Casting call for aging actors
By Ann Hornaday
The Washington Post
The road to stardom can be treacherous. With talent and luck, an actor can hit the straight, smooth road, cruising along to classy retirement. A wrong choice here and there? Not fatal. But more than a few, and a once-promising career has suddenly derailed. (Yes, you, Al Pacino.) A few case studies, and suggestions for career recovery:
Diane Keaton, age 62
The Ride: We fell in love with Keaton for her loopy intelligence, her vulnerable strength, the watchful wisdom behind the fluttery tics and twitches. And such range: “Annie Hall,” “Reds,” “Baby Boom.” Her star turn in “Something’s Gotta Give” (2003), where she flirted and fought with Jack Nicholson, possessed moments of sheer brilliance, and the film shrewdly exploited the stars’ off-screen personas, proving that over-50s can still put tushies in seats.
The Slide: Ironically, it was Keaton’s protracted crying jag in “Something’s Gotta Give” that seems to have put her on her recent unsatisfying path, introducing a desperate edge that has hung over her like a toxic cloud ever since, from her domineering matriarch in “The Family Stone” to the neurotically enmeshed helicopter mom in “Because I Said So.”
The U-turn: What Keaton needs is a smart, literate, slightly neurotic comedy of Manhattan manners from her generation’s answer to Woody Allen: Tamara Jenkins, who wrote and directed last year’s inky-black comedy “The Savages.” Or adapt Shirley Abbott’s just-published novel “The Future of Love,” a romantic roundelay that has received mixed reviews, but swirls around a fabulous part: an adulterous former radical swept into a passionate affair. Buy it, Di!Robert De Niro, age 64
The Ride: From “Mean Streets” and “Taxi Driver” to “The King of Comedy” and “Goodfellas,” De Niro’s uncanny command, commitment and chameleon-like mutability rarely wobbled through the 1990s. And he proved he could operate comfortably outside his tough-guy wheelhouse in comedies both dark and light.
The Slide: The “Analyze This” and “Meet the Parents” franchises have not worn well; De Niro’s recent work for kids (“Shark Tale”) feels forced and awkward. Upcoming projects include a cop drama with Al Pacino and a Michael Mann hit-man thriller, which inspire equal parts cautious optimism (he worked so well with both men in “Heat”) and dread of a performance mired in mannerism and self-reference.The U-turn : No more hit men, no more gangsters, no more cops and serial killers. No more Fockers, big or little. Astonish us. Drop the self-parody, the temptation to revert to rote gestures; disappear into a character we’d never think you could disappear into. Get a dye job and the right glasses, find your inner Vulcan and option “Angler,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post series about Dick Cheney by Barton Gellman and Jo Becker (or opt to play him in Oliver Stone’s upcoming “W”).
Dustin Hoffman, age 70
The Ride: After his explosive debut in “The Graduate” in 1967, Hoffman came to embody a new leading-man ideal, combining nebbishy anti-romanticism, diffidence, laserlike focus and sly, ferrety wit. He went on to deliver epochal performances in generational touchstones from “Midnight Cowboy” to “Tootsie.” His first comeback, in “Rain Man,” was over-praised. But Hoffman’s second career resuscitation, in the 1997 political satire “Wag the Dog,” was a thing of hilarious genius.
The Slide: Hoffman (along with Barbra Streisand) was the best thing about the otherwise lamentable “Meet the Fockers”; of his recent appearance as a lisping, too whimsical-by-half toy store owner in “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium,” the less said, the better. His upcoming slate voicing animated features earns Hoffman two Robin Williams Career-in-Crisis Flares.The U-turn: The actor needs to re-team with Barry Levinson, who helmed Hoffman’s two big comebacks. And what have we here? Levinson has signed on to direct “A Walk in the Woods,” based on Bill Bryson’s best-seller about his comically ill fated Appalachian trek with old friend Steve Katz. “All the President’s Men” co-star Robert Redford is reportedly headlining as Bryson; Katz is so far un-cast. Come on, Woodstein, put those creative differences behind you and get the band back together!
John Travolta, age 54
The Ride: In his 1977 breakout performance in “Saturday Night Fever,” Travolta strutted down a Brooklyn street to “Stayin’ Alive,” and he’s been proving the song right ever since, with self-effacing wit, a contagious sense of ease and a surpassingly sexy way of busting a move. After big hits with “Grease” and “Urban Cowboy,” his career sagged until he rose like a marble-mouthed phoenix in Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction,” after which he earned a reservoir of goodwill in roles that exploited his humility and physical verve.
The Slide: That reservoir has been lowered by such Scientology propaganda as “Battlefield Earth” and cash-ins like “Wild Hogs.” Next, look for Travolta costarring with Robin Williams as friends who unexpectedly find themselves caring for 7-year-old twins. That sucking sound you hear is a reservoir finally draining away.
The U-turn: He still has the moves. Pull the camera back and put him in a smart, small-canvas physical comedy a la “Big Night,” where his body can communicate as much as his face and voice. Then, give him a great biopic, preferably of a song-and-dance man, which will do for Travolta what “Yankee Doodle Dandy” did for James Cagney, calling on all his talents as a singer, dancer and actor.