Is it true that women have a better chance at quality female roles in television than in film? Katherine Heigl seems to think so. Grey’s Anatomy Insider reported at the end of a segment on Heigl that she deeply appreciates the opportunity to play a role on a quality television show. She expressed her opinion that “the roles are really great on television and they don’t really have that in film.” That comment struck me as odd, and I decided to think on it for awhile.
Could it be true? After all the Academy Award winning actresses that have gone before? I thought, and I thought. And it turns out that there are still only a small handful of actresses whose talent I respect compared to several dozen actors. Why is that? Could it be the roles? Could it be that men really do have center stage some 90% of the time?
Most movies do revolve around men. That’s why a list of quality current actors is so long. The overall plot may not always be the best, but the individuals come to the dance prepared. A very short list of quality Hollywood film actors includes Denzel Washington, Brad Pitt, Kevin Spacey, Al Pacino, Robert DeNiro, Anthony Hopkins, Tom Hanks, Morgan Freeman, Tim Robbins, Johnny Depp, Leonardo DiCaprio, Tommy Lee Jones, Jude Law, Matt Damon, Don Cheadle, Edward Norton, Will Smith, Bruce Willis, Ethan Hawke, Ed Harris, Tom Cruise, Matthew McConaughey, Dennis Quaid, Harrison Ford, Antonio Banderas, Kiefer Sutherland, Colin Farrell, Hugh Jackman, Hugh Grant, Mel Gibson, Jack Nicholson, John Cusak, Robert Downey Jr., Dustin Hoffman, and so on and so forth.
I could keep on going until the cows come home. I literally added ten names to this list after I had moved on to the next paragraph. My “A” list of film actresses is rather short (we are talking acting talent, not appearance): Susan Sarandon, Julia Roberts, Meg Ryan, Nicole Kidman, Rachel Weisz, Jodie Foster, Keira Knightley, Kristin Scott Thomas, Kate Hudson, Drew Barrymore (who I can’t stand), Natalie Portman, Gwyneth Paltrow, Diane Lane, Halle Berry. Cameron Diaz, Charlize Theron, Renee Zellweger, Cate Blanchett, Kate Winslet, Emma Thompson, Sharon Stone, Angelina Jolie, and Julianne Moore pretty much wrap up the list of actresses.
Sure, a few are missing from the list, but even most of those in the list are questionable at best. But let’s not blame it on the men completely. True, too many starring female roles are given to beautiful, talentless women. True, they are chosen for the physical beauty, regardless of their actual acting talent. Some of these women have enough talent to play one type of role, but they don’t have the versatility to play multiple roles.
Granted, there is a lot of type casting going on with male actors as well. Who ever thinks of Morgan Freeman except as a detective pursuing some psycho killer? Denzel Washington is the tough, independent speech maker who rallies the troops. Al Pacino is the master of grandstanding and dramatic speech. Anthony Hopkins is the eloquent, intelligent older man who always knows more than he tells. There are roles which seem formed and fashioned for the best of the best, and it’s easy to understand why they choose to play similar parts over and over again. Why mess with a good thing? Then again, you have the Nicole Kidmans who so stretch themselves to succeed in vastly different roles that you can’t help but respect her.
Dressing up as an ugly woman is the kiss of death to an actress unless her acting skill is so far superior to her peers that she can walk away from the role still capturing the people’s respect and admiration. I had high hopes for Julia Ormond after Legends of the Fall, Sabrina, First Knight, and Smilla’s Sense of Snow. I thought we had a new leading lady for the big screen. It was not meant to be, apparently. Sure, she has starred opposite Bill Paxton and Benicio del Toro recently, but she’s managed to stay off the radar. I can’t blame her for avoiding the paparazzi, but I’m disappointed with the path her career has taken these past nine years.
Inevitably, there are other one or two hit wonders out there who could have become better than good actresses, but it’s a cutthroat business. Katherine Heigl probably doesn’t stand a chance at a Julia Roberts-esque career, simply because she gives off this ditzy blonde image without even trying. I’m willing to give anyone a chance. And truly, if Drew Barrymore can make it in the business purely on the strength of her acting talent (and family history in the biz) then there is hope for other non-supermodel types with personality lurking in the shadows out there. All it takes is one good hit (and a stellar agent). And while we wait to see which leading lady, if any, will capture the silver screen, we have television shows like Grey’s Anatomy, LOST, House MD, Crossing Jordan, and Six Degrees to make up the difference.