Althouse | category: actors



an endless succession of beans and nuts.

"A perfumier designed the aroma to contain hints of 'pus, blood, faecal matter and sweat' so [Jude] Law could imagine himself as [Henry VIII]...."

"At the start of filming Law said he made sure 'very subtly' to use a dab or two of the stomach-turning scent. However, when he found that the smell aided his performance, 'it became a spray-fest.' "When Jude walked in on set,” the director, Karim Aïnouz, said, 'it was just horrible.' [Alicia] Vikander, who performed sex scenes with Law, gave a look of disgust as the actor [said] 'Even the camera operators were gagging. My memory is that we were laughing a lot.... [I'd] read several interesting accounts that you could smell Henry three rooms away. His leg was rotting so badly. He hid it with rose oil. I thought it would have a great impact if I smelt awful.'"

Watch Ms. Vikander approach the putrid actor:

I asked ChatGPT, "Can you tell me about other actors who have used smelliness to enhance their performance?" In classic ChatGPT form, I got a list of 5 items:
1. Robert Pattinson - In the film "The Lighthouse" (2019), Robert Pattinson revealed that he purposely didn't wash his hair during the shoot to achieve a more authentic and grimy look for his character. 
2. Charlize Theron - For her role as serial killer Aileen Wuornos in the film "Monster" (2003), Charlize Theron gained weight and wore prosthetic teeth to transform herself physically. She also didn't wear deodorant or shower during the production to create a more realistic portrayal of the character's hygiene and lifestyle. 
3. Daniel Day-Lewis - Known for his intense method acting, Daniel Day-Lewis reportedly stayed in character throughout the production of "Gangs of New York" (2002) and went to great lengths to embody the 19th-century character of Bill the Butcher. This included refraining from showering and wearing the same clothes for weeks to achieve a certain level of odor. 
4. Heath Ledger - In the film "Brokeback Mountain" (2005), Heath Ledger played the character of Ennis Del Mar, a rugged and rough cowboy. To maintain the authenticity of his character, Ledger purposefully avoided using deodorant, which contributed to the overall unclean and sweaty appearance of his role. 
5. Marlon Brando - In "A Streetcar Named Desire" (1951), Marlon Brando portrayed Stanley Kowalski, a working-class character known for his brute masculinity. To enhance his performance, Brando would reportedly wear the same clothes for weeks, not wash them, and even put raw meat in his pockets to create a pungent smell, emphasizing the character's rawness and intensity.

These are all examples of actors using their own body to produce the bad smell. Law had a perfumier manufacture something for him. Prompting ChatGPT, I got a list of only 4 items:

1. Sir Laurence Olivier - In the film adaptation of "Richard III" (1955), Laurence Olivier used... a foul-smelling oil in his hair....

2. Johnny Depp - In the "Pirates of the Caribbean" film series, Johnny Depp.... used a mixture of different perfumes to create the distinct scent associated with his character....

3. Tilda Swinton - In the film "Only Lovers Left Alive" (2013), Tilda Swinton... requested the set to be filled with a specific scent, described as a mix of Moroccan spices, saffron, and other elements, which helped her connect with the character's ancient and sensual nature.

4. Tom Hanks - In the film "Charlie Wilson's War" (2007), Tom Hanks... reportedly used herbal cigarettes during filming instead of regular cigarettes. This choice not only helped him remain healthier but also prevented the usual unpleasant odor associated with tobacco smoke.

Only item #1 corresponds to what Law did — use something to create a bad smell. Item #4 is especially nonresponsive — annoyingly off point.

I don't think it's fair to the other actors, who, I presume would like to perform using their own skill and interpretation. They're forced to include the instinctive feeling of disgust that the other actor is choosing to inflict on them. Which actors are allowed this liberty to intrude on other actors like this? Jude Law sounds quite pleased with himself, and Alicia Vikander looks on, as though she is simply a lowly recipient of his whim. Vikander, a woman, is 34. Law, a man, is 50. The disparity in power is obvious, though not as great as the disparity in power between Henry VIII and Catherine Parr. Still, Henry VIII had no choice about having that rotting leg. Law chose... and suffered no pain. For him, it was hilarious.

