Role Call

It’s Movieline list time!  In the July 1997 issue, Cindy Pearlman polled thirty famous actors and asked them which role was their favorite.  Some answers are more surprising than others but it’s fun to see who picked which part.  A few participants fudge their answers a bit by naming more than one movie.  And one actor, notorious for not playing along with reporters, refused to answer at all.  No points for guessing who that might have been.

We asked 30 actors to pick out the one gem of a movie role in their entire oeuvre they cherish most. And if you think Jim Carrey picked Liar Liar or Lauren Bacall said The Mirror Has Two Faces, you’re in for a surprise.

1. Jim Carrey: “Maybe my best role will be Truman Burbank in The Truman Show. I play a guy who doesn’t know he lives in a TV show. It’s a real story and I want to do real stories. My favorite actors were guys like Jimmy Stewart, and this is the kind of role where you can laugh like hell at the guy one minute and care so much about him the next that he can make you cry.”

2. Daniel Day-Lewis: “I thought the role of John Proctor in The Crucible was one of the best I’ve ever done. There was something so startlingly dear about what he was going through. And the language that Arthur Miller wrote was so powerful and endlessly beautiful.”

3. Elisabeth Shue: “Playing Sera in Leaving Las Vegas was a milestone in my life and a very intimate experience.”

4. Julia Ormond: “Playing Caroline in Traffik, an English miniseries about heroin, was a terrific experience. People still come up to me and say, ‘Weren’t you in Traffik? My cousin is a heroin user and when I saw it with my family we got talking.’ Maybe it’s because it’s made a difference for people or maybe it’s because it’s my first role, but it’s very close to me.”

5. Drew Barrymore: “There will always be a little space in my heart for Gertie in E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial because Steven Spielberg was so wonderful. More recently, I got butterflies playing Skylar in Woody Allen’s Everyone Says I Love You–I played this Sandra Dee Breck girl who wears felt sweaters, pleated skirts and knee-high stockings. I was so into this character I swear I let my voice get breathy during the entire shoot. I felt like Marilyn Monroe. I’d want to walk out of my trailer at five in the morning and sing ‘Happy Birthday, Mr. President.’

6. Antonio Banderas: “Maybe it would be Che in Evita. It was a big role and a dream of mine. [My career] started at the bottom. And I went little by little. I never had, Boom! I never had the kind of movie where someone said, ‘This is it! You are going to be remembered always because of that movie.’ But I felt people would remember this role, because it was so important to me.”

7. Fran Drescher: “I just love my first movie role, which was in Saturday Night Fever. John Travolta and I were on that lighted disco dance floor and honey, he was holding me tight and twirling me. I’m blushing now just thinking about it. My first words to him on-screen were, ‘Are you as good in bed as you are on the dance floor?’ Then for some insane reason I decided to grab his tushy, which wasn’t in the script. He could have fired me on the spot for doing it, and today you’d get sued for it, but John just smiled. I love that role, especially because my father came on the set and said, ‘I’m the father of the star,’ and one of the crew said, ‘Oh, right this way, Mr. Travolta.'”

8. Cuba Gooding Jr: “What do you think? Rod Tidwell in Jerry Maguire, man. The whole thing just happened so beautifully. I was on my way to a press junket for an HBO movie and my agent called and said there’d be a read-through with Robin Williams today and would I want to go? I said, Sure. When I got there Cameron Crowe said, ‘You know, this isn’t a Robin Williams movie. This thing stars Tom Cruise!’ It was so great. I’ve also enjoyed playing an art dealer in Old Friends with Jack Nicholson, because I loved the character and I love working with Jack. We’d be on the set and he would say, ‘You know, I was a 17-year-old runner for MGM the last time I was on this lot.’ Then he’d point to a soundstage and say, ‘Here is where Marlon Brando made the crew members wear kimonos.’ Every day he told a story that blew my mind.”

9. Richard Gere: “It’s hard to choose a favorite, but I’ll tell you a story. Two summers ago I was on a plane from England to Los Angeles and the film was An Officer and a Gentleman. I had terrible jet lag, but looked up and noticed this movie was on every screen. I didn’t want to, but I ended up watching the whole thing. I hadn’t seen it in 15 years. I sat there thinking, ‘This really is a good movie. This is really kind of terrific’ It was a great role.”

