Fall guys: A-list actors play against type in new roles

05:00 AM, Aug 29, 2013

Actor Hugh Jackman attends the Japanese premiere of 'The Wolverine' on Aug. 28 in Tokyo. Jun Sato, WireImage/


Written By by Brian Truitt, USA TODAY

Hollywood’s leading men are taking on particularly challenging roles this fall that will make us view them in a very different light. George Clooney is even going out of this world to add to his image.USA TODAY’s Brian Truitt examines six performances to look out for this fall.

Hugh Jackman in Prisoners (out Sept. 20)

• Co-stars: Maria Bello, Viola Davis, Jake Gyllenhaal

• Director: Denis Villeneuve

• Plot: The young daughter of carpenter dad Keller Dover (Jackman) is kidnapped. When a detective (Gyllenhaal) has trouble finding the culprit, Keller takes matters into his own hands and captures the young man (Paul Dano) whom he thinks is responsible.

• Breaking type: Jackman yearns for the more emotional dramatic stuff as his career progresses — see: Les Misérables — but for this role he also had to capture the exhaustion that real-life parents might face in a similar situation. Lack of rest is nothing new for Jackman, who once spent four years doing a midnight-to-dawn shift at an Australian gas station. Jackman says he “wanted to be very specific about what happens — at which point you start shaking, which point is the sleep deprivation (that is) basically equivalent to being drunk, which point does your mind and memories stop working and you start forgetting things.”

Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Don Jon,(Sept. 27)

• Co-stars: Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore

• Director: Gordon-Levitt

• Plot: Jon (Gordon-Levitt) is a Jersey guy who lives for the gym, keeping his apartment tidy, and porn — not necessarily in that order. His self-centered nature begins to change after interactions with a flirty love interest (Johansson) and a middle-aged fellow night-school student (Moore).

• Breaking type: Gordon-Levitt transformed his voice, body and demeanor to play the kind of Don Juan character most people have seen in nightclubs, or at least on Jersey Shore. “We all know plenty of guys like that and we all can probably see some of it in ourselves,” he says. “The reaction from people who generally see it, both men and women, is ‘Oh, it’s that guy.’ Everybody knows who it is.” In writing and directing a story about how people treat each other more like things than people, he wanted to make sure it didn’t get too serious: “If you’re trying to talk about some things in the world that are maybe nuanced, the best way to do it is with a comedy. I’m not really interested in making an essay movie. I want to entertain people.”

Chris Hemsworth in Rush (Sept. 27)

• Co-stars: Daniel Brühl, Olivia Wilde

• Director: Ron Howard

• Plot: The rivalry and relationship between playboy British race car driver James Hunt (Hemsworth) and introverted Austrian racer Niki Lauda (Brühl) becomes the stuff of legend on the Formula 1 circuit in the mid-1970s.

• Breaking type: In trading Thor’s hammer for a steering wheel, Hemsworth dealt with the unfamiliarity of naked sex scenes. “To walk on set in front of 100 people in your birthday suit, that was a little daunting,” he says. Yet he found Hunt to be closer to his personality than his superhero thunder god. “There was a looseness to him, a constant energy that wasn’t stoic or centered like Thor might be. I’m far more into the life-enjoyment aspect of James’ world,” Hemsworth says. “His message was have fun, otherwise what’s the point? There’s something in that.”

Ben Affleck in Runner Runner (Oct. 4)

• Co-stars: Justin Timberlake, Gemma Arterton

• Director: Brad Furman

• Plot: After playing online poker wipes out his checkbook, a Princeton student (Timberlake) travels to Costa Rica to confront a gambling tycoon (Affleck) and ends up getting mixed up in the criminal high life.

• Breaking type: There’s a reason the square-jawed Affleck was cast as the newest Batman and is not known for playing too many bad guys. However, after playing two “somewhat taciturn, opaque characters” in To the Wonder and Argo, “I was dying to get the chance to deliver monologues, to chew the scenery, to play in an unapologetically sexy, pulpy genre movie that would let me try all kinds of things,” says Affleck. “Playing a protagonist can be quite limiting in terms of what audiences will allow. When you play a more morally complicated or suspect character, you are permitted to do almost anything, and from an acting standpoint, that’s where the fun is.”

George Clooney in Gravity (Oct. 4)

• Co-star: Sandra Bullock

• Director: Alfonso Cuarón

• Plot: While on a routine mission above Earth, debris from an orbiting satellite crashes into a space shuttle and leaves a veteran astronaut (Clooney) on his final mission stranded in space with a medical engineer (Sandra Bullock) on her first cosmic outing.

• Breaking type: Usually, filmmakers trot out Clooney in all his Hollywood megastar glory. Cuarón instead put him in a confining spacesuit, though it didn’t hamper his acting chops. There are sequences where Clooney is trying to calm Bullock’s character and pull her to safety, and “from the moment in which you just hear his voice, there’s a certain gravitas to it,” the director says. “It’s a great moment of danger and he’s saying, ‘I’ve got you’ in a very warm kind of way. He’s scared but at the same time keeping a certain integrity.” Clooney also played through pain — in this case brought on by various rigs and contraptions for the space scenes. “You say, ‘George, are you sure you don’t want to…’ and he’s like, ‘I’m good.’ And then you hear that he got home and was in absolutely immense pain,” says Cuarón. “What I put him through, I don’t want to remind George about this because he still loves me a little bit.”

Alan Rickman in CBGB, (Oct. 11)

• Co-stars: Malin Akerman, Rupert Grint

• Director: Randall Miller

• Plot: The three-chord true story of Hilly Kristal (Rickman), who opened a New York club for country, bluegrass and blues artists but instead, thanks to the bands that came through his doors including Blondie and Talking Heads, became a godfather for the nascent punk-rock movement of the 1970s.

• Breaking type: Rickman also played a real person in Lee Daniels’ The Butler as Ronald Reagan. But the CBGB founder was a far cry from the former president — and from Rickman himself, who was more into the Beatles and the Rolling Stones in the ’70s then the Cramps and Velvet Underground. “It took a while to catch up with the Dead Boys and Television. But yeah, you cannot stop thumping the nearest bar counter once it starts,” Rickman says. “It’s me on catch-up, really, but the catch-up involved discovering this extraordinary man who had nothing but good in him — a quiet soul in the middle of this very noisy world he made.”