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Upstaged: Scene Stealing Performances from Supporting Actors

There are great actors that can take an ordinary role and turn it into something magical. And there are characters so well-written that they can make any actor look good. Angelina Jolie is the only good thing about Girl, Interrupted. And Haley Joel Osment could have made a career out of his tender and terrified turn as Cole Sear in The Sixth Sense. Sometimes a studio picks just the right actor and sometimes it’s the guy in front of the lens that got lucky. The Fighter seems to be a combination of strong writing and adept acting.

A ten second vignette of the real Dicky Eklund at the conclusion of the The Fighter is enough to persuade the audience Christian Bale did his homework and nailed his part. Although Mark Wahlberg plays protagonist Mickey Ward it is Bale’s infusion into his character that truly shines. And truly Melissa Leo and Amy Adams steal scenes from beginning to end as a Mickey’s greedy mother and feisty girlfriend Charlene respectively. Both ladies and gentleman earned Golden Globe Nominations for their performances this week.

fighterWahlberg certainly benefitted from the strong cast surrounding him. He won’t be the first leading man outshined by a supporting cast member. Tinseltown is about making money and making stars. A typical movie rests its weight on one lead but on rare occasion it is a different thespian altogether that steals the show.  There are no rules; in the case of The Fighter Wahlberg is upstaged but not one but three supporting players. In other instances a movie given to two leads exposes the strength of one and the weakness of the other. Player Affinity will discuss just five memorable scene stealing performances across genres.

“Sister, sister, oh so fair why is there blood all over your hair?” In 1962 two Hollywood divas were battling on screen and off. It was no secret Joan Crawford and Bette Davis hated each other. They were menaces to one another on the set of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? Bette Davis played Baby Jane, a former child star turned drunken old hag. She lives in near seclusion with her crippled sister played by Joan Crawford.

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Screen time bounces back and forth between the two leads and advertising offered equal billing. Yet in the end Davis was blessed with the superior character, a fracturing and decrepit woman on the edge of insanity. The classic thriller drew Academy Award recognition but inevitably Davis did not win the best actress category. That award went to Anne Bancroft who was not present. Joan Crawford devilishly accepted on her behalf. Scene stealing isn’t just for black and white cinema, it even occurs in animation.

The Lion King is one of the last of the old hand drawn era of animated filmmaking. The story follows a young lion, Simba, who beliving he initiated his father’s death flees to the jungle and away from his responsibility to be King. It is a story that has been re-imagined in a successful stage play and straight to dvd sequels. And like many cartoons it’s the buddy characters that kids never forget. In this case a mischievous meerkat and overweight hog named Timon and Pumba voiced by Ernie Sabella and Nathan Lane provide the comic relief amidst an otherwise sad story. The duo even received a television spinoff series.


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Christoph Waltz got better than that; he received an Academy Award for his jaw dropping performance as despicable Nazi Col. Hans Landa in Inglorious Bastards. Gleefully evil and horribly arrogant, Waltz played a Nazi like never before. In the opening scene, Landa slowly sips milk and makes conversation before callously executing Jews hidden beneath the floorboards.  He clicks his heels in delight, in a later scene, over the prospect of his new status after turning traitor to his comrades. It is difficult to find a well-written villain and even more tricky to place an actor in the role that can give it depth without the usual cartoonish portrayal. Waltz was a perfect fit for Landa — or perhaps it’s the other way around.

Meryl Streep upstages her costars almost as often as she makes a movie. One of her most recent pictures, The Devil Wears Prada, would have been just another chick flick if not for her dynamite performance. The book was based on an embellished account of a temp’s experience working for Vogue magazine editor Anna Wintour. In the fictional account Streep plays Miranda Priestly, a supporting character at best. The subject of the film is the dumpy temp played by Anne Hathaway who is finding herself in typical girl movie experiences. Streep’s portrayal pushed the movie to box office success. The movie made $326 million worldwide.


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Our tiniest upstage artist doesn’t even drive a car yet. Chloe Moretz became a fanboy icon as soon as she walked on screen as Mindy Macready aka Hit-Girl in Kick-Ass. She cursed, kicked, and cut her way through scenes upstaging the titular Kick-ass and veteran thespian Nic Cage. Whereas children are often lambasted for poor acting skills and kept off screen as much as possible, Moretz absolutely owned the movie. Hopefully the sequel to the underperforming film will place greater emphasis on her popular character.

Don’t believe my hype; check out Christian Bale and Mark Wahlberg in The Fighter, expanding to theaters nationwide this Friday.

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