10. Liv Tyler: “I guess it has to be a tie because I fell in love with Joaquin Phoenix on the set of Inventing the Abbotts, so playing Pamela Abbott will always be special to me, and I loved my character from That Thing You Do!. It was also the most fun I’ve ever had making a movie. One day [director] Tom Hanks said, ‘Everyone hold hands and jump around like loons because your band just heard their song on the radio for the first time.’ At first I felt really stupid, but then it was such a blast. We had fun off-camera, too, like when we went to Europe in a private plane with Tom to promote the movie. There we were at 30,000 feet sipping diet soda and playing Scrabble–fantastic.”

11. Frances McDormand: “I love my character Marge from Fargo. I admire that she has a steadfast trust in the goodness of human beings. I also didn’t realize how funny she was until I saw the movie and I’m like, ‘They’re laughing.’ And then there’s the Oscar! But I also loved making that movie because in my heart it’s ‘the baby movie.’ Joel and I adopted our son, Pedro, and Ethan and his wife Irish had their baby, Buster. The people at the location in Grand Forks, North Dakota, were great, too. One night a beet farmer drives up to us and says, ‘Whatcha doin’?’ and I say, ‘Making a movie.’ He asks if he can help and I tell him we need a place to eat that night. He offers his barn and an hour later we’re eating beets in a barn in the middle of this beautiful farm.”

12. Robert Redford: “I loved doing Jeremiah Johnson. It was filmed in my land [Utah], which is why the role has special importance to me. I keep running across the movie when I’m watching TV and it always shocks me. I drop the remote. I’m like ‘Whoa!’ Then I’ll linger, but not for long I hate watching myself. I also enjoyed playing Sundance to Paul Newman’s Cassidy in Batch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. When we were making it, Paul’s wife Joanne Woodward told me, ‘You and Paul have better chemistry than me and Paul.'”

13. Jennifer Lopez: “It’s Selena because I worked really hard playing her and felt I did a good job. By the time I finished making the movie I could look in the mirror and see Selena’s face. I felt so satisfied. And singing live onstage made me want to record my own album of Spanish music.”

14. Kevin Bacon: “I enjoyed playing Henri Young in Murder in the First because it was such a challenge. I was shackled to the wall in Alcatraz and rats were running all over me. Yeah, it was hard work, but worth it. The only bad part is I was playing varying levels of pain, anguish, heartache, torture. My wife Kyra [Sedgwick] would look at me every night and say, ‘I can’t wait till this is over.'”

15. Sting: “To me it all seems like the same character. I always play the same brooding loner with good hair. So how could I possibly pick a favorite?”

16. John Travolta: “Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction just because at the time I really needed the job. Before [director] Quentin Tarantino called me I had no other scripts. I was saying, ‘Oh man, it’s over.’ Then a year later the response I got when the movie came out just broke my heart, so I’ll never forget that role. I felt such a goodwill and desire for people to see me do well. It makes me want to cry even thinking about it now.

17. Richard Dreyfuss: “Hooper in Jaws was terrific, although I did get my hand stuck in the shark’s stupid mechanical jaw. I also liked what I did in American Graffiti, and I have very good memories from the shoot. My fondest is of Harrison Ford getting drunk and throwing me in a pool.”

18. Angela Bassett: “It has to be Tina Turner in What’s Love Got to Do With It, which scared me a little because it inhabited me. I actually walked around all the time with my lips pursed like she does. I laughed like her. I lost myself in the role. Also, working with Laurence Fishburne was incredible–we had immediate, palpable chemistry.”

19. Robert Duvall: “My role in Lonesome Dove is my favorite ever. I also enjoyed playing Stalin. I used to stand in the mirror to make sure I was as quiet as I could be–Stalin did that himself to practice being him. Now those were my favorite TV movie roles, but my favorite big-screen experience was on The Godfather, because James Caan and fun go hand-in-hand. Marlon [Brando], Al [Pacino], Jimmy and I all had this house in upstate New York, where we would hang out on the weekends. We’d invite our wives, too, but then we’d disappear. They could never find us.”