ADDED: I glossed over the raw meat Brando put in his pockets. There was one item in the first set that had an actor using something other than his own body. ChatGPT did not correct me when my follow-up prompt said that all of the items only had the actor using his own body to generate the stink.

"I am not a rapist. I hate rapists, I think rapists should be raped and murdered. If I am guilty of anything, it’s bad storytelling in the style of douche."

Said David Choe, quoted in "Unpacking David Choe’s ‘Rapey’ Podcast Comments" (The Cut).

Choe is one of the actors in the popular new Netflix series "Beef." The podcast remarks are from 2014, and we're told "some viewers are calling for accountability." I'm not sure what form of "accountability" they are or should be asking for. The story he told on the podcast concerns crossing lines with a masseuse, similar to the accusations against Al Gore some years back.

ADDED: To say "I hate rapists, I think rapists should be raped and murdered" is to show that you have a narrow conception of what rape is. Of course, that's also why Choe could do what he said he did and exclude himself from the set called "rapists." But if you actually cared about sexual abuse, you wouldn't focus on restricting the category. You focus on restricting the category to protect the interests of those, including you, who engage in sexual abuse. Look at the reasoning behind "rapists should be raped and murdered." That's saying: Rapists are those who are irredeemable, utterly worthless monsters. And: That can't be me!

(And let me add that even "irredeemable, utterly worthless monsters" shouldn't be "murdered." You should recommend the death penalty, not murder. If you think the death penalty is murder, you should oppose the death penalty.)

Forced into acting by a steady diet of chicken patties and canned peas.

I'm reading this obituary of a character actor:


That's from 1946. I was interested in Charles Butterworth because I just watched the 1932 movie "Love Me Tonight." I was going on about that movie in the comments to yesterday's post about 3 movies from the 1930s. The other 2 were "The Smiling Lieutenant" and "One Hour With You." 

All 3 starred Maurice Chevalier, and all 3 featured the character actor Charles Ruggles, but this morning I was clicking around and reading about Charles Butterworth, reading his Wikipedia page, wondering if he killed himself and fascinated by the information that "His distinctive voice was the inspiration for the Cap'n Crunch commercials created by the Jay Ward studio."


In the comments to yesterday's post, I linked to video of the entire movie "Love Me Tonight" (which was directed by Rouben Mamoulian). I specified that I loved the first 18 minutes, which features some brilliant use of what I think is called musique concrète. Sound effects like hammering and street noise converge into music. I'll just embed the video below.

We're introduced to Paris in general and then Maurice Chevalier specifically and to his highly sexualized relationship to Paris. Eventually, the montage of sound and the music carries us to the Princess who's longing for love but cloistered in her chateau (and singing her lungs out).

The 18 minutes I love are completed as a ladder comes into view. Scroll to that point and you'll experience the entrance of Charles Butterworth (as the Comte de Savignac, the extreme opposite of a desirable lover):

Here's something interesting about Butterworth: He was friends with Robert Benchley and other literary wits of the time and "became so famous for his dry quips and cynical asides that Hollywood screenwriters began writing only fragmentary scripts for him, hoping that the actor would 'fill in the blanks' with his own bon mots." We're told he once "complained," exclaiming, "I need material as much as anyone else!" 

Was that a complaint or an example of the wit?

Policing the "overcalculated playfulness" of actors wearing fashions that might not align with their sexual orientation.

I'm reading "Is Celebrity ‘Queer Baiting’ Really Such a Crime? Even as gender and masculinity are more fluid than ever, it can still rankle when male stars co-opt traditionally gay codes and styles" by Mark Harris (NYT Style Magazine).

