News Column

Films This Summer Are Changing the Look of Leading Ladies

July 28, 2012

Roger Moore

dark knight, anne hathaway, movie actresses, beauty

You might have noticed her in "The Dark Knight Rises." That's Juno Temple, playing Catwoman's confidante, second banana to the tall, dark and runway ready Anne Hathaway. It's a small role in a very large studio summer blockbuster.

But you can't miss Temple in "Killer Joe," the ferocious and indie Southern Gothic drama in which she stars, playing a "Baby Doll" style sexual naif. Hollywood sees her one way - a supporting player. But Indiewood - the world of independent film - sees her as an object of desire, leading lady material.

"Hollywood does tend to see female beauty just one way," Temple acknowledges. "If they need a high cheek-boned beauty, I'm probably not going to be cast." She laughs. "If they're OK with an English yam, I'm in."

In major studio pictures such as "No Strings Attached," indie "It" girl Greta Gerwig can be leading lady Natalie Portman's pal. If Gerwig, who turns 29 Aug. 4, wants her shot at "driving the action" of her movies, she knows she's got to go indie, as she did for "Lola Versus."

"I did one 'best friend,' and that's been it," Gerwig says. "I may never have to play another. But we'll see."

There have always been commercial considerations that drive casting in movies, big and small. Big names and screen exemplars of beauty such as Cameron Diaz, Halle Berry or Jennifer Aniston dip their toes in the indie-world, and that gets an indie filmmaker's movie noticed. Independent filmmakers don't often have that luxury of casting, which has long explained why unknowns get their big break in low budget films, why the words "indie" and "pixie" (Think Kat Dennings, Zooey Deschanel) have been joined at the hip.

In a string of films, this summer has underlined the gap separating "Hollywood" screen beauty and independent film beauty. From "Lola Versus" to "Safety Not Guaranteed," starring Aubrey Plaza, "Killer Joe" to "Ruby Sparks," written by and starring Zoe Kazan, indie film's idea of the cute young thing the audience and the leading man fall in love with has taken on its own model - still thin, but not supermodel thin - still pretty, but more cute and quirky than Vogue-ready.

Zoe Kazan  "is such a gifted actress, but she doesn't fit the type that Hollywood goes for," director Valerie Faris ("Little Miss Sunshine," "Ruby Sparks") says. "She's appealing and so smart. But Hollywood might not see that, but we do. Which is why we don't make conventional Hollywood films with Hollywood-style leading ladies."

Kazan, 28, is the granddaughter of famed filmmaker Elia Kazan. She says she doesn't like thinking about where Hollywood might pigeonhole her - but looking at studio films from "It's Complicated" to "Happythankyoumoreplease," she'd have to notice that the Malin Akermans and Michelle Williams' are getting the leads. She says she didn't write "Ruby Sparks," which has her playing a fictional character a lonesome novelist (Paul Dano) invents who then comes to life "as a vanity project, something for me to star in." But like Gerwig and Jennifer Westfeldt ("Friends With Kids"), if it was ever going to happen, she knew she'd have to take a hand in it.

"The acting profession is this intense waiting game," Kazan says. "I don't like feeling helpless in my own life. Everyone wants to feel some sense of 'agency' in your own life. But it's so much out of your hands. That will make you crazy."

Kazan wrote a film that she and longtime boyfriend Paul Dano could co-star in and got the co-directors of "Little Miss Sunshine" on board. Gerwig has plans to direct a script she's written, taking even more control of her screen persona and career path.

"If you're more about acting than being famous, you really do need to take charge of what people see you in," Kazan says. "I grew up admiring Ingrid Bergman and I really look up to Cate Blanchett. But I really love (character) actors like John Cazale and Thelma Ritter."

Temple, 23, the daughter of filmmaker Julien Temple ("Earth Girls are Easy"), is grateful to be trying to make her mark at this point in time, when definitions of screen beauty seem to be broadening.

"It's important that young girls who might want to be actresses to see all different types of women, women of all different builds and physical calibers, having success," Temple says. "Because it's not just the tall, thin runway models who can do this."

Distributed by MCT Information Services



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