To Actors/Actresses Hoping to be Cast in the Next Blockbuster Superhero Movie:
It’s Iron Man weekend. The cable network FX is playing #1 and #2 on a loop in celebration of #3, and because I’m incapable of having a silent home, Tony Stark’s witticisms and explosions are my grading soundtrack…not that a lot of grading is getting done.
I went to go see Iron Man 3 last night. I got a free large soda, which was the size of a small child (see Parks and Recreation: child-size soda). I barely drank any of it, due to the facts I don’t really care for soda (much less gallons of it) and I was enjoying the splash and commotion of Iron Man and his compatriots.
I won’t waste your time with a review. Suffice to say, I liked the movie. It didn’t reach the level of The Avengers, which is fine—I didn’t expect it to, and I’m happy just watching The Avengers ad nauseum until Joss Whedon gets to helm another.
But here’s why I’m writing. My friend Jess and I stood outside the theatre auditorium while we waited for the previous showing to finish. It’s a fancy theatre so we didn’t hear a peep from inside. No spoilers. We passed the time by reading a sweet story I saw online about a five-year-old boy who had the chance to meet the Avengers while they filmed in Central Park, including his hero Captain America. The story was accompanied by adorable photos of a little blonde boy with a Captain America shield, sitting on the shoulders of Tom Hiddleston in full Loki garb.
When Iron Man 3 finally finished, scores of little boys (and a few little girls) scampered out, followed closely by parents and teenagers on date night. No one displayed what they thought, but I saw the glow in the eyes of the kids. The imagination leaking out. The adventures they would go on the following day, running around in the 80-degree sunshine. Who would be who? Who got to be Iron Man? Or Thor? Or Captain America?
I’ve written about superheroes before and why I think our culture is so enamored with these types of movies. Nothing’s changed in the last year—if anything, we feel we need these stories more—and this feeling is reflected in our summer blockbuster choices.
In light of this, here’s my request to any hopeful actors and actresses doing cold readings for the next heroic escapade. I don’t know what superhero movies have yet to be made. The Avengers is pretty well-stocked, there’s a new Spider-man, Superman’s coming out this summer. I guess it’s only a matter of time before they reboot Batman.
If you are going out for any super-hero movie roles, please consider this: It is not just a role.
I know all actors say it’s their dream to do meaningful, beautiful and truthful art. If they were honest, close behind that dream is one about starring in a successful blockbuster, hopefully a franchise. Those who luck out and carry a role over two, three, four movies are set. Their portrayals become iconic. The actors become extremely wealthy.
But know what you’re getting yourself into.
When you take up the shield, the cape, or the controls, you have ceased to become an actor and you have become the embodiment of many young boys’ and girls’ dreams. You have put life and breath into 2D figures, you have given the figures voice and timbre, you have given them hopes and dreams. You have become these characters.
We adults know that it is just a role. That you are saying words someone else has written for you. You are putting on rubber and spandex skintight suits someone has made for you. You are not actually driving that car or motorcycle or flying. Instead you are standing very still in front of a green screen, attached to a flying rig, or covered with sensors. We pretend we don’t know these things and suspend all possible disbelief to watch you bring a story to life. It’s fine; that’s what we pay money to see.
But children are different. They know you’re acting too, but somewhere inside there’s a part of them that hasn’t yet been stolen by reality. They still believe in Santa, in the Tooth Fairy, that dads can fix everything, that a hug from Mom can protect them from the bad guys, and that they themselves can save the world, starting with their own backyards.
They watch you defeat the aliens, fly the spaceships, and save kids like them. Then they mimic. They go out and act like you acting as a fictional character every Halloween…or every Saturday…or every afternoon.
Seeing you in a tailored Gucci suit won’t ruin the illusion, but you acting like a jerk in that suit will.
You’re just an actor, you say. You never asked to be a role model, just like some pro athletes claim. Well, I say hogwash. Regardless of who you are, there are small people watching you and wanting to be like you. With additional notoriety and fame comes a responsibility to be decent to the people you meet, the people who essentially pay your salary. Especially be kind to the ones who are too little to know the difference between reality and fiction; the world will benefit from them staying that way as long as possible.
The truth is that reality is painful. Bombs are not defused by men with special powers, but by mortal men, and sometimes not at all. Sometimes the bombs go off. Sometimes people die without warning, and sometimes people die despite the best efforts of the best people around them. And there’s very little we can do about it.
So let’s keep the shield of fantasy over the eyes of our little ones as long as possible. Because sometimes they will be our superheroes, the ones who give us grownups hope when the world around us seems so dark, so black and white and grey. When they believe that people can be good, and superheroes are around every corner, and maybe even inside of them, then we might believe it too, just a little bit. Just enough.
I’ve been impressed with those who wear the capes these days. Robert Downey Jr. is his own man, which fits in line with the Tony Stark of the films, so maybe he’s not the best example. Still, Chris Evans’s kindness to that little boy and his Captain America shield is an example of what an actor should do to keep the myth alive. It’s a responsibility, to be a superhero.
FYI: if you’re cast as a supervillain, it’s not an excuse to be a jerk. Sometimes kids relate to those characters as well: the outcasts, the dark ones, the ones who seek power or status in a world that cannot hold them. If a character has been rejected by society and a child relates to that feeling, to be rejected then by that character could be crushing.
Obviously, if you’re a jerk, the kids will get over it. They’ll grow up a little that day. Maybe you think you’re doing them a favor by showing them how the real world is, reminding us all that superheroes are a fantasy. But you’re not doing any good in the long run. You’re just perpetuating the darkness.
You don’t have to be perfect. We all know that superheroes aren’t perfect; if they were, we’d be bored. I’m just saying, future superheroes, be prepared for the role to follow you, to define you, and to inspire others. You’ll inspire future superheroes, whether they become actors, teachers, firemen, or accountants who are heroic fathers and mothers in the evenings.
Just some food for thought. Make sure you’re ready. Some kids need you.
Thanks in advance.