At one time, there must have been a clause for most A-list movie stars to always keep their countenance recognizable, no matter how much makeup they had to wear in their roles. Even if there never was such a clause, many actors possibly took it upon themselves to be recognizable for the sake of box office returns. And you can see evidence of that throughout film history, with only just a few exceptions where being unrecognizable garnered an Oscar nomination.
Today, it’s almost the same, along with the same exceptions. Only the most daring of actors such as Robert Downey, Jr. risked applying black prosthetics to look like an African-American in “Tropic Thunder.” And whether you think James Franco is of the same caliber of Downey, Jr., you could say he’s on the same track of looking like someone else other than himself after previously looking all too much like himself.
No matter what you think of Franco as Oscar Diggs, aka “Oz the Great and Powerful”, his role as Alien in “Spring Breakers” might end up being notable or a footnote, all based on how he disguises himself to the point of being unrecognizable. If not for the publicity and the cast list, chances are you wouldn’t even know it’s Franco playing a gangster rapper in the above film.
Of course, if “Spring Breakers” becomes a sleeper hit due to its prurient reputation, it may set a new precedent for actors wanting to cover their entire faces in prosthetic makeup. But there’s such a thing as doing so for the sake of making an actor look like a strange hybrid of themselves and someone else. No other better example could be made than with Sir Anthony Hopkins playing the Master of Suspense in recent “Hitchcock.”
It was clear Hopkins was trying to look recognizable by doing away with placing a prosthetic double chin onto his face. Had he done that, he would have looked far more like Hitchcock. What would happen, though, if Hopkins ever smothers himself in makeup to completely disguise his identity?
He’s likely at the point in his career now where he wouldn’t. Franco, though, is still young enough where he can change the literal face of acting by hiding under hardcore garb and polar opposite personality. The only risk he ever faces is likely far off in the future in the event he ever becomes a has-been actor.
Imagine if you will the scenario of someone running across “Spring Breakers” on cable 10 years from now. In a fabricated scenario of Franco being forgotten (I know, fat chance), there may be the problem of a new generation equating Franco with the way he looks in the film. That only happens, though, if IMDb doesn’t happen to celebrate a 30th year in existence.
The very worst scenario is in the Internet rumoring mill. What happens if rumors persist that it wasn’t even Franco in the role and someone else a la an Andy Kaufman stunt? Such a scenario can only be proved with DVD extras showing otherwise, unless Franco was so method that he stayed in character the entire time.
No matter where Franco goes in his roles, he may be more of an important acting force than anybody thinks. Reprising the art of being an acting chameleon takes away the immediate assumed presumption that people go see movies just to see the familiar face of a favorite actor.