Where are the leading men? Thoughts on Terrence Rafferty’s recent essay

Who would we cast in a present-day remake of The Godfather? Writing in the current print issue of The Atlantic, Terrence Rafferty addresses the question:

If The Godfather were to be made today, you might see Daniel Day-Lewis as Don Corleone, surrounded by, say, Tom Hiddleston as Michael, Rory Kinnear as Sonny, Ben Whishaw as Fredo, Benedict Cumberbatch as Tom Hagen, Keira Knightley as Connie, and Romola Garai as Kay. What’s worse, it isn’t nearly so easy to dream up a fantasy cast of American actors that would be as strong.

Rafferty uses this to set up a discussion of the state of American acting for TV and film. He finds a couple of curious problems: “good American roles have been going to English, Irish, Welsh, Scottish, Australian, and Canadian actors,” and while we have a slew of capable women, “the ranks of interesting under-40 American [men] have begun to look dangerously thin.”

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…And a Passion: Q&A with Andrew Sensenig

“All you need for theater is two planks and a passion”—one version of a saying attributed to Spanish playwright Lope de Vega (who actually said something a little less pithy). Planks can be gotten anywhere. For passion, you need actors.

Given the cooperation of the Fates, this will be an occasional feature, exploring the life and work of actors by means of a standard set of questions. Earlier entries in the series can be found here. (Responses have been lightly edited.)

Andrew Sensenig came to my attention in the Shane Carruth film Upstream Color (2013), in which he played a character known only as the Sampler. Neither the character nor the film can be briefly described without sounding bizarre; consider Richard Brody’s account, which tells us that, along with capturing sound samples, Sensenig’s character “performs procedures to relieve mind-controlled worm-victims of their predatory infestation.” To put it lightly, the film, and his role in it, are actually both trippy and mysteriously moving. I was impressed that Sensenig was doing major film work while based in my former hometown in north central Texas. Incidentally, he submitted his answers before the release of a film called We Are Still Here, which is now on iTunes and elsewhere. You can find Andrew on Twitter.

Andrew Sensenig headshot (web)Where were you born?
I was born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and moved to Decatur, in central Illinois, when I was very young. Until I headed off to college, Decatur was my stomping grounds. Yea, MacArthur High School!

Where do you live now?
I’m currently based in Dallas, but I spend the majority of my time traveling to the two coasts for film and television projects. My wife and I have been here for 30 years, and it’s a great central location for a full-time actor. I can hop on a plane and be in any market within three hours, and you can’t beat the low cost of living here. We’ll probably head to L.A. or N.Y.C. in the very near term, but for now, Texas is home.

What’s your current role?
My current job is that of a full-time actor, and I’m filling in any down time with producing, directing, composing, and doing public events.

With regard to current projects, this year has been incredibly exciting, to say the least. Season 1 of Powers just wrapped up on the Sony PlayStation Network, where I portray the superhero Triphammer. The response has been overwhelming, and we will begin shooting Season 2 soon. In the meantime, I’ll be shooting a few indie films with some very moving and powerful stories. One of my recent films, We Are Still Here, is starting a small theatrical run and landing on VOD on June 5.  Some of my other favorites, such as Upstream Color and Paradise Recovered, are available on Netflix, while one of the most amazing short films I’ve ever witnessed, “Anomaly,” is available on Vimeo. Continue reading

In The Spoils, Jesse Eisenberg triumphs over his own play

Dividing The Spoils: Jesse Eisenberg, Erin Darke, Michael Zegen, Annapurna Sriram, and Kunal Nayyar. (Photo by Monique Carboni)

Dividing The Spoils: Jesse Eisenberg, Erin Darke, Michael Zegen, Annapurna Sriram, and Kunal Nayyar. (Photo by Monique Carboni)

The spirit of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? seems to hover somewhere near Jesse Eisenberg’s new play, The Spoils (now being premiered by The New Group), for it presents a character in pain who manipulates, tramples on, or tears down those around him: the twentysomething Ben, whom we meet and immediately distrust when he callously barges in on his roommate’s in-home date. Oddly, there’s also something of Peer Gynt’s multiplicity in this character; Ben is by turns a charmer, a liar, a would-be seducer, a wannabe filmmaker, attention-seeking, facile with words, regretful, benevolent, and impressed with himself, yet he doesn’t have much of a center. He’s also like Peer in that, at the same time, one wouldn’t mind seeing him whipped and yet hopes for his redemption—which, just as in Peer’s case, will have to come from other people, for he is, by the play’s end, pretty much unredeemable on his own merits. Distasteful as he is, one can’t help being intrigued by him; part of me wants to forget I met him, and another part wonders whether Eisenberg should revisit him later, as François Truffaut did with Antoine Doinel—who was, however, much more rewarding to spend time with.

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On finding Auden in a TV ad

Last night while watching the cable network TNT, I saw a handful of different promos for the upcoming second season of a show called Murder in the First. (Ordinary people would call them advertisements, but “promo” is the industry term for what a TV network transmits to promote itself or its programs.) Surprisingly, one of them quoted W. H. Auden in its onscreen text: “Those to whom evil are done / Do evil in return.”* In that context, the lines were foreboding, but they also seemed somehow platitudinous. In rechecking the text, I found that Auden acknowledged that quality by pointing out that this precept is something “all schoolchildren learn.” It has to be admitted, though, that if those lines may strike sensible people as a truism or platitude, it’s one that insensible people could stand to accept on faith, since they’ve failed to learn it from their own experience. The example uppermost in my mind is that of the Israelis and Palestinians, many of whom act as if their obligation to all those who have already killed and been killed is to continue the tradition. But other examples can easily be found.

The injunction never to forget gets you nowhere if you have no idea, or only a bad idea, of what to do about what you remember. If the heedless are doomed to repeat the past all unknowing, what of those who deliberately replay it?

*The poem quoted in the TNT promo is “September 1, 1939.” Its full text can be found here (I trust the link, though a server error prevented me from confirming it). An admirable commentary, which comes to grips with the poem’s occasional approaches to “sloganeering,” is here.