Thursday, September 1, 2011

Favorite Actor?

Ever since Batman Begins came out in 2005, I’ve been telling people that my favorite actor is Christian Bale. As a movie junkie, I needed to have a cool answer to this question, and he was the perfect embodiment of the “serious actor” – a brooding cult icon waiting to be devoured by mainstream audiences. (The recent memory of Bruce Wayne’s shirtless push-ups didn’t hurt either.) I even sat through the endlessly tedious Empire of the Sun in order to prove my devotion to Mr. Bale, marveling at his ability to handle a starring role in one of Spielberg’s lousiest films a Spielberg film at the tender age of 12.

This, of course, is complete bull. I admire Christian Bale as an actor, I really do. It takes a damn good performance to convince the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences that you’re worthy of an Oscar, even more so when you have this hanging over your career. But Christian Bale is not really my favorite actor.

That distinction, I recently realized, belongs to James McAvoy.

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As a leading man, James McAvoy often plays the anti-Christian Bale – he is the affable, earnest hero to Bale’s dark, moody protagonists. But with a body of work that includes Atonement, The Last King of Scotland, The Last Station, and the widely-unseen-and-criminally-underrated Starter for 10, McAvoy has proven himself to be no less of an “actor” than Bale. Still, McAvoy could play the male lead in an endless series of Katherine Heigl chick flicks, and I’d still consider him my favorite actor. Because a favorite actor is not someone you have to admire, it’s someone you genuinely want to see on-screen. When I recently watched The Conspirator, I was completely riveted, even though that film is probably about as slow-paced as Empire of the Sun (and more dialogue-heavy to boot). A favorite actor is someone who can make a mediocre film good and a good film great. Sure, Anne Hathaway’s faux-English accent in Becoming Jane irritated me, but James McAvoy’s mere presence completely made up for that. And while this summer’s X-Men: First Class seemed like just another superhero movie, I saw it twice in theaters because James McAvoy (and the incredible Michael Fassbender, who will probably be mentioned many more times in subsequent posts) brought a sense of meaning and depth to a potentially hollow role.

Basically, James McAvoy is my favorite actor because I can’t help but root for him. Maybe it’s the big blue eyes, or the Scottish charm, or the short stature that naturally expresses “underdog.” Maybe it’s the clear bromance with the aforementioned Incredible Michael Fassbender. (As Saurus has so thoughtfully explained, never underestimate the power of a solid bromance.) Whatever the reason, he just comes off as a genuinely good guy – and in today’s golden age of crude comedies and Hollywood d-bags, this quality seems more and more difficult to find.

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