I was half-watching TV one night when I heard a familiar voice. I looked up from whatever else I was doing, expecting to see a famous actress. She has a very distinctive voice and I knew it was her. What I saw, however, was a commercial. It was for a pharmaceutical designed to, um, aid bathroom activity.
A remembered thought came to mind, though I can’t recall who said it. It was something like, “How far the mighty have fallen.” (Or can fall…)
I guess both male and female film performers prefer the term “actor” these days. This woman was an A-list actor not that long ago. She was very good at it and I enjoyed her movies.
It is hardly a new thing to find actors in advertising even though it once was considered a lowering of oneself, as it also once was considered degrading to move from the big screen to television. Some of the ads hire the whole famous person, body and voice, as a spokesperson for their product, such as the talented William Devane, who is now hawking gold—or is it silver? Or both? I lose track. Others get paid for only their voice.
I can’t blame the actor I heard on the commercial. She is one of many “aging out” by Hollywood standards where female performers especially have a harder time finding work or good projects they believe in. Don’t tell Helen Mirren, though. Or Dame Judi Dench. Their performances seem timeless in a variety of roles. For many, lending their voices to projects is just the way they are reinventing themselves to continue to make a living.
Since the onset in recent years of so many animated films, actors young and seasoned are finding employment in a studio in a genre beyond the big-screen cameras. It’s a paycheck and reminds us sometimes personalities can be conveyed through just our voices.
There is another genre where actors are reinventing themselves. I have been watching movies on Lifetime and Hallmark. Yes, they are Christmas ones; slap me for consuming what they’ve been offering up long before Thanksgiving. Again, kind of watching while I do other things. I’m sick of even my favorite news channel since this never-ending impeachment stuff just leaves me tense and irritated. I refuse to buy into the anger and divisiveness of either side any longer.
With little holiday romances I don’t have to think a lot. I know I will be able to predict the storyline and there will be a young woman with flawless skin and really white teeth and suitors of similar ilk. There will be a misunderstanding when he/she sees the other kissing or hugging someone else. But some of them do have a plot and my decision is just to enjoy something light for a change.
Something I do enjoy is watching some seasoned actors reinventing themselves in this genre. One is Ed Asner, who has served as president of the Screen Actors Guild but is best known for his role of the grizzly Lou Grant on the Mary Tyler Moore Show. Asner also is a voice actor.
In the new roles, he plays a sometimes-grumpy elderly guy who watches and observes the young lovers in these romantic movies, typically offering sage advice. In some, he has become a staple as additional films relating to the original are made. One of his sidekicks is Lois Nettleton who won Emmy awards from daytime to nighttime TV and had an unforgettable role in the star-studded mini-series, “Centennial” in the 70s.
For Thanksgiving week, these cable channels are rolling out new installment premieres. In one last night, I watched Barry Bostwick playing an old musician trying to re-engage with his estranged daughter. Heck, I remember when Barry had the romantic lead in such movies and mini-series! These made-for-TV movies also feature the likes of Leslie Ann Warren and Kathie Lee Gifford, among a host of others, typically now in the roles of the parents, even grandparents while the fresh young faces get the starring roles.
These movies aren’t just opportunities for reinvention for older actors. They’re vehicles for former child-stars to play the romantic leads. “Full House’s” Candace Cameron Bure is one of Hallmark’s darlings; TV little sister Jodie Sweeten has carried a few. And I like the red-headed Alicia Witt a lot more as an adult actor than when she was a smart-mouthed teen on “Cybil.”
The point is, if these actors can reinvent themselves when roles in other genres dry up, can’t we be inspired to do the same? Sometimes when we change lanes whether forced to by a pink slip or plant closing or by choosing a different road, it might be good to stop thinking about the negatives and focus on the positives of a new direction. It might be a chance to explore something totally different from what we’re used to and find some surprises along the way.
(Contact Deb Wuethrich at firstname.lastname@example.org)