Rob Edelman: Sustaining Yourself

Oct 14, 2013

 How do young actors who are fortunate enough to win fame by starring in booming movie franchises maintain their careers once those franchises fade into history?

One actor who is working desperately to avoid has-been status is Daniel Radcliffe, of HARRY POTTER fame. The HARRY POTTER films are no more, and Radcliffe clearly is toiling to distance himself from them and create an entirely new show business persona. For one thing, he is acting on stage. And at the recent Toronto Film Festival, he was showcased in no less than three new films. I managed to catch two of them. One is KILL YOUR DARLINGS, in which he plays a young Allen Ginsberg. The other is THE F WORD, a WHEN HARRY MET SALLY-style romance.

Both films are of course completely removed from HARRY POTTER. For one thing, in each, Radcliffe appears semi-nude. HARRY POTTER fans would be shocked! And in both films, neither of which is memorable in any meaningful way, Radcliffe works hard to express emotion and create three-dimensional characters. Unfortunately, that really is the best that can be said for both performances. So the bottom line is: Will Daniel Radcliffe be able to maintain his star status?

One actor who failed in this regard is Mark Hamill. You remember Mark Hamill. He was Luke Skywalker in STAR WARS. In the decades since playing this iconic character, Hamill had appeared in television series, made-for-TV movies, and obscure theatrical features, and he has done voice work in animated films and video games. But he never did become a star of the first magnitude, unlike his STAR WARS co-star, Harrison Ford.

More recently, you have Anne Hathaway, a performer who, like Ford, has dodged anonymity. Back in 2001, Hathaway-- who then was nineteen years old-- burst onto the movie scene as the star of THE PRINCESS DIARIES. In this well-liked film, which was fashioned for pre-teen girls, Hathaway played a shy 15-year-old who learns that she is a European princess. The popularity of THE PRINCESS DIARIES led to Hathaway being cast in a sequel and also an offshoot, a Cinderella story titled ELLA ENCHANTED.

On one level, starring in three mainstream films is more than any Hollywood wannabe could hope for. Yet actors have long been pigeonholed by the public and typecast by the studios, so Anne Hathaway was in danger of being cast only as sugary sweet characters. But Hathaway-- or at least, her managers-- took steps to remedy the situation and advance her career.

In 2005, Hathaway had a key supporting role in a film that was controversial for the manner in which it portrayed the sexuality of its two primary characters. That film was BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN. That same year, Hathaway also starred in a less-heralded film, one that was little-seen. But it was what Hathaway did in the film that was so startling, given her PRINCESS DIARIES persona. The film is titled HAVOC. It is a rare narrative directorial credit for Barbara Kopple, the esteemed documentary filmmaker. In HAVOC, Hathaway plays a wealthy, bored teenager who spouts the foulest of language. Plus, she frequently appears on-screen without a stitch of clothing. Hathaway’s PRINCESS DIARIES fans and their parents also would be shocked. But in all practicality, her appearance in HAVOC was a shrewd career move.

Hathaway then won co-starring status in THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA opposite Meryl Streep. It is a role that any young actor would crave. Then, in RACHEL GETTING MARRIED, Hathaway earned a Best Actress Oscar nod playing a deeply troubled young woman who returns home for her sister’s wedding. Just last year, Hathaway earned a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her stellar work in LES MISERABLES.

So from a career point-of-view, PRINCESS DIARIES is ancient history for Anne Hathaway. And the question-of-the-moment is: Will Daniel Radcliffe’s career follow a path that is similar to that of Anne Hathaway, or Mark Hamill?

Rob Edelman teaches film history at the University at Albany. He has written several books on film and television, and is an associate editor of Leonard Maltin’s Movie and Video Guide.

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