Thursday, January 3, 2013

Discussion Starter – Has a Prior Role Affected How You Saw Someone in Another Movie?

I’ve had a movie category brainstormed for quite a while, but I was never happy with how I should go about presenting it.  I named it Double Features to Mess with Your Head.  I was going to pair movies that had people playing roles that were so different that seeing them back to back could, well, mess with your head.  Think Ben Kingsley in Gandhi and Sexy Beast, Matthew Broderick in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Election, or Bruno Ganz in Wings of Desire and Downfall.

Rather than continue to sit on this until I maybe someday felt comfortable with how to pair them up, I thought I would try reviving a feature I tried in 2012 – Discussion Starters.  I may still do this category in the future, but for right now I figured I would write about a couple examples where I was affected, and then ask you folks if you ever had experiences like that.  If so, maybe some of your stories will inspire me on how to best go about doing this category.

Some people end up getting typecast into the same roles in movie after movie (i.e. Meg Ryan).  When they try to go against type it usually doesn’t work.  I’m not really referring to those kinds of roles.  I am referring to single movies where someone played a character and it later impacted how you saw another character of theirs in another movie.  Here is my number one example: Louise Fletcher.

Some of you might not know who she is, while others of you might have just shouted “Nurse Ratched!”  If you are the latter, my apologies if the people sitting near you are now looking at you funny.  For those not familiar with her, she played a character of that name in the 1975 Oscar winning Best Picture One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.  She won an Oscar herself for Best Actress.  In this role she plays an iron-handed nurse who constantly thwarts Jack Nicholson’s fake mental patient character.  This movie is a personal nightmare for me because it shows a man trapped somewhere he is not supposed to be and not being able to get anyone to listen to him or believe him.  Nurse Ratched is a major reason why he is trapped there. 

Fletcher did such a good job playing such an evil character that after seeing this movie I unfortunately continued to have a negative reaction to her when I saw her in other roles.  She didn’t even have to speak; I would just see her appear onscreen and I would tense up a little bit.

Sometimes it is a pairing of roles that has affected me.  The 2005 movie The Squid and the Whale was widely praised.  I watched it and the casting of two of the roles bothered me so much if prevented me from liking the movie.  The two people involved were Jeff Daniels and Anna Paquin.

In 1996 they had starred together in the movie Fly Away Home.  She played his adolescent daughter.  In addition to being a sweet movie, I also liked it because it was one of the rare (nowadays anyway) films that showed an actual, positive father/daughter relationship.  Most movies and TV shows now show fathers that are at best emotionally distant or children themselves and at worst molesters or abusers.

Flash forward a few years and the two are cast together again in The Squid and the Whale, but this time as college professor and his student.  She initiates a sexual relationship with him by, among other things, telling him, “I’ve always wondered what it would be like to fuck you.”  Despite this, a later scene shows her reluctant to have sex and while Daniels’ character is not out and out physically forcing her, he is really pressuring her to have sex and she is pleading that she doesn’t want to.

Of course I know that they are not father and daughter in real life, but I liked their first pairing so much that I just couldn’t reconcile it with their roles in the later movie.  I saw an interview with Paquin where she was asked if it was difficult to do the scenes in the second film.  While not directly answering the question, she did say that she thought it had bothered Daniels more than it had her.  For what it’s worth, writer/director Noah Baumbach apparently caught flack from other people about this as well because he issued a disclaimer that he was unaware of their prior film together when he cast them in his movie.

So there are two examples from me.  Have you ever seen someone be so memorable as a character in a single film that you just couldn’t completely disregard it in other films, as I did with Louise Fletcher?  Have you ever had two people paired together in multiple films and you just couldn’t reconcile one set of roles to the other set, as I did with Jeff Daniels and Anna Paquin?


  1. I can't think of Anthony Perkins as anyone but Norman Bates. It's incredibly distracting in his other movies.

    This is a little the opposite of what you're after, but I just kept giggling throughout The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert, because all I kept thinking was "that's Guy Pearce. That crazy flaming drag queen is Guy Pearce. GUY PEARCE!!!"

    Sterling Hayden is one. His performance in Dr. Strangelove is so iconic to me, that I have problems forgetting it when I see him in his other movies. I mean, he's an awesome actor, but he is always Jack Ripper to me.

    1. Good call on Perkins. I don't know if he ever was able to get beyond that role.

      I saw Priscilla before either Pearce or Weaving became stars, so I didn't have that reaction to them. I did have a bit of a reaction like that to Terence Stamp, since he was General Zod to me and seeing him as a transsexual was definitely different. By the way, it took me about half of The Matrix before I finally figured out where I had seen Agent Smith (Weaving) before and when I did figure it out I laughed. I think I next saw Pearce in L.A. Confidential, but that I recognized him right away.

  2. I had one of those moments last night. A week ago I saw Paul Muni in "I am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang" and last night I saw him again as I rewatched "Scarface". Only now it totally distracts me because I keep seeing James Allen, the most decent man in the world, running around with a maschine gun shooting left and right and that fake Italian accent. It totally messes up the experience for me.

    A variant of this topic is Sean Penn in "This must be the Place". He totally look the part of a broken down Robert Smith and I completely buy it. Then in the end he gets a haircut and turns into Harvey Milk. Completely disturbing.

    1. I saw those Muni films in the other order, so I didn't have that problem.

      I haven't seen This Must Be the Place, but I remember seeing a still from it of Penn with the wild hair. It did take me a while to not see Penn as Spicoli from Fast Times at Ridgemont High, the first movie I ever saw him in.

  3. Margaret Hamilton = The Wicked Witch of the West. I can't see her as anything else. Seeing her in a different film always pulls me out of that film, at least temporarily.

    Actually, it's funny that I had an experience similar to this just last night. I had forgotten that Jack Nicholson was in Broadcast News. When he appeared as a news anchor, my first thought was literally, "That film takes place in a world where Jack Nicholson doesn't exist." How weird is that?

    1. Hmmm. After reading your comment on Hamilton I couldn't think of any other movie I had seen her in. I looked at her IMDB page and she was in The Ox-Bow Incident, which I've seen, although it says she was uncredited so her part must not have been that big. I'm not sure how I'd react to seeing her.