I’ve been thinking of actors who I love to watch on screen and whittled a list down to three perfect actors. What I mean by perfect is that they take roles and are dead on 100% of their roles (even if the movie is mediocre, they are still good). Or, they make so few movies that every time they are in one, it’s an event. I have to see these people’s films and I’m eagerly waiting the moment they step into the camera frame. There were a lot of people who came close, and I thought about men and women (Jennifer Jason Leigh and Maggie Gyllenhaal were the closest women but JJL has been too erratic recently and MG hasn’t made enough movies) who might fit into the category, but came up with three people: Daniel Day-Lewis, Don Cheadle and Philip Seymour Hoffman.
First of all, these three actors are blessed with unbelievable screen chemistry. Some people have that but most do not. What makes these three great is they are not only electric on screen but can act their arses off in anything they do, regardless of what they choose, although it’s mostly drama. Cheadle and Hoffman have done fine comedic work, unlike Day-Lewis.
I revere Daniel Day-Lewis. He’s the finest film actor since Robert De Niro had his glorious run in the 1970s and early 1980s. His commitment to a role is legendary, and I must admit his zealous approach to each character is something I admire and respect. Some of DDL’s more notorious preparation includes living in the woods for months and eating animals shot with a musket (The Last of the Mohicans); building a house and working with period tools from the 17th century (The Crucible) and hiring hoodlums to scream abuse and douse him water for 48 hours to help recreate prison torture scenes (In the Name of the Father). The fact that he’s made only 8 movies in 18 years makes his films important events to my movie watching plans. In 2008, he’s in the lead role in Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest There Will Be Blood, and I’m frothing at the mouth waiting to see it. Who knows what he did to prepare for it and when he’ll make another movie?
Don Cheadle is someone who takes on more roles in 2 years than Day-Lewis will attempt in a decade. I can’t think of a single one of his performances that aren’t worth watching. Cheadle radiates a lot of qualities to the audience—warmth, charm, menace, complexity and humor. He can truly morph into any sort of individual he wants to. I tend to gravitate to character actors and I admire the fact that Cheadle does not have to be the lead actor to sculpt a memorable character. In film after film he’s played important character roles and usually it’s his character you wish you’d see more of. Of course, he can also play the lead, as he’s done in Hotel Rwanda and hopefully more films in the future. Every time I see the trailer for Talk to Me with Cheadle as an ex-con DJ in the 1970s I can hardly wait to see it. I’d like to see him do more comedy and a romantic lead would be interesting to see but I’m going to complain since I’ve put him into the top 3 of favorite actors.
Philip Seymour Hoffman can do anything he wants. Drama, comedy, theatre, film. Whatever it is, he excels in the role. What always strikes me about PSH is that he has unreal timing and is always aware of the physicality of a particular character. Watch how he moves or uses his body in space while on screen and it is almost as impressive as the other things he does for a character. I also think he’s a gifted physical comedian when he’s gotten the chance to show that side. Like Day-Lewis and Cheadle, I’ll watch Hoffman mop a floor for 2 hours and be enthralled with the way he works. The next year is going to be a big, big year for Hoffman as he’s in four high profile films directed by or starring Sidney Lumet, Mike Nichols, Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep and Charlie Kaufman. It’s going to be a good year for us PSH fans.