When I think of actors trying to push the narrative of “this film was the most difficult thing ever, no one understands My Struggle,” I think of two examples. One is obviously Leonardo DiCaprio’s successful Oscar campaign for The Revenant, in which the Oscar campaign was almost entirely “Leo struggled/was sexually assaulted by a CGI bear/got pneumonia.” I also think of George Clooney’s The Monuments Men, oddly enough. The film had studio support, Clooney directed it and starred and he brought along an A-list cast of his friends. There was little drama with production and the story was already well-known to history buffs, and yet Clooney and company tried to sell the movie as the most untold story ever and the hardest film Clooney has ever made and no one wanted to tell this difficult story, etc. That wasn’t the case, but that was the press around the film.
Obviously, studios have caught on to a narrative that “sells.” The “struggle” narrative sells movies and helps Oscar campaigns and it’s all pretty stupid at this point. People within the industry were openly mocking Leo’s Oscar campaign (he still won the Oscar though) and The Monuments Men came and went with critical shrugs and no Oscar campaign. In a new interview, James McAvoy points out the obvious, but it’s still nice to hear that we’re not imagining things: actors are being told that they should oversell the “struggle” of their filmmaking experience so that they’ll get awards.
James McAvoy has revealed that film stars are told to lie about how gruelling a role was to win awards. The Scottish star claims many of his contemporaries have been told to exaggerate how tough some film roles are – be it from piling on weight to sleeping rough – in the hope of picking up a gong.
He said: ‘I’ve been told so many times that if you want to win awards, you need to start making it sound like you’re f***ing sweating blood every time you step on set. People want me to say things like, “That was the hardest thing I’ve done! It consumed me completely!” For me it’s just my job and creatively speaking, it didn’t leave me shattered— but I feel that people are disappointed when I say that.’
Talking to TheTalks.com, he said: ‘I really, really love it [acting] and I hope that every job allows me to love it. When I’m doing it, there’s nothing else. You get up at 6:00 am and you don’t get home until eight or nine and then you do it all again and it’s so exhausting — you have no life when you work. If I’m spending half my life doing that, then half my life is entirely that. But the other half is bringing up my kid and being a stay-at-home dad. So, comparatively, acting is just my job. And I think that that approach makes it easy to separate myself from roles. I’ m relatively mentally healthy and I think it’s hard to separate yourself from roles when you’re not.’
It would be interesting to consider this from a psychological-consumer analysis, as in: why does it help to sell a movie by telling the audience that the film was incredibly hard to make? Why do audiences want to hear that? Do we put more value in the storytelling or performances if we think the actors and filmmakers really put themselves through hell to make the movie? I’m really asking. If I want to see a movie, it’s because the trailer looked great, I’ve heard good things about it and I want to see the story unfold. I don’t know the behind-the-scenes stories of some of my favorite films. Like, did Ralph Fiennes have a hard time filming The English Patient? Did Holly Hunter really put herself through hell for her performance in Broadcast News? I have no idea, because I like the movies so much and I just get absorbed in the performances and the stories. Isn’t that how it should be? I hope that more actors follow McAvoy’s route and refuse to sell their movies as some giant struggle. It’s become the go-to Oscar campaign trope and it’s tired.
Photos courtesy of WENN.