Iconic Actors

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Warning: The Usual Suspects, Seven and minor Advanced Warfare spoilers to follow.

Kevin Spacey is an iconic actor. The moment I saw him in The Usual Suspects, my first thought was “oh look, there’s Kevin Spacey,” immediately followed by, “I wonder if he’s the villain of this movie.” There’s something about an unyielding monotone that conveys sinister intentions. Moreover, certain actors —such as Spacey— have been typecast as villainous characters.

Anyone who’s seen the movie Seven will have trouble seeing Kevin Spacey as anything other than a villain, especially considering the similarities in delivery between his character in Seven and Verbal Kent in The Usual Suspects, it’s hard not to immediately peg him as the villain.

The is one of the risks and gains of casting high profile actors in leading roles. Admittedly, Usual Suspects was released in the same year as Seven and even slightly before, but an actor’s work quickly becomes cumulative rather than chronological. There is no set linear order in which consumers see and discuss and actor’s work.

As game review Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw points out in his review of Advanced Warfare, Spacey has become instantly identifiable as the villain archetype. Many actors carry similarly inescapable molds with them: Tom Cruise, the peerless action hero; Jim Carrey, the wacky physical comedian; Morgan Freeman, the wise and worldly authority figure.

Just as each of these actors have their archetypes, Kevin Spacey has become typecast into the role of the unwavering, flawless, and unshakeable calm antagonist. There’s many strengths to having actor archetypes in films. For one, it’s a wildly successful marketing technique: branding a film into a certain narrative mold based on its high profile actors. It’s also undeniable that Spacey and each of the aforementioned actors are masters of their respective archetypes. Even if their range of roles is lesser, their ability with particular molds is unparalleled.

However, this mold based casting and characterization also has severe limitations. In the example of The Usual Suspects the best twist in the film was already spoiled for me, merely by Spacey’s casting. This approach to filmmaking also compresses the diversity of characters seen in high profile, big budget films. That being said, it is fortunate that Hollywood has just as many dynamic performers as it does archetypal actors.

7 thoughts on “Iconic Actors

  1. Spacey’s appearance in Seven was particularly interesting because of his purposeful lack of screen time. If I remember correctly, his name was never mentioned in the opening credits for these reasons you mention. They didn’t want the audience to put it together before the big reveal.

    As for The Usual Suspects, and having watched Seven first, I also had my suspicions regarding Verbal. But I tried to watch the movie without any assumptions and somehow managed to be surprised by the ending. Or at least how it unfolded. I want to ask, do you find that you were still able to enjoy the film?

    1. Entirely, Spacey plays the role very well, even if it is typecast. And I found the manner the narrative reveals itself in pleasantly reminiscent of “Memento.” How about yourself?

      1. I haven’t seen that one. Would you recommend it?

        I very much enjoyed Usual Suspects. This was the first time I’d seen it and it was one of those movies I had to watch again the next day. Seeing it a second time made me realize how absorbed I was into the narrative and what I lost sight of or didn’t notice (I may write my own post on this). I remembered the opening scene but it didn’t register that it was Keaton who was killed then. So later, when Dave Kujan concluded Keaton was Keyser Söze with supporting evidence, and given Verbal’s reaction, I believed it. But of course! Keaton couldn’t have been the culprit because the audience knew Söze killed him in the very beginning. I don’t know, perhaps I was just being clueless.

      2. Yes, I would recommend “Memento” very much: a fine example of non-linear storytelling in film.

        That’s an excellent point about believing it was possible that Keaton was Söze, even after having directly contradicting evidence at the beginning of the film. I feel much the same way.

  2. This was one of my favorite posts this semester. Though I am very unfamiliar with the films that feature Kevin Spacey, I would emphasize that iconic actors like Jim Carrey and Morgan Freeman also achieve great success in characters far outside of their archetypes, as evidence in “The Truman Show” and “Evan Almighty.”

    1. Thanks and thanks for the Pingback. I certainly agree that Jim Carrey has had some excellent dramatic roles, e.g. “Truman Show” as you alluded to and “Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind.” In the case of Morgan Freeman though, even in “Bruce/Evan Almighty,” I still view him as playing to his archetype of the wise, even tempered authority figure.

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