Movie star empathy

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aronisred's Avatar
outrageous film reviewer
This has bugged me on and off for a while now and it may very well be a common knowledge that I missed some how. One of the most important if not the most important quality needed in a movie star next to Charisma is Empathy. This has traditionally differentiated action stars from movie stars. On one hand you have bruce willis, arnold, stallone. On the other hand you have Tom Hanks,Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, Matt Damon. I honestly believe that it is this lack of empathy that prevents action stars from working with Top Directors.

Audience somehow need to feel sorry for movie stars when they see them in roles in movies. It is this fine line between ability to generate empathy or not that is kinda hurting lot of actors careers to varying degrees.

A prime example is Jude law. He looks like a movie star, he talks like a movie star but he never has been a movie star because you never feel empathy for him in any role. Thoughts ?



"Money won is twice as sweet as money earned."



I haven't seen many of his movies and I'm not particularly fond of him, but I felt plenty of empathy for Jude Law as Inman in Cold Mountain. I also like him a lot as Watson in the Sherlock Holmes movies.



This is an interesting topic, as it is something I notice in every Harrison Ford movie. Granted I' m a fan- but I became aware years ago that there is always some point in his movies when I suddenly feel I' m on his side. He touches my heart in some way and makes me empathize with him and root for him. I probably first noticed it in Witness. But I've felt it watching him in almost all his roles - disparate as they may be: the uptight businessman in Sabrina, the easy breezy test pilot in Six Days Seven Nights, Indy and Han of course; the grief stricken cop in Random Hearts and the world weary cop in Hollywood Homicide; even the stiffnecked Russian submarine captain in K2 The Widowmaker.

I think it comes from the mastery of the craft and art by the actor, and I don't know how he does it and I' m not even sure exactly when he does it. But I know somewhere along in the story, he always brings that human side of the character across the screen to the viewer.

Some actors seem to do it effortlessly ( and say as much in interviews ) - and others
who ' become' the character admit to long years of study.

But I think - even making allowances for each of our personal tastes - all the great actors make you feel they are someone you want to know - or at least, someone you DO know. Some of the ones I count as greats would include Harrison Ford ( who I sometimes think is underrated as an actor despite his stardom) , Jack Nicholson, Robert Duvall, George C Scott, Paul Newman, Cary Grant - and the list goes on.

And there are also actors like James Garner, Cher, Sally Field; .who may not be considered A list, but sure know how to get you to like them onscreen.

I think much of this quality comes from talent and skill and craft , but I also think this ability to garner empathy comes from the heart of the actor too. They want to reach out to you, and that's why we feel warmth towards them when they are on the screen.

Thought provoking topic, and I may be back later with more thoughts. Will be interesting to see what other mofos feel about this empathy factor , and who are the actors that are their personal a listers.



aronisred's Avatar
outrageous film reviewer
Use to feel that way about Jude Law too, but his role in Enemy at the Gates changed my opinion about him.
Not for me



Not sure I'd agree with your action/film star divide, part of the reason Arnie became a star was IMHO actually because he has a very likable charisma to him that helped sell several non action roles. Meanwhile Cruise seems exactly the reverse, not the easiest man to empathise with but have carved out a successful career by picking the right(often intense and emotionally strung out) roles.

You could argue this is actually a bigger issue for actresses as its arguably harder for them to build a high level career without being likable(at least on screen), most of the best big roles tend to be those that have the audience empathising strongly with them.



aronisred's Avatar
outrageous film reviewer
Not sure I'd agree with your action/film star divide, part of the reason Arnie became a star was IMHO actually because he has a very likable charisma to him that helped sell several non action roles. Meanwhile Cruise seems exactly the reverse, not the easiest man to empathise with but have carved out a successful career by picking the right(often intense and emotionally strung out) roles.

You could argue this is actually a bigger issue for actresses as its arguably harder for them to build a high level career without being likable(at least on screen), most of the best big roles tend to be those that have the audience empathising strongly with them.
you are mistaking innocence for empathy. We feel for arnie because his characters are innocent. But when a movie shows the main character doing questionable things and then asks us to care for him in some scenes that takes empathy. When I watched once upon a time in hollywood there is something revealed about brad pitt's character's past that is very evil but the movie asks us to care about him in some scenes.