Actors in Unlikely Movie Jobs
Denise Richards a nuclear physicist? Ben Stiller a male model? Audrey Hepburn a nun? Marlow Stern unearths the way-against-type casting that has led to some Hollywood gold—and more than a few flops.
1. BEN STILLER, Male Model, Zoolander
“I'm pretty sure there's a lot more to life than being really, really, ridiculously good looking,” ponders vacuous male model Derek Zoolander, after losing his fellow male model friends in a freak gasoline-fight accident. “And I plan on finding out what that is.” In this hilarious sendup of the male modeling profession, Zoolander, played by comedian Ben Stiller, unknowingly becomes a pawn in megalomaniacal fashion designer Mugatu’s (Will Ferrell) plan to assassinate the Malaysian prime minister. The former top male model, who has been supplanted by bohemian upstart Hansel (Owen Wilson) can’t turn left, and unleashes a series of supposedly devastating poses with names like “Blue Steel,” “Ferrari,” and the bullet-stopping pièce de résistance, “Magnum."
2. JEREMY PIVEN, New York Times Obituary Writer, Serendipity
As Ari Gold, the irascible Hollywood über-agent on the HBO series Entourage, Piven's foul mouth and reckless bravado are only outmatched by his love for his wife. So it’s difficult to imagine him in any other role, let alone that of schleppy, insecure Dean Kansky, New York Times obituary writer and partner-in-crime to the lovelorn Jonathan Trager, played by childhood friend and 10-time onscreen accomplice John Cusack, who tempts fate with his relentless pursuit of Sara Thomas (Kate Beckinsale), a fetching woman who shared one spark-filled New York City evening with him. Although Ari is known for memorable verbal slayings like, “ Let’s hug it out, bitch,” his penchant for hyperbole isn’t nearly as pseudo-lyrical as Kansky’s, whose best-man speech for Trager, which takes the form of an obituary is truly… awe-inspiring: “This hidden quasi-Jungian persona surfaced during the Agatha Christie-like pursuit of his long reputed soul mate, a woman whom he only spent a few precious hours with…”—Lloyd!
3. DENISE RICHARDS, Nuclear Physicist, The World Is Not Enough
Although party girl Tara Reid’s turn as an archaeologist in the Uwe Boll disaster Alone in the Dark deserves high praise for its absurdity, the reigning queen of ridiculously cast scientists is none other than Charlie Sheen's ex, Denise Richards. As nuclear physicist Dr. Christmas Jones —not making this up—Richards assists secret agent James Bond, played by Pierce Brosnan, in his quest to track down a missing nuclear bomb. It’s safe to say that one would never expect Richards, whose greatest cinematic claim to fame is a lesbian lip lock with Neve Campbell in a pool, to wax intellectual about weapons-grade plutonium. And I’m fairly cetain nuclear scientists don’t run around in low-cut tank tops and booty shorts. Perhaps that’s why Richards was voted one of the worst Bond girls of all time by Entertainment Weekly in 2008, and took home the Razzie for Worst Supporting Actress for her performance. Oh, and lest we forget the film’s final lines: “I was wrong about you,” says Bond, in bed with Jones. “Yeah, how so?” she asks. Bond smiles, and replies, “I thought Christmas only comes once a year.”
4. HELEN MIRREN, CIA Black Ops Agent, Red
Dame Helen Mirren is best known stateside for starring as royalty in stately period pieces, including Queen Charlotte in The Madness of King George, Elizabeth I in the 2005 mini-series Elizabeth I, and, of course, as the remarkably resilient Queen Elizabeth II in 2006’s The Queen, for which she was awarded the Best Actress Oscar. When rogue retired CIA agents Frank Moses (Bruce Willis), Marvin Boggs (John Malkovich), and their prisoner, Sarah Ross (Mary-Louise Parker), enter the immaculate Victorian home of Victoria (Mirren), they find the homemaker in pearls, looking every bit like Martha Stewart—that is, until Sarah asks Victoria what she does for a living. She cracks a smile, and says, “I kill people, dear.” And from then on, the woman formerly known as the queen is seen running around ski slopes with a sniper rifle, smacking baddies upside the head with a handgun, and practically liquefying a car with a submachine gun. All hail the majestic Mirren.
5. LINDSAY LOHAN, Race Car Driver, Herbie: Fully Loaded
Back in 2005, before she truly went off the deep end, Lohan played Maggie Peyton, the youngest member of the Peyton racing clan, in the family film Herbie: Fully Loaded. Injured years earlier in a street racing accident, Peyton gets back into racing when she’s given a magical Volkswagen Beetle as a college graduation present, eventually squaring off against shady NASCAR champion Trip Murphy (Matt Dillon). Needless to say, this role is more than a little far-fetched for the hard-partying actress, who is serving her sixth stint in rehab, and has been arrested several times for DUI, including an outrageous episode in which she chased her ex-assistant’s mother through Los Angeles, boozed up and with coke in her pocket. Lohan’s self-destructive ways are so firmly ingrained in the public consciousness that the starlet was even mocked by guest star Gwyneth Paltrow on a recent episode of the Fox television show, Glee.
