Morphable Actors

So I'm watching Batman Begins, and Tom Wilkinson's name pops up on the screen. Good heavens, says I, Tom Wilkinson? He's a British actor who does Miss Marple films! (Actually, he's done one: Pocketful of Rye). So, I look him up and realize this guy has been all over the place. I saw him in The Importance of Being Earnest, I saw him in Shakespeare in Love, I saw him in an Alleyn mystery. He was in Sense & Sensibility, Prime Suspect 1 and of course Batman Begins (as Falcone). He is one of those extremely talented British actors who can morph into any role and so effortlessly you don't notice.

I don't know if we grow actors like that in the states. I suppose you would call him a character actor, but American character actors always seem almost aggressively full of personality, like Dick Van Dyke. There's this British morphability that you find in people like Gary Oldman and even, although he is harder not to recognize, Rowan Atkinson. I'm not saying that British actors are better than American actors. I think the Hollywood star system has a great deal to be said for it (it produced Grace Kelly, after all and, rather against its will, Cary Grant), and I admire stars like Tom Hanks (although The Da Vinci Code confuses me; is that really his type of film?). But I always get a kick out of never knowing when British actors will show up next. Their morphability seems to be built into their training or their style. Like Hugh Laurie morphing from Wooster to House (and Hugh Laurie is hard to miss, being 6'2" but really, you'd think it was two totally different people). (On the other hand, Alan Rickman, who I adore, is always definitely Alan Rickman. And so is Judi Dench.)

Actually, come to think of it, I get the same kick out of spotting cameo actors on TV as I do out of spotting British actors in films so perhaps the morphable British actor is, in America, the morphable television actor. For instance, Megan Follows has shown up on a CSI and a Cold Case; well, okay, she's Canadian, but both Alexis Denisof--Wesley from Buffy/Angel and Alyson Hannigan's husband--and Amy Acker--Fred from Angel--showed up on How I Met Your Mother, and they're not Canadian or English. And Spike (James Marsters) showed up on Smallville. (One of the few episodes I watched; I really don't get that show.)*

Total tangent: actually out of the Buffy/Angel universe, Hannigan and Boreanaz seemed to be doing the best career wise. (I think Marsters has a band.) I don't know if How I Met Your Mother will last, but it is an absolutely delightful show. Every time I watch it, I say, "Ah, that was delightful." And Bones is just fantastic. Nice to know it has been signed for a new season. (Excellent season finale as well.)

*My favorite cameo of all time is the chess playing guy who shows up as the toy restorer in Toy Story 2. I saw the movie in the theatre with a friend, and we both started yelping when he came on the screen. But you had to have seen the chess playing short (attached, I think, to Toy Story 1) to know who he was. It was a great little cameo. (And, in theory, could have been the same character.)


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