20. James Caan: “Playing Sonny Corleone in The Godfather was so much fun because we had a lot of laughs on the set of that movie. One day a bunch of us guys had to carry Marlon [Brando] on a stretcher because he was so damn heavy–and this was years ago. Well, he had put bricks under himself as a practical joke. I nearly got a hernia, but it was just part of the craziness.”

21. Diane Keaton: “I loved my role in Annie Hall because that really started everything for me. It made me learn to trust my instincts and after that movie I suddenly felt that if I liked a part, it might be OK. Plus, being around Woody Allen was great, but it did make me realize I didn’t have his talent. I picked up his sense of discipline and the fact that he is a very hard worker.”

22. Halle Berry: “I really liked my character Khaila Richards in Losing Isaiah, because she was strong, and the movie had real meaning and purpose–it was about race and adoption. White families adopting black kids is an issue today, so I felt by doing the film I was helping put a little light in a dark place.”

23. Kirsten Dunst: “Ohhh, this is so hard. I really loved playing Tom Hanks’s daughter in The Bonfire of the Vanities. Tom was soooo nice. But I think my favorite role was Amy March in Little Women, because off-camera I got to make lemonade with Susan Sarandon’s daughter, Eva, and we sold it to the crew. We got $20, which is pretty good considering people could get it for free on the set.”

24. Lauren Bacall: “I won’t say Slim from To Have and Have Not, because it’s such an obvious choice, so I’ll say Marilla Hagen from Designing Woman. I really loved doing a comedy with Gregory Peck. Someone asked me the other day if the movie should be remade. My answer: ‘Without me? Hell no!'”

25. Val Kilmer: “Playing Jim Morrison in The Doors, because performing live onstage was one of the ultimate challenges.”

26. Jon Voight: “Luke Martin from Coming Home was my favorite role because I got to work with great people like Jane Fonda and Hal Ashby. And we were sincerely at work. All the paraplegics and Vietnam veterans made us feel like we all had a sense of purpose, which was to give this piece to the public so people who were divided might come together and heal the hurt. It was a heart-wrenching time. I also got to write scenes for the movie. I remember one mornng Jane and I were reading the script. I said, ‘Gee Jane, this is good–I really like these pages.’ And she said, ‘You ought to like them, Jon, you wrote them.'”

27. Bruce Willis: “Playing Carl Roebuck in Nobody’s Fool was a great role. It went by so fast and I was sad when it was over. I wanted to work with Paul Newman so bad because he is one of my all-time heroes. I wasn’t there for the money, I just wanted to act with Paul. He was so generous, too. We would rehearse the scene and talk things out, and I just had a ball doing it. I played this guy who was out of control and crazed so there weren’t that many rules. I’m also very proud of my work in Pulp Fiction.”

28. Jennifer Connelly: “My best role was in my first movie, Once Upon a Time in America, because I was such a young kid and everything seemed bigger than life. I received my first kiss on that movie, so that made it special, too. I also enjoyed doing Labyrinth with David Bowie because even the kids at school who didn’t like me suddenly thought I was cool because I knew Bowie.”

29. Chris O’Donnell: “I’ve always had an affection for my first role, in Men Don’t Leave. I was this high-school kid who almost blew off the audition because I had crew practice. When the casting lady asked me to come back and audition again that night I said, ‘But I can’t–it’s a school night!’ Can you imagine? I’m thinking about homework. Then when I got the role I wasn’t exactly sure who Jessica Lange was so I rented Tootsie.”

30. Harrison Ford: “My favorite role? You will never pin me down on this one. I don’t have a favorite. But don’t feel bad that I won’t answer the question. You’ll never get me to commit on my favorite flavor of ice cream, either.”


Cindy Pearlman is a Chicago-based freelance writer.


Posted on July 21, 2017, in Movieline Articles, Movies. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. I liked this, especially Sting’s comment about some of his roles. From what I’ve heard about the set of “The Godfather”, like what James Caan said, there were daily & constant gags (Francis Ford Coppola mentions it in the DVD commentary for the film, I heard Al Pacino talk about it once as well).


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