Has Hollywood run out of actors?
Harry Styles in Don't Worry Darling may have been aesthetically pleasing but was he the right choice? Ruth Cullen takes a closer look into the reasons why Hollywood uses non-actors in some it's the biggest blockbusters, the market forces at play and the influence that fanbase culture is having over the media:
Artwork by Kate Granholm (IG: @Katesartthings).
Heading into an evening viewing of Don’t Worry Darling, Warner Bros.’ newest star-studded psychological thriller, I took note of the scepticism I had for the lead male actor, Harry Styles, as the film poster loomed above me. Many would have few complaints about being able to watch Styles on the big-screen for two hours; I was not so sure. I will happily admit that I enjoyed the movie, including Styles’ part in it, but his performance has garnered largely negative reviews. Many take particular fault with the fact that Styles’ weakness left so much of the work to the female lead, Florence Pugh, who is thanked for carrying the weight of the acting.
The imbalance between the two highlights an inescapable fact: Styles was not made for this. He certainly fulfils his purpose of attracting a younger demographic, those who know and love his music and who maintain that he can probably do no wrong. He fits the casting call of a conventionally attractive male to create the idealised aesthetic of America in the 1950s. He, crucially, attracts attention from the music-focused portion of the media that normally would neglect the film industry, and the tabloids and twitter threads have taken full advantage of the off-screen drama that is too speculative for an explanation. But this is definitely not the first time something similar has happened.
2021 saw Lady Gaga’s second highly acclaimed film with House of Gucci, following A Star is Born, Taylor Swift’s feature alongside Margot Robbie is on the horizon with Amsterdam, and Will Smith’s Academy Award for Best Actor in King Richard obscures the fact that he was a musician first, winning a Grammy long before any award for acting. It has been proven that some individuals do have the talent to fulfil multiple roles in show-business. Some musicians can act. Some actors can make music. But to utilise the fame of an individual in one field as justification for their use in another, does not guarantee a happy ending, as many argue Styles’ role in Don’t Worry Darling proves.
So why is it that Hollywood continues to reach for non-actors when they have swathes of hopeful actors lying in wait for their big breaks? High profile roles such as these are snapped up by celebrities, arguably because they already have a name in the media, a PR team, and pre-existing fans that will follow their every move. Undoubtedly, the economic benefit of a minimum guaranteed audience from the world of music-centred fanbases must be a drawing point, but it begs the question, do directors and casting directors prioritise the revenue of their film above the quality of acting? And how much power does the ‘fandom’ movement have?
Die-hard fanbases are not a new phenomenon, but social media has certainly accelerated the development of a subculture, where ‘fandom’ has become a collective noun extending beyond the devoted fan pages of Instagram. It has the power to take fans to where their idol goes, including into a movie theatre, regardless of the fact they started liking them for their singing. None of this is to say that this is an invalid reason for going to see the movie. I like Harry Styles as much as the next 20-year-old British female with a Spotify subscription, but he is not an actor, and the level of his performance cannot deny that. Nonetheless, I paid for my ticket, I enjoyed the movie, and recommended it to my friends. My knowledge of Harry Styles’ music made me do exactly what the casting directors wanted me to do, pay for the privilege. Even if it was not the best performance in the world, the use of a pre-existing celebrity from outside of Hollywood expands the film’s demographic, increases publicity and in doing so, gets more people into the cinema. In this way, Styles was a success.
The use of non-actors definitely plays into the debate about viewership, media attention and income. On the one hand, it is the decision of the directors and casting directors in every instance, but on the other, it is not as if Hollywood has run out of idolised, high-profile actors that wouldn’t attract a similar demographic, as in this case, Shia LaBeouf would surely argue. So, it is a conscious decision to include someone outside the regular gene-pool of actors, and make this statement about the importance of tapping into different fanbases and corners of public awareness. However, there is a fine line (see what I did there?) between casting someone with the right look and developing their acting skills in time and including them as a cameo that doesn’t always pay off, as Cher flying into Mamma Mia 2 in a helicopter very memorably shows. There are many underlying forces to trends like these, and I’ll admit that I’m patiently waiting for Don’t Worry Darling to make it onto Netflix, but there is a lot to learn here about celebrity status, fan culture and what the media thinks we’re all gullible enough to buy into…which, not-so-coincidentally, we will often happily buy into.