When I’m at the gym, I’m a captive audience, with Stockholm syndrome. There are 90 minutes of cardio to fill and as long as that little TV’s on, so am I. Since I don’t watch sports and even the Kardashians take a break once in awhile, I’ve found myself watching Sunday afternoon movies, the kind that if I wasn’t mid-workout, would never even cross my radar.
The surprising discovery wasn’t that these were great movies that I’m thrilled to finally find. The movies are still the equivalent of airplane food -- you eat it because it’s there. The real surprise has been a mini-universe of underrated, underappreciated and underemployed actors.
Growing up, you could catch some good stuff in that 4-6 p.m. slot, provided that you didn’t mind playing “guess that curse word” or commercials every 12 minutes; most of the time, it was pretty current offerings.
Nowadays, it’s movies from around ’95-’05 and while it’s not exactly a dead zone of cinematic offerings, I wouldn’t call it a Golden Age either. But tucked inside these movies are some great underrated actors who lack the flash of A-listers with their seemingly eternal staying power but are much more likeable and deserving of roles and accolades. While I wouldn’t be adverse to some 10 percent gratitude, I’d consider it a public service if these actors could get some action.
Emma Thompson: I understand that being a witty British woman of a certain age means that you aren’t bombarded with offers daily. It’s one thing if you look like Demi Moore but what happens when you don’t? I’d like to make an argument that Emma Thompson is what the Tina Feys of the world grow up to be. With hundreds of cable channels and some truly original programming out there, you’d think there’d be a place for someone who exudes a warm, friendly intelligence. Regardless how she looks in a bikini.
Dennis Quaid: I was subjected to ‘The Rookie recently and the only thought that kept running through my head (other than damn, that man’s stayed in shape) is how unaffected and believable he is. There’s this kind of old-fashioned All-American vibe to him and he exudes a quiet confidence that yes, he will be able to stop those outlaws, fight city hall, cradle that baby and grill a steak, possibly all at the same time. He’s good-looking in a rugged way, in a world that values pretty men more but when he’s on screen, you can’t look away.
Winona Ryder: Hear me out on this one. Before the shoplifting fiasco, she was the go-to actress for roles that required a certain kind of earnest, awkward sincerity that many girls and women could relate to. She wasn’t hot, in the Hollywood babe sense of the word and she didn’t try to fit any particular kind of mold. I think she was more of a ‘love her or hate her’ kind of actress -- either you found her mawkish, like those tacky pictures of kids with giant eyes, or you felt that she tapped into a humanity that you related to. Either way, the chick could act.
Matt Dillon: It is a strange world where Kevin Dillon has a permanent job but Matt is relegated to early retirement. Matt acted with his whole body, even his awesome hair, and he exuded a low wattage coolness that attracted without being threatening. He never seemed to say much, but he filled the screen in a way that you didn’t forget.
Joan Cusack: The original best friend who was just cute enough but didn’t steal anyone’s thunder, except when she was allowed to be funny. Joan was endearing, sweet but not saccharine and you could envision calling her at the end of both good days and bad. It’s as if sitcoms were invented for someone like her, now perfectly age-appropriate to be the goofy mom or wacky neighbor. How Patricia Heaton gets work but Joan Cusack doesn’t is a casting mystery.
Johnny Depp: You’d think that when an actor has his own island, he would be considered all set but it’s an island built on increasingly over the top characters that seem to rely more on makeup than on skill. While it’s made him ridiculously wealthy, I find it nearly impossible to see in these performances the actor who created cool freaks like Ed Wood and crafted deep performances in “Donnie Brasco” and “Ed Wood.” While I don’t fault anyone for wanting their own island, it’s a shame that he’s only willing to take on roles that require guy-liner.
Lisa Bonet: Bet you didn’t see that one coming, did you? But 1988, I didn’t just want to be like Lisa Bonet, I wanted to be Lisa Bonet and tried to copy her whispery/raspy voice and supercool attitude. It’s easy for a guy to be cool -- throw on a leather jacket and look constipated -- but for a girl, to be both likeable and set apart, that’s a skill. There’s a tough vulnerability to her that makes for riveting viewing and I wouldn’t mind working on my whisper/rasp again.
Rather than churning the same names over and over again, why not go back through the yearbooks to some battle-hardened and skilled actors, who are probably more than willing to give it their all, the way they’ve done before.