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Five Once-Promising Actors and the Franchises That Ruined Them
Run, Kristen Stewart! Run!
by James Brady Ryan
Promising acting careers can be derailed by many things — sex scandals, drug habits, bad hair — but the most insidious cause is choosing the wrong franchise. What looks like a dream gig, with the kind of job security few actors can hope for, can quickly go south if the movies aren't good. As the fourth Twilight film tears up the box office and the reputations of several SAG members, we're taking a look at five actors whose futures were maligned by franchises.
1. Kristen Stewart
"Ms. Stewart is good enough to help you overlook just what a stock character the smart-alecky, sensitive-underneath-it-all Sarah really is." — A. O. Scott, reviewing Panic Room
The inspiration for this list, Kristen Stewart was given a blessing and a curse that few others (maybe the Harry Potter kids) could understand. The lumbering, unstoppable behemoth that is The Twilight Saga may have made her famous, ubiquitous, and so rich she could do that Scrooge McDuck pool-full-of-gold thing, but it has also permanently connected her to one Bella Swan. And that's too bad, really. Because whatever you think of Stewart now — I, for one, like her — back then, she was talented and attracted to some interesting work, like David Fincher's thriller Panic Room and Into the Wild. She was tough and shy, smart but too cool to make a big thing out of it.
In a different universe, Kristen Stewart a) is the undisputed fantasy of every indie guy in the land and b) would laugh at the idea of getting a C-section, on-screen, via a guy's mouth. But for at least the foreseeable future, Stewart is quite literally stuck in the Twilight zone, where no role she takes (see the upcoming Snow White and the Huntsman) will be seen on its own. Things will be "so much like her role in Twilight!" or "so different from her role in Twilight!" but they will never just be. If Stewart does manage to pull herself away from the gravity of this franchise, it will be a pretty damn impressive trick.
2. Ewan McGregor
"Mr. McGregor underplays Renton to dry perfection without letting viewers lose sight of the character's appeal." — Janet Maslin, reviewing Trainspotting
It seems silly to have to argue for Ewan McGregor's talent. He became more or less the king of the indie world with movies like Trainspotting, Velvet Goldmine, and The Pillow Book, charming legions of teenage girls (and gay boys). He had talent to spare, a Scottish accent, and a willingness to be totally naked on screen. So it was exciting when McGregor landed a plum role in what seemed like a sure-fire hit. And this was the surest of the sure: there was no doubt that the three Star Wars prequels would be a massive phenomenon, and getting to play a character as iconic as Obi-Wan Kenobi was a slam dunk for any actor.
But oh, how blissfully ignorant we were back then. McGregor's career may not have been the only casualty of the Star Wars prequels (weep for Jar Jar Binks's stage career), but it is probably the saddest. What should have been a reward for years of good work in small films — and his chance to become a bona fide Hollywood star — was instead a debacle, and once the lightsabers were put away, McGregor returned to the land of the indies. Maybe that's better for everyone.
3. Halle Berry
"Billy Bob Thornton and Halle Berry star as Hank and Leticia, in two performances that are so powerful because they observe the specific natures of these two characters, and avoid the pitfalls of racial cliches." — Roger Ebert, reviewing Monster's Ball
Halle Berry was once considered something of a unicorn in Hollywood: an African-American actress who seemed ready to stay on the A-list for a long time, command the box office, and have her choice of roles. And while her Academy Award-winning turn in Monster's Ball came out slightly later than the first X-Men installment, she had done enough good work in projects like Bulworth and Introducing Dorothy Dandridge that her extremely wooden performance as Storm was seen as a fluke. But then it just kept happening in the film's sequels, no matter how much critics and fanboys alike prayed for any sign of life. How could a woman who had allowed herself to be so raw and explosive and flat-out ugly in other films turn into little more than eye candy in a terrible wig? And while Berry's remained a likable figure, it's sad to think of her Academy Award sharing a shelf with her Razzie Award for Catwoman.