6. CARY GRANT, Paleontologist, Bringing Up Baby
With his John Boehner-esque tan, distinctive Mid-Atlantic English accent, impossibly handsome looks, and vibrant charisma, cinema icon Cary Grant is debonairness incarnate. Onscreen, he’s made everyone from Grace Kelly to Audrey Hepburn go weak in the knees. Offscreen, he was married five times. However, as Dr. David Huxley, a strait-laced paleontologist in Howard Hawks’ 1938 screwball classic Bringing Up Baby, the oft-virile Grant was emasculated. Huxley just can’t catch a break. He’s about to marry a gloomy bore of a woman, and he can’t seem to find one missing bone that will complete his four-year project: assembling the skeleton of a Brontosaurus. Then, in steps Susan Vance (Katherine Hepburn), a free-spirited socialite who needs Huxley to help her take care of a Brazilian leopard named Baby. Vance eventually falls for Huxley and, assuming the role of the traditional silver-screen male, tries to keep Huxley at her house for as long as possible in an effort to win him over. In one particular scene, when Grant’s character is asked why he’s wearing a woman’s negligee, he replies, “Because I just went GAY all of a sudden!” leaping into the air on “gay.”
7. RUSSELL CROWE, College Lit Professor, The Next Three Days
With his hulking physique and perpetually furrowed brow, actor Russell Crowe rose to the top of the Hollywood A-list through a series of hard-man roles. He was first noticed as the violent Aussie neo-Nazi Hando in Romper Stomper, and became a bona-fide star with his Oscar-winning role as Maximus, a vengeful, skull-crushing warrior in Ridley Scott’s Gladiator. In real life, he’s known as an impossibly ornery, telephone-hurler. But in the new thriller The Next Three Days, Crowe’s Robin Hood bod has been replaced by that of a saggy, middle-aged community college literature professor in Pittsburgh—and loving husband and father—and, instead of giving rousing speeches to his men, Crowe engages his students in philosophical discussions on Don Quixote—that is, until his wife is arrested for murder.
8. CHARLIZE THERON, Miner, North Country
This South African stunner has been turning heads her entire life, first modeling in Milan at the age of 16, then training as a ballet dancer before a knee injury sidelined her career. She turned to acting, and her breakout role in the 1996 film Two Days in the Valley, which flaunts Theron on its poster in white lingerie dangling a pistol, got her noticed by Hollywood. So, when one of the most beautiful women in Hollywood appears onscreen as a miner in North Country, with her leggy, 5'9½" body caked in dirt, it takes some serious escapism. Sure, she wasn’t so breathtaking in her Oscar-winning role as serial killer Aileen Wuornos in Monster, but for that she packed on 20 pounds and sported some serious prosthetic makeup. Hell, I’d have no problem being stuck underground for 69 days with Ms. Theron.
9. RAT, Master Chef, Ratatouille
Like most films in the illustrious Pixar canon, this heartwarming tale of a teenage sewer rat gifted with a sophisticated palate requires serious suspension of disbelief. After being separated from his family, the talented rat, named Remy, eventually washes up in the Mecca of haute cuisine, Paris. Remy aspires to be a gourmet chef like France’s recently deceased culinary legend, Auguste Gusteau, often dreaming up inventive flavor combinations using kitchen and garbage-can scraps. Eventually, Remy hatches a plan to revitalize the once-great restaurant Gusteau’s. The cagey rat puppeteers a goofy young man by the name of Alfredo Linguini into whipping up mouth-watering dishes, restoring Gusteau’s four-star rating and eventually becoming a celebrated chef/restaurateur in his own right. And the world never looked at rats the same way again.
10. AUDREY HEPBURN, Nun, The Nun’s Story
This luminous Belgium-born British beauty, with her slim frame and distinctive patrician accent, is the epitome of sophisticated glamour—as a crown princess in William Wyler’s Roman Holiday; the subject of swan-like transformations in films Sabrina and My Fair Lady; and her most memorable role, as naïve, eccentric socialite Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. In The Nun’s Story, Golightly’s tiara and shimmering diamond necklace have been replaced by a white veil and a giant silver crucifix. Yes, the capricious, man-eating screen siren has, quite literally, gotten thee to a nunnery. Hepburn plays Sister Luke, a young Belgian woman who decides to dedicate her life entirely to God and enter into a convent, but soon questions her decision when World War II breaks out and the church adopts a neutral stance toward the evils of Adolf Hitler’s Germany. Hepburn was recognized by the Academy for her performance, earning an Oscar nod for Best Actress, but seriously: Audrey Hepburn a nun?
Marlow Stern works for The Daily Beast and hold's a master's degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He has served in the editorial department of Blender magazine, as an editor at Amplifier magazine, and, since 2007, editor of Manhattan Movie Magazine.