, he’s really doing a good job with that character” because I was so wrapped up in just watching the story unfold. It was only after viewing the series a second time that I realized how good he was. You’re not really SUPPOSED to be thinking ‘wow, that guy is really ACTING’ or ‘wow, that guy is going to be a STAR’ while you watch a performance. It’s like that Harrison Ford anecdote:

    The studio guy told me, “Kid, you have no future in this business.” I said, “Why?” He said, “When Tony Curtis first walked onscreen carrying a bag of groceries — a bag of groceries! — you took one look at him and said, ‘THAT’S a movie star!'” I said, “Weren’t you supposed to say, ‘That’s a grocery delivery boy?’ “

  • char

    Doug Hutchison. His performance in Green Mile alone should have rocketted him up to the A-list.

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