Magazine article Variety

Film Ensemble Race Proves to Be an Open Playing Field

Magazine article Variety

Film Ensemble Race Proves to Be an Open Playing Field

Article excerpt

CHEMISTRY IS KEY on screen. You put the wrong group of actors together and it won't matter how good the script is or how talented the director is. It's one reason the SAG Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture has become such a prestigious honor in just 22 years. Previous winners range from "The Birdcage," "Traffic," "Gosford Park," and "Little Miss Sunshine," to last year's winner "Spotlight." 2016 has provided another stellar group of ensembles for the industry's actors to choose from.

Notable ensembles that deserve the Screen Actors Guild's attention include "Florence Foster Jenkins," "Arrival," "American Honey," and "Love & Friendship."

There is big screen and Broadway star power in "Fences" with Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Stephen Henderson, Russell Hornsby, Mykelti Williamson, and relative newcomer Jovan Adepo, who bring August Wilson's play to life.

The struggling residents of West Texas are represented in David Mackenzie's "Hell or High Water" thanks to the impressive contributions of JeffBridges, Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Gil Birmingham, Dale Dickey, Katy Mixon, and Marin Ireland. Mike Mills' semi-autographical "20th Century Women" features tour de force turns from Annette Bening, Greta Gerwig, Elle Fanning, Billy Crudup, and Lucas Jade Zumann. Tom Ford's "Nocturnal Animals" features an all-star prestige cast including Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Armie Hammer, Laura Linney, Isla Fisher, Jena Malone, Andrea Riseborough, and Michael Sheen.

And then there is Ted Melfi's "Hidden Figures." When Taraji P. Henson signed on to star in the historical drama she knew the movie wouldn't work without the right ensemble around her. The story of three African-American women who went largely unheralded for their contributions to NASA's space program, "Figures" is a film where a number of key supporting roles have an impact on the entire story. Cast those incorrectly and the whole movie might fall apart like an unsteady Jenga tower.

"I was still working on 'Empire' and every time it came time to cast someone Ted would run it by me," Henson says. "I got excited when Octavia [Spencer] got attached and then Janelle [Monáe] and then Kevin Costner and Jim Parsons and Kirsten Dunst. I was like, 'Oh, we have a really big movie here.'"

Mahershala Ali, Glenn Powell, and Aldis Hodge eventually rounded out the cast.

"What it meant for me is now we had a thoroughbred movie," Henson says. "Once they cast me I was like 'OK, I know what I can bring to the table, but I can't do it by myself.' As a producer as well I understand it's all in the casting."

Henson's co-star and Academy Award winner Spencer says what made the cast click was its selflessness to serve the story. "We're all pieces of a larger puzzle," she says. "If it were only about Katherine Johnson [played by Henson] then it would not have focused on the outside lives or the relationships between Katherine, Mary [Jackson] and Dorothy [Vaughn]. And the wonderful thing was