[Q]ueer baiting... is a celebrity culture term referring to performers and artists who slyly imply, whether by action, remark or passing behavior, that they might not be a hundred percent heterosexual in order to court an L.G.B.T.Q. audience, but are actually either straight or, at the very least, determined not to get specific. 
For those who make the accusation of queer baiting, the argument against opportunism is simple: How dare you reach into our pockets and take our money when you’re only pretending to be one of us (or, in any case, when you’re not telling us who you are)?... 
Overcalculated playfulness about the subject can come off as a kind of self-marketing....

This sounds like vigilance about who gets to make money off of sexual orientation, but generally, in life, the money doesn't flow to the artists who are the most authentic exemplars of the experience that is the subject matter of their expression. Actors can be rather blank and empty individuals who go into the profession precisely because they need roles to fill them up. Don't be jealous of them when the role they play is something that you believe you really are. If you object to the money they make, playing the character who you really are, you don't understand performance. Or — admit it! — you want their money.

The article author, Mark Harris, goes on to examine the discrepancy between the criticism of "queer baiting" and the Gen Z view of sexuality that (supposedly!) asserts: “You can be anything you want to be.”

Today, younger people who use “L.G.B.T.” or its longer variants do so primarily as shorthand for a range of options, from asexual to pansexual to questioning to intersex to trans-masc to bi-curious, among theoretically limitless other possibilities, the embrace of any one of which does not have to be a permanent thing....

Notice how subtly Harris seems to acknowledge gender-reassignment surgery. The "embrace" of an "option" is permanent. But this is in the NYT fashion magazine. A great thing about fashion is that it's not permanent. You put things on and you take them off. You experiment. You laugh at mistakes and throw them away. You may not be an actor, but you get to play a role.

You can try on an identity, and maybe someone will say what you're wearing is "so you." Maybe you'll think of yourself in a new way because of that color, that style.

Maybe you'll feel braver. Or maybe you'll feel intimidated at the thought of some sour-faced creature who will sneer at you and mutter something along the lines of: "The clothing of my people is not a costume! We cannot put it on and take it off as a whimsical experiment! Your jacket is a microaggression!"

Harris writes that the Gen Z position is "Nothing matters more than authenticity. There is no qualification for an artist greater than lived experience."

Is that really their position? I don't know. But if it is, I'll stand back. These are kids, and they need to grow up. They need some time to question their own authenticity and the slipperiness of the demand for authenticity. They need to enrich their "lived experience" with the experience of the work of great artists and to see that the artists are not talking about life they have specifically lived — lived authentically. They are imagining far more life than they can personally live.

Back to Harris:

What we know about an artist’s personal identity can be interesting and even illuminating; what we are entitled to know is … nothing, basically.

I agree. And maybe we're better off knowing nothing, nothing other than the art.


By the way, before I undertook to read this article and based solely on the headline, I searched the page for "Rolling Stones" and "Mick Jagger." Nothing! (No Prince either.) Where's the historical perspective? These kids today! 

"By this time, I had some sense of the plot [of Jean-Luc Godard's 'King Lear']... The narrative was now roughly this: The world has been destroyed, post-Chernobyl..."

"... and a puckish little man named William Shakespeare Jr. The Fifth is tasked with re-creating his famous ancestor’s work. The avant-garde opera director Peter Sellars was cast as Shakespeare’s descendant, and Godard inserted himself in a role that doesn’t appear in any Shakespeare play: Herr Doktor Pluggy—an inventor who wears a contraption on his head, with cables dangling, doing research in pursuit of something called 'the image.'.... One day, Godard sneaked into [the room of the actor playing King Lear, Burgess Meredith] and short-sheeted his bed. I noticed that the director seemed to derive satisfaction from provoking people... Toward the end of the shoot, Godard mentioned that he deemed everything I did in the film completely authentic except for one moment.... I asked him which one. 'I’ll tell you when it’s over,' he said.... When I finished my scenes, I approached him to ask which moment, and he told me that it was the scene in which Cordelia lies next to her father, dead. This was completely nonsensical, since it was the last scene that I filmed—it hadn’t even been shot when he made the comment."

