Hollywood falls for strong women this summer
05:00 AM, Jun 20, 2013
NEW YORK When World War Z director Marc Forster was hunting for his zombie-fighting leading lady, he bypassed any actress who was more famous for her assets than her acting chops.
Instead, the role of Brad Pitt’s wife, Karin, went to Mireille Enos, the indomitable Emmy-nominated star of AMC’s bleak series The Killing.
“She’s very real. She’s tough. She has all these different layers,” Forster says of Enos, who plays an unyielding, tenacious mother in Z, opening wide this weekend. “She read for me, and Brad really liked her. He thought she was great in the role. I always just try to cast people I believe in, that I believe in as the characters. That’s all I’m trying to do.”
He’s not alone, by a long shot. This summer, theaters are glutted with the usual big-ticket bombastic blockbusters. What’s different: The women in them are neither damsels nor two-dimensional caricatures known more for their curves than their craft.
Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts in Iron Man 3 and Amy Adams’ Lois Lane in Man of Steel got things going. And soon we’ll have Maggie Gyllenhaal holding down a collapsing government in White House Down (June 28); Rinko Kikuchi battling fearsome monsters in Pacific Rim (July 12); and Mary-Louise Parker as a cop in R.I.P.D. (July 19) and wife of an assassin in Red 2 (July 19).
The trend stems from Christopher Nolan, director of the lauded Batman trilogy (2005-2012), who cast Marion Cotillard, Anne Hathaway and Gyllenhaal in his films.
“It proved beyond any doubt that a summer film can be commercial without sacrificing artistic ambition, which means, in part, casting at least a few actors for reasons other than just looks and bankability,” says Hollywood Reporter film analyst Scott Feinberg.
“Just last year, two Oscar winners and one Oscar nominee who would soon become an Oscar winner, brought respectability to three films that proved to be among the summer’s biggest hits: Marion Cotillard (The Dark Knight Rises), Charlize Theron (Snow White and the Huntsman) and Jennifer Lawrence (The Hunger Games),” says Feinberg. “The directors of those films could have cast anyone in those parts, but they aimed high and were rewarded for it.”
Certainly, the actresses are appreciative of the sea change.
“I seem to be beating the odds. My role in The Killing, she’s the lead and not always very likable and three-dimensional,” says Enos. “And (World War Z’s) Karin, in the wrong director’s hands, she could be more of a sidekick.
“But that wasn’t what Brad or Marc wanted. They wanted her to be a strong presence. Brad would say on set, ‘I think Mama Bear should do this.’ That’s how he referred to her. He kept lifting her role up,” she says.
The same goes for Gyllenhaal, who plays a Secret Service agent in White House Down. “The thing about my character is that she’s never, ever the victim. She’s not the woman tied to the railroad tracks. That person is actually Jamie Foxx. It’s really unusual in that way.”