Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Acting - A Difficult Profession: Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Jason Momoa and More

Nicolaj Coster-Waldau

In recent weeks I've been reading several articles about the difficulties of working in the film industry, more specifically the Hollywood film industry, and actors some of us know well, like Rupert Penry-Jones. 

I think audiences sometimes seem to think that known actors can decide what they want to film, when they want to film it, but that's not true, not even for the "A-Listers" in Hollywood.  Two articles I read recently I think are worth reading by all of us as a reminder that all is not glamour for our favorite actors, and that you're only as bankable as your last performance, or as Hollywood fortunes go.

I've also been reading about the rise of the international box office vs the U.S. box office.  The international box office is dominant right now and some critics blame the move to more and more action films on this trend.  

Below I'll post some excerpts from two articles that I think are worth reading.  I'm highlighting two actors from the hit TV series Game of Thrones, but the article in the New York Times Magazine also talks about Henry Cavill, Michael Fassbender, Chris Hemsworth, and others. 

Details magazine has an interesting article and interview with Nicolaj Coster-Waldau who plays Jamie Lannister in Game of Thrones.  Nicolaj has been struggling for years to make it in Hollywood. Below excerpts from the article:

"His first gig out of theater school, at 23, was the lead in a thriller called Nattevagten, playing a morgue worker who gets mixed up with murder. It made him a national sensation. In fact, the 1994 film was such a hit, it got remade by Hollywood as Nightwatch, starring Ewan McGregor. But in some ways, Coster-Waldau's early success was the worst thing that could have happened. "It made me kind of an asshole," he admits. "My first job out of drama school was a big hit, so I thought that was the way it worked. You make a movie and it becomes a big hit. Every time. But, of course, it didn't happen that way."

Coster-Waldau spent the next 15 years bumping up against walls and having his ambitions thwarted. Sure, he built a respectable, workmanlike résumé, but nothing that made him stand out. He was being cast as the hunky henchman or as the handsome husband who spends two thirds of the movie in a coma. On those rare occasions when he came close to landing breakout parts, he'd watch with mounting disbelief as they slipped through his fingers."  ...

Nikolaj auditioned for the movie Vertical Limits: 

"Chris O'Donnell ended up getting the lead in Vertical Limit. And his movie career fell off a cliff shortly afterward. In retrospect, losing out was a blessing in disguise for Coster-Waldau. And it isn't the only bullet he has inadvertently dodged. Four years ago, he was in L.A. again, testing for another star-making lead in a megabudget sci-fi action movie. This time the audition went great: "There was no way I wasn't getting it. The whole thing just felt right." A few days later, the execs from Disney called him at his hotel. They'd decided he was too old for the lead in John Carter.

Of course, no one knew the film would end up being a spectacular bomb—least of all Taylor Kitsch, the young actor who got the role. Coster-Waldau was shattered, done with chasing Hollywood stardom. Then his agents persuaded him to try one last audition before he went back to Copenhagen. HBO was casting a new series and had sent over a script. "I read it and thought it was an amazing part. But dragons and fantasy? I didn't think that was going to go anywhere . . ."

Nikolaj is now hoping playing Jamie Lannister in Game of Thrones will finally lead to that elusive Hollywood stardom.  To read more, to read the entire article and interview, go to the link below:

Another Game of Thrones actor found out the hard way how elusive that stardom can be. A great article in the New York Times, "The Last, Disposable Action Hero" is really an eye-opener about the state of the Hollywood film industry today.  (Thank you Message Boards for link to article.)

I'm going to include first some excerpts about Jason Momoa who played Khal Drogo in Game of Thrones.  Later I'll highlight some other parts of the article I found interesting. The article deals with much, much, more, and there's also mention of other actors like Henry Cavill and Michael Fassbender.   

"…Jason Momoa (the man-eating alpha dog), learned about this disposability firsthand. For years, a reboot of the “Conan” franchise had been in the works, possibly starring Schwarzenegger as the aging savage. But when Avi Lerner’s Nu Image Films decided on the revival, in 2008, Lerner and his partners opted to go with an unknown, which would be much cheaper. “Everybody knows I’m a money man,” Lerner told me. “I’m not out to win an Oscar. If I spend $60 million on a movie, I want to make a 20 or 30 percent return.” The “Conan” bake-off reportedly included a not-yet-famous Chris Hemsworth and other relative unknowns, like Kellan Lutz, Jared Padalecki of the TV series “Supernatural” and Momoa, who is best known as the warrior Khal Drogo in HBO’s “Game of Thrones.”

When the producers finally settled on Momoa in 2010, he threw himself into the role, embarking on an intensive six-week training regimen, working out six hours a day — including two hours of samurai sword practice. He ate a boiled chicken breast every two hours or so, roughly 56 per week, and packed on an additional 30 pounds of muscle to his already brawny frame.

….But “Conan” suffered a dismal opening weekend, earning only $10.5 million domestically…

Momoa, at least, seemed to have caught a bit of a break. He was cast as the lead in “The Red Road,” a Sundance Channel drama about a sheriff fighting to keep his family together while policing two warring communities…Of course, it wasn’t the career he expected back when he was filming “Conan,” but he seemed unfazed. “Sometimes it hits, sometimes it doesn’t, but I’m not going anywhere,” he said, insisting, “I’m not a dime a dozen.”