Writes Molly Ringwald, in "Shooting Shakespeare with Jean-Luc Godard/The actress and writer recalls working with French cinema’s enfant terrible" (The New Yorker).

What sort of person goes in for practical jokes? I mean, someone who's not in the comedy field — a serious, accomplished person: Why would he favor that particular way of fun? It's one thing to devise something original, but to do a standard practical joke like short-sheeting the bed: Who does that?

Ringwald said Godard "sequestered himself from everyone" and, she thinks, "he was actually a bit shy, trapped in his mind. Perhaps the only way he could make sense of anything was to film and edit it."

How does that square with short-sheeting the bed?  

As for the remark about inauthenticity, I see a subtle humor there. Wasn't he saying, essentially, you were perfect? The only time she was inauthentic was when she, a living person, had to play the role of a dead body. Yes, the dead-body impersonation hadn't happened yet when he made the remark, but he knew she would play that part and he must have considered it funny to unsettle her as he set up a punchline that would make sense at some point in the future.

"It’s the worst thing ever when you open a script and read the words 'strong female lead.' That makes me roll my eyes. I’m already out."

"I’m bored. Those roles are written as incredibly stoic, you spend the whole time acting tough and saying tough things."

Said Emily Blunt, quoted in "Emily Blunt Rails Against ‘Strong Female Lead’ Label: ‘It’s the Worst Thing Ever' and ‘I’m Bored’ of It" (Variety)(via my son John, who linked to it on Facebook).

Movies need to be interesting! If the actors think the characters are boring, why would the audience show up? To be bored?

"Movies like 'Aquaman' and the upcoming live-action version of 'The Little Mermaid' take place underwater but don’t actually submerge the actors."

"'Avatar: The Way of Water' does, and the actors had to learn how to hold their breath for several minutes to shoot some of its undersea sequences. What’s gained from doing it for real?"

The NYT interviewer asks James Cameron in "James Cameron and the Cast of ‘Avatar: The Way of Water’ Hold Their Breath/The original was the biggest hit ever, but the sequel still took a long time to come together. How will it resonate in a different era of moviegoing?"

Cameron answers:

Oh, I don’t know, maybe that it looks good? Come on! You want it to look like the people are underwater, so they need to be underwater. It’s not some gigantic leap — if you were making a western, you’d be out learning how to ride a horse. I knew Sam was a surfer, but Sig and Zoe and the others weren’t particularly ocean-oriented folks. So I was very specific about what would be required, and we got the world’s best breath-hold specialists to talk them through it.

I didn't see the first "Avatar," so I'm not the audience for this, but if I were, knowing the actors were holding their breath for several minutes would take me out of the fantasy. I'd be thinking of the actors not as the characters in their fictional situation but as hard workers suffering... for what? To create the very illusion that my knowledge would ruin.

Here are 7 TikToks for you this evening. Some people love them!

1. Overused phrases in books.

4. The top 3 tones for voice-over actors.

5. When Rosie O'Donnell visited Martha Stewart in prison.

6. Maybe when the lady seems insecure, it's not what you think.

7. It's the same old song, but with a different melody (and I'm accepting these men in shorts).

Here are 7 TikToks to while away the next few minutes. Let me know what you liked best.

1. Ricky Gourmet goes sugar mode.

2. Whatever happened to the boy who played Charlie in "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory"?

3. I'm not sure if it's right to do this, but I think all versions of Obama look just great.

4. Spending the night with your irascible Southern grandma.

5. Committing to a "capsule wardrobe."

6. Why do some women knowingly marry gay men?

7. "Fly Me to the Moon."

"A perfumier designed the aroma to contain hints of 'pus, blood, faecal matter and sweat' so [Jude] Law could imagine himself as [Henry VIII]...."Forced into acting by a steady diet of chicken patties and canned peas.

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