Friday, July 31, 2015

The unlikely creep

I get typecasting most of the time.

To use two completely random examples, Michael Ironside always plays a villain (Starship Troopers excepted) because he's got a world-class sneer, and Henry Fonda always played a nice guy (Once Upon a Time in the West excepted) because his baby blues contained within them an ocean of empathy. These guys were stuck on their career trajectories pretty much no matter what they did.

But sometimes, actors get typecast for reasons I totally cannot fathom.

Take Martin Donovan, one of the secondary antagonists in Ant-Man. Corey Stoll's over-the-top performance (speaking of sneering) takes top villain billing, but Donovan is there to lend his own custom brand of nefariousness to the proceedings.

I call it a "custom brand" because this is how Donovan has been cast for years now. And I just don't get it.

I've been "following" this actor -- which is to say I've known his name and taken note when he appears in movies and TV shows -- for about 15 years now, and I have always thought he was possessed of a rare paternal warmth. He seems capable of such gentleness and comfort that if he were my therapist, I might collapse in his arms crying within ten minutes on our first session.

This is the guy I'm talking about:

But I had to scroll through a lot of pictures before I found one I felt was worth using. Because this is not how Hollywood sees Martin Donovan. It sees him much more like this:

Or like this:

Or like this:

Someone shifty, someone in the shadows, someone far more likely to stab you in the back than hug away your problems.

Ant-Man is only the most recent example. You can go back through his filmography and check out the series of reprobates he has played.

In Nurse 3D he plays a psychiatrist and bad stepfather who cheats on his wife pathologically. In Sabotage he plays some kind of corrupt DEA agent. (Actually, I could not find evidence that this character was evil from the Wikipedia synopsis, but anecdotally, I remember this film as a contributor to my notion of how Donovan was being utilized in films.) In The Haunting in Connecticut he plays an alcoholic father.

Okay, as sometimes happens when I dream up an idea and start writing about it before I've done the actual research, I'm not overwhelmed by the examples I'm finding. I've also discovered that there's a lot of Donovan's work in the past ten years that I haven't seen. However, the sense I get of how he is perceived and used in Hollywood is still something I stand behind. People look for Martin Donovan when they want someone who may project a certain type of calm authority, but is actually sinister. In fact, just looking over some of the TV work he's done, and based on my knowledge of some of that source material, I see he played a decidedly malevolent character on The Dead Zone -- a power broker and member of the Illuminati who is trying to get an awful man elected president. He seems to have been someone shady in Weeds as well.

Whether or not I can provide you a preponderance of evidence for my claim is kind of immaterial. What I really want to know is: Are they right, or am I?

Do you find Martin Donovan essentially sympathetic, or essentially antagonistic? That's not a rhetorical question. I would love your thoughts in the comments, if you'd like to provide them.

What probably matters more to Martin Donovan than how Hollywood perceives him is that it perceives him at all. He's essentially a character actor, though he doesn't fit the traditional character actor mode. The point is, he's not a star, and the key to getting work is to represent a certain something to casting agents. If that thing is the fact that you are a shithead, then so be it.

But probably all it really is is that Martin Donovan is interested in playing complex characters, guys who are not either exclusively nice or exclusively mean. If he's trending toward exclusively mean, it could just be that the more complicated and interesting characters are the mean ones.

And if I just happen to find that his screen presence reminds me of a cup of cocoa, a pair of wool socks and a crackling fireplace, maybe that's a me thing.

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