Stars’ career-making films recalled
Movie starlets wait a long time before they’re finally given their big break, by way of a hopefully “star-making” showcase that will establish their signature film persona so indelibly, that the careers they launch will span decades.
For many starlets, those star-making films never come, so they fall by the wayside, or become character actors.
Happily, the stars we’re featuring in this “the way they were” reminiscence are exceptions to that desultory rule, thanks not just to their innate talent and charisma, but also to the well-conceptualized film vehicles that showed them off at their very best:
Drew Barrymore made it big when she was just 4 years old, in Steven Spielberg’s “ET,” in which she was just one of quite a number of kids who interacted with the sci-fi movie’s visitor from outer space. Despite the presence of other gifted child talents, it was tiny and cute-as-a-button Drew who stole viewers’ hearts—and went on to star in many other movies, all the way up to adulthood.
For his part, stage actor Peter O’ Toole benefited from the fact that he was temperamentally a perfect fit for his role in his launching film, “Lawrence of Arabia,” because he epitomized the title character’s arch, complex and idiosyncratic public and private persona.
Ditto for Michael Caine, who was “made” as a film star by his spot-on portrayal of the cool, even and cold-as-ice title character in “Alfie.” Caine distinguished himself in other starrers like “California Suite,” “Deathtrap,” “Noises Off,” and “The Man Who Would Be King,” but it was still his seminal portrayal in “Alfie” that “defined” him.
British actress Vivien Leigh first rocked and even shocked Hollywood when she beat many famous American stars and clinched the coveted role of Scarlett O’Hara in “Gone With the Wind.” She also won accolades for her complex performance in “A Streetcar Named Desire,” where she was similarly memorable as Blanche Dubois.
Daniel Day-Lewis’ starmaking vehicle was “My Left Foot,” which “made” him a major thespic find by way of his tour de force portrayal of Christy Brown, an Irish artist and
writer who was born with cerebral palsy.
Quite a number of other actors have depicted characters with similarly “deforming” illnesses, but Day-Lewis’ portrayal trumps them, because it goes much deeper, way beyond the excruciating medical condition’s physical parameters.
Unlike the other films cited here, “Thelma & Louise” is significant because it features two standout portrayals that established its young female lead players, Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis, as exceptionally promising stars. The film gave them a lot of elbow room to prove their thespic worth as it took their characters on a road trip that unexpectedly transformed them into fugitives from the law. True enough, after “Thelma & Louise,” Sarandon and Davis went on to other screen successes. (Incidentally, their film is also cited as the first “supporting” showcase of Brad Pitt, in a memorable cameo.)
Other career-making stellar showcases: Paul Newman and Robert Redford in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” Audrey Hepburn in “Roman Holiday” and “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” Jim Carrey in “Ace Ventura, Pet Detective.” Tom Hanks in “Big.” Julie Andrews in “Mary Poppins.” Ben Affleck and Matt Damon in “Good Will Hunting.” And Sandra Bullock in “Speed”!
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