Toni Collette is an actress who I’ve adored since I was a pre-teen and my mother forced me to watch Muriel’s Wedding. Even at a young age, when I possessed no real critical thinking skills when it came to the many movies I watched, I was enraptured by how she managed to make this sad and selfish woman seem so unbearably human. Collette remains an actor whose work I don’t necessarily follow with avid devotion but am always delighted by her presence. Even when the film or T.V. show is bad, she is reliably excellent. Oscar talk has started for her work in the indie horror smash hit Hereditary, as well as talks of a career renaissance for Collette. I find this claim kind of odd, given that Collette has always worked and never experienced a slump. Sure, she’s done a few streaks of duff material but she’s also an Oscar and Tony nominee, an Emmy and Golden Globe winner, a legend of Australian cinema, and a darling of the indie scene. She certainly deserves consistently excellent work, but I question whether she’s ever been the kind of actor we think of when we discuss the phenomenon of the Hollywood renaissance.
Audiences are fascinated by the classic narrative of A Star Is Born, and that for every rise, there is a fall. If you add a rebirth to the end then even better. Nobody ever wants to think about how they contribute, negatively or otherwise, to the public performance of these actors succeeding and failing then becoming think-piece material for the hungry masses. Still, it’s a great narrative to be part of and there’s an intense allure to the idea of proving your doubters wrong.
Matthew McConaughey’s career revival was so effective that it garnered its own descriptive term: The McConaissance. The calculated ambition of his objective - to go from rom-com slumming self-parody to near-legendary character actor in less than five years - seemed impossible, even to those who were self-professed fans. Then came Bernie and Killer Joe and Magic Mike and Dallas Buyers Club and True Detective and all of a sudden there’s an Oscar on the shelf. He didn’t just get a boost to his career and his image: He became a hot commodity for auteurs without losing the very essence of McConaughey. As an actor whose range is decent but not chameleonic, he was savvy enough to pick roles that exceeded audience and critical expectations that felt true to his persona: Think of the straight-laced but droll district attorney in Bernie or the grotesque charm and borderline parody of Killer Joe or his five-minute smarm offensive in The Wolf of Wall Street. The McConaissance may have officially ended but that doesn’t mean McConaughey’s clout has. He got what he needed from his renaissance.
Actors disappear for many reasons. Some voluntarily take time out, others fall out of trends with the industry, and many just can’t escape the niche they were forced into at their peak. Part of what made the McConaissance so thrilling was how unashamedly hard working he became in contrast to years in the lazy rom-com wilderness. The best revivals come when expectation and surprise collide. You always knew McConaughey was a good actor, but you would be forgiven for having forgotten that fact thanks to abysmal work in dreck like Failure To Launch.
Not every actor gets the dramatic narrative for their reboot. Michelle Pfeiffer took time off to raise her kids and burst back with refreshed relevance last year thanks to headline-grabbing films like mother! and Murder on the Orient Express. Rick Moranis essentially retired after the tragic death of his wife, so he could be a full-time father. Yet we remain tied to the florid nature of a Greek tragedy-style comeback. We want the drama of it all: The dizzying heights, the humiliating downfall, then the satisfaction of a happy ending. Of course, it seldom works that way. Robert Downey Jr. was near unemployable for a long period thanks to drug addiction, and his revival through the Marvel franchise gave him arguably the most ruthlessly effective comeback an actor could wish for. Marlon Brando was box office poison for a solid decade before The Godfather reminded audiences that this was the man who reinvented Hollywood stardom, but he quickly fell back out of grace thanks to his inability to stop treating people like shit.
And then there are the more insidious cases, where actors disappeared because certain people in the industry wanted them to. When the Harvey Weinstein news broke, one of the recurring themes in victim and witness testimonies was the ways that he would threaten to derail women’s careers if they refused his advances. Major stars like Mira Sorvino, Ashley Judd and Rosanna Arquette faced his wrath and seemingly disappeared from our screens. When the story made the headlines, we all suddenly remembered that yeah, it had been a while since we’d seen these actresses. A similar narrative formed with Brendan Fraser, formerly a major A-List star who fell on tough times due to injuries, family issues, and becoming an alleged victim of sexual assault by a member of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. I’ve written about Fraser before, and how much he most certainly deserves his own renaissance, and he seems to be getting a minor one through T.V. work. He doesn’t look like he used to, and he can’t embody the goofy physicality he used to do so well, so now he gets to be a quirky character actor, and a damn good one.
As our media cycle and attention spans decrease, the renaissance narrative gets quicker for actors. I’ve already seen people claiming Armie Hammer had his mini-revival thanks to Call Me By Your Name, as if he spent years in the wilderness following The Lone Ranger. Still, it makes some sense. This is an actor who everyone thought would be one thing - a super handsome leading man - and when that didn’t work out, he got a chance to work with something more substantive. Colin Farrell experienced a similar trajectory, only his involved a hell of a lot more drugs.
When we talk of the career renaissance in Hollywood, it’s tough to overlook who gets these second, third and twenty fourth chances more than others. Most of the names I’ve mentioned have been white guys, and the scale for sympathy is applied with more strictness for women and people of colour. No disrespect to Robert Downey Jr. but I’m not sure a black actor who had spent time in jail and done that much drugs would have been given a helping hand back into the limelight, much less one with a franchise like Marvel. Women are graded as much more ‘difficult’ than men, and that’s an easy excuse to deny them another chance: Mo’Nique has a freaking Oscar but it didn’t take long for Hollywood to decide she was too ‘difficult’ for them.
So, which actors do you think should get their own version of the McConaissance? Who do you want to see break back into the A-List with renewed zeal and the roles they deserve? Let us know in the comments!
(Image of Brendan Fraser and his amazing hat courtesy of Getty Images).