The Craft

My son is an actor.  We talk a lot about acting and films and TV and actors and who's good and who's not.  And, invariably, we get stuck in that "Who Is Your Favorite Actor?" trap.  Now, we both know this is a trap, yet, when either of us sees a phenomenal performance, we throw ourselves headlong at the bait.

For a long time, I tried to pretend the bait wasn't enticing me by casting off comments like, "Do you mean actors I like to watch act, or actors I like as people?"  Legitimate --- the question could be meant either way --- but I was just tap-dancing around the snare.  There are actors who are heroes to me, but whose work has never moved me to think, "Why doesn't he have an Oscar?"  There are actors whose work might astonish me once, but that's all.  For a Favorite Actor, someone has to be superb all the time.  And you must never catch him acting.  That's the death of an actor.

I've never seen Sir Ben Kingsley bad.  Ever.  Granted, I haven't seen everything he's ever done, but he's yet to make a false step in front of me.

Tom Wilkinson simply makes me bloody happy.  Again, I've never seen a misstep.  His work in "In the Bedroom," with one of my favorite actresses, Sissy Spacek, is heartbreaking and frightening.  And a simple turn in a bank line is one of my favorite single movie moments ever.

Stephen Root is astonishing.  A perfect character actor who makes your jaw drop time and time again.  Hysterically funny when he has to be, agonizingly sad when he has to be.  If something has Root in the cast, I'm likely to watch it, if only for him.

As far as funny, Cary Grant was one of the most gifted face and body actors ever.  Hugh Laurie is prodigiously funny, but I've seen him take some stunning dramatic turns.  The same goes for Bill Nighy, who is as maddeningly perfect as is fair for a mortal to be.

God --- Gary Oldman.  How do you unglue your eyes from him to watch anyone else in a scene? Jeff Bridges is a master.  I almost never fail to fall in love with any character whose skin Gregory Peck wore.

I'm rather late to the Max von Sydow train, but what a face.  A face that glows with joy or collapses under the dark weight of anguish.  With scarcely a beat in between. Jim Broadbent has the insane elasticity to play a boor, a hapless goofball, or a sinister villain, all with the same ease.

Every one of these men make my head swim with their effortless, powerful talents.  As soon as I post this, there will be names of other actors come to mind that I should have included.  That's just how many remarkable gifts are available to anyone who settles down in front of a screen.

And yet, I think there is one actor whom I can call My Favorite.  His work is genius, yet looks staggeringly simple.  His skills are what make lots of people think, "That's not hard --- I could do that.  He's not even really acting."

Oh, but he is.  That's the uncommon command of the art that he had.  And I am overwhelmed and changed and so deeply grateful each time I get to watch him.
Spencer Tracy


  1. A very thoughtful post!! a very interesting list KIM!! I have to think about my favorites: Offhand I say

    TOm Hanks
    shirley MacClaine

    1. I was back and forth several times on Tom Hanks. He is a wonderful actor.


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