One of the most interesting things about a movie is when an actor dresses up in make-up or a costume and (when done well) there is a transformation to this character that is compelling and riveting. Below is a list I’ve compiled for 5 (not the greatest ever mind you but) very, very fine performances. These gifted actors just shine right through all the make up and flat-out impress the hell out me. I believe these actors deserve as much credit and praise as possible for their work in, what I believe to be, truly impressive and noteworthy turns…
Louis Gossett Jr. in Enemy Mine – Sometimes it’s tough (for me anyway) to take a chance on something that either looks bad, dated, not my cup of tea…or a combination of all three. I saw this for the first time last year and I’m so glad I did. It’s been almost 25 years since the release of Enemy Mine and I still believe this amazing performance holds up after all this time. Gossett (completely covered in his costume) created such a believable character in Jeriba ‘Jerry’ Shigan. He acts so stunningly with his eyes, add to it those reptilian twitches, and topped off with the subtle melodic emphasis he added of certain syllables of dialog.
All this made for one extremely original, fascinating and mesmerizing character, the likes of which I think is severely lacking in film these days. Even more impressive than the role he brought through the make up was how his mannerisms floated back and forth so seamlessly between male and female (since each member of his species embodied both sexes). What was even more astounding than the performance given was that the only credit he got for his work was a ‘Saturn Award’ nomination! His work should have inspired actors for generations as his performance saved the movie from becoming forgettable and should be recognized as “one for the ages”.
Michael Keaton in Beetle Juice– A little white paint and some frizzy hair could have been cheesy and forgettable, but throw in the delivery of Mr. Mom himself (and that classically quirky and gruff voice) and you get the crass, hilarious and unforgettable character of “Beetle Juice, Beetle Juice, Beetle Juice!!” Comparing this film to his performances in the first 2 Batman films, this is obviously less popular but I believe it is more impacting. The role of Beetle Juice seemed to lend itself to Michael Keaton’s roots as a stand-up comic and being funny just runs in his blood. That said, this was right up his alley and boy, did he deliver. As bizarre as the film’s premise was (a Burton film, go figure right?), it came across funny and very memorable. I think he should have at least gotten an Oscar Nom but since Tim Burton was still establishing himself and this was such a departure for Keaton, this movie seemed to miss the attention it very well deserved.
Looking back, I see this entire film as bit of anomaly because I don’t think it could have worked given any other actor, and probably why we haven’t seen anything close to it since. Michael Keaton delivers in every film he’s in (yes, even White Noise) but as far as his iconic turn as “The Ghost with the Most” this is definitely one of his very best. I think in some small way he channeled Sam Kinison and having said that I would like to have seen if Sam was even considered for the role…interesting imaginative exercise anyway.
Bill Nighy in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest/At World’s End– Now aside from the “so real it’s scary” CGI effects which helped make Davy Jones’ character so memorable, Bill Nighy is nothing short of amazing and one extremely talented actor. He helped pull Underworld along to make the ending worth watching the film in the first place, but he was so great in these 2 ‘Pirates’ films that he is just plain fun to watch. So clever were his little facial gestures and quirks that they even came through his CGI face (thank “mo-cap” for that) and gave such depth to his performance. His voice can fluctuate effortlessly from tenderness to intensity in the same scene and you wouldn’t even notice the change. He’s very gifted and although the last Pirates seemed to get lost in itself and it’s meandering mess of plot & characters, Nighy again pulled his performance ahead of everyone else…even past Depp’s “Jack Sparrow”.
I’m a little upset that if they do a 4th Pirates (provided they continue same the time line of course), Jones will not be a character as he is no longer the captain of the Dutchman. However, if I could throw in my two cents regarding this upcoming 4th installment, I would actually love to see something related to Jones’ origin. I don’t know if you could fill another film with just Jones, but how about some sort of crossover story, like a ‘Pulp Fiction’-esque’ origin film, weaving in and around Sparrow, Barbossa and Jones??
Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight– The world absolutely loved and keeled down to Heath Ledger’s Joker. A performance so riveting and impacting that Heath all but disappeared into the makeup and we truly believed there was an insane criminal mind out there threatening an already crime ridden city. But as great as he was in the movie, and not to detract any of the credit which he deserves in spades, he’s not the only actor to give an amazing display of talent and create a mesmerizing artistic illusion.
I won’t spend too much time giving any more praise or description as everyone already knows how well he did, and every time I watch The Dark Knight I am more and more blown away with what Heath did in the role.
Kevin Peter Hall in Predator – Last but certainly not least, I want to acknowledge Kevin’s performance as his turn is a bit different from those listed above. Sure the Predator didn’t have as much screen time but he, like JAWS, was more effective in smaller doses. Also, unlike the high-profile actors listed here, Kevin was (and still is) relatively unknown. Further, with no real speaking parts he had to use the makeup as his voice. But that fact in no way detracts from the performance gave. His pantomime still deserves high praise because he brought an incredible weight and realism to his costume (also I still think it’s the best alien ever created).
His movements were performed with such a fluid and powerful brilliance. Even the subtleties he utilized/created to give his performance such intensity have become the standard for all future Predator films (most notable and recognizable being how he “unmasks” himself). Sadly the latter Pred-flicks have been so less-than-par, but Hall will be remembered far more than those films will. Here’s hoping Rodriguez’ Predators can recapture the magic the Hall conjured here.
So that’s’ what I’ve got. I’ve admired and thought the world of these performances and just thought I’d call some attention to them. Aside from Heath Ledger, I think they are quite underrated. What do the rest of you think?? Do you agree with my list, or are there other actors you believe were more brilliant in costume??