“The six major studios are releasing about 30 percent fewer movies than they did seven years ago, and they have largely narrowed their focus to expensive concept projects or franchises based on existing intellectual property — comic books, young-adult novels, older movies — that can be rebooted and sold to passionate pre-existing audiences around the world. Because the American movie market now makes up less than a third of global box-office receipts, studios tend to favor projects featuring explosions, car chases and doomsday scenarios — a universal language of violence that translates easily in China, India, Brazil and Europe. Almost without exception, the movies star some beefcake with pecs that make Ben-Hur’s seem puny. In the last three years, the top-grossing movies have included Marvel’s “The Avengers”; “The Hunger Games” and its sequel; “Transformers: Dark of the Moon”; “Thor”; and even “Fast & Furious 6.” What used to be summer blockbusters are now anchoring box offices year round.
In the new action-hero economy, though, actors rarely carry the franchise; more often, the franchise carries the actor. Chris Hemsworth was little known before “Thor,” and no one outside the industry was too familiar with Henry Cavill before “Man of Steel.” Lorenzo di Bonaventura, who produced “Transformers” and this winter’s “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit,” told me that studios were gambling on unproven actors for economic reasons. “These movies cost a lot to mount. Adding on the big movie star’s salary is the thing that makes you go, ‘Boy, I don’t know if I can afford it.’ 


These efforts, though, belie a truth about action heroes: Almost any actor, even some of Hollywood’s most scrawny, can be physically transformed for the part if he’s willing to put in the hard work. The studios know this, which is why any inexpensive unknown can be chosen. The cast for “300,” including a post-“Phantom of the Opera” Butler and the relative newcomer Fassbender, were put on a brutal program with Mark Twight, a trainer whose workouts incorporated medicine balls, kettlebells and rings to emphasize the athleticism of the Spartans. “I would argue that [director] Zack [Snyder] has changed the way that action movies are made,” Twight told me. “In the past, there was a lot of doubling of the actors because they weren’t athletic themselves. With ‘300,’ Zack wanted to make the actors as physically capable as possible so that there would be the absolute minimum of doubling.”

“Eight years ago, there were roughly 150 wide-release movies,” says Mark Gill, the president of Millennium Films. “Last year, there were 115. My prediction is that it will be down to 50 in the next couple years. And there will be fewer tent poles.”

To read the entire article, and I recommend that you do, go to the link below:

After reading the articles I thought,  "saying yes to everything", which I interpret as being open to working in all sectors of the industry and not setting limits: stage, movies, TV, audiobooks, narrations, video games, etc, whatever seems worthwhile and a challenge, and not putting all efforts into becoming a "movie star" is the way to go for the long term.  I know Sean Bean has been doing that and has managed to be around always working for over 25 years. I also think Richard Armitage is a smart man so I have faith in him and after reading all these articles I can only wonder what he's been going through in Los Angeles with all these auditions.  I want to give him a big hug! 

"there are no small parts, only small actors". Constantin Stanislavski

If you're interested in the subject of the challenges of the acting profession, you may want to check out my earlier post:


  1. Thanks for this, it's very interesting to read. Will definitely come back and read the full articles. :)

    Momoa I knew from "Stargate: Atlantis" before GoT, which I thought was a pretty big deal, even if it was "just" on TV. Coster-Waldau ... not so much, but then I haven't really seen a lot of Danish productions, as they're not exactly prevalent on UK TV. He had a small part in the romcom "Wimbledon", but of course, GoT was (hopefully) a big break for him.

    1. Don't remember seeing either one of them before GoT, but now think maybe I must have seen Nicolaj in something before. We have a channel that shows lots of Nordic Noir programs, mostly from Sweden of course :) but very few from Danish TV or movies either. I wish them both luck.

  2. Thanks again for posting this! I certainly agree about actors saying "yes" in the business, but one has to be careful there too. And it surely doesn't hurt when your name/image is already known to casting directors, too many of which don't make intelligent use of the internet for even 5 minutes of research, in my opinion.

    1. That's an excellent point Donna, you're way ahead if your name is known in the business, and also about being cautious in what to select. But how do you know really as an actor if you're making the right decisions, seems much is luck as well don't you think?

  3. Thanks for this, especially because I am so tired of writing variations on "Armitage can only say yes or no to things he gets offered; he doesn't get offered everything; and there are things he may have said yes to that he wasn't incredibly excited about, but which offered him the chance to stay on our radar."

    With regard to the larger situation -- I really hope, really hope, that the way that the technology for making tv and film is changing, and the way that the distribution networks are changing as well, will mean that people are now able to jump into this business who don't feel they need to make a 20-30% profit on everything they do, who can make things because they love them and break even or make a smaller profit and find their audiences. We're living at a transitional moment (as with publishing) and maybe we won't see the end of it, but if Hollywood is just going to offer us more of the same, I hope that some of the little guys can jump in and make what they want to see. And that Richard Armitage can get involved in that, if he likes.

    1. I hope you're right Serv and new technology changes the movie industry for the better in the long run. I think Hollywood's reaction to a more dominant international market is so shortsighted.

      Exactly, he can only work with what he's being offered. He can't snap his fingers and say today I want to do this or that and it magically happens. I'm always surprised how many seem to think so. We really don't know what he's being offered, or not being offered.

  4. Thank you, Fabo :) Very interesting post and links.
    I sincerely hope that people become more and more bored by the stupidity of those movies and they start to seek meaningful content,eventually.
    (pssst.. :) Hey, I know it's not an easy profession but I suspect that being the cashier at Tesco must be more daunting ;) )

    1. I know you love Tesco :) :) I remember. We're in agreement that no matter the difficulty, it's still much more interesting to be an actor than to work at Tesco, though maybe not as much job security. I hope you're right that audiences will get tired of the same movies over and over.

  5. it seems I'm obsessed with working in a large store ...sorry :)


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