I have often wondered whether actors watch their own films and, if they do, what do they think of their performances? What do they look for when they watch themselves on screen? What, for them, constitutes a job well done? Do they compare their performances to earlier roles? To other actors?
In Legend, Tom Hardy takes on a dual-role performance as both the Kray twins. It is the first time the notorious crime duo has been depicted in a film by the same actor. In 1990, brothers Martin and Gary Kemp played the identical twins in The Krays, while earlier this year Simon Cotton and Kevin Leslie portrayed the pair in The Rise of the Krays. Although Hardy has taken on numerous complex transformations for the screen, including losing 2 stone for Stuart: A Life Backwards (2007) and then gaining 3 stone for Bronson (2008), the actor has described the dual role in Legend as “the hardest thing that I’ve ever done, technically.”
Is extreme weight gain or loss worth it if the finished film fails to make money or result in an Oscar nomination? In a Guardian article published yesterday, Nigel M Smith lists eight actors who “bulked up, slimmed down and puffed out” for roles in films that were flops at the box office. His selection includes gainers Jared Leto in Chapter 27 (60lb gain), Russell Crowe in Body of Lies (63lb), Renee Zellweger in Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason (30lb), Mark Wahlberg in Pain & Gain (40lb gain – all muscle, apparently) and Jake Gyllenhaal who bulked up for Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time and, most recently, Southpaw. The losers include 50 Cent in All Things Fall Apart (54lb loss) and Matthew Fox in Alex Cross (44lb). Smith proclaims that their transformations “weren’t worth the effort” as the film projects were failures, suggesting that “perhaps they shouldn’t have.” The implication is that such a dramatic bodily transformation is only worthwhile for the actor if the film is successful. But, for the transforming actor, more is at stake than the film’s critical or commercial achievements.
Last month Robert Downey Jr. “walked out of an interview when pressed about his past”, Variety told me on my Twitter feed. The image accompanying the tweet showed Downey standing side-on to the door with his face frozen, presumably, in the middle of firing off an invective. His left hand points at the interviewer, who is sitting looking up at the actor with his arms crossed at his chest. Not mentioned in Variety’s tweet, the interviewer responsible for inciting Downey’s ire and watching the actor exit the frame is Channel 4’s Krishnan Guru-Murthy, a news journalist who has experienced his fair share of awkward interviews. Downey looks angry; Guru-Murthy looks smug, confident, victorious. Watching the interview in its entirety, however, presents a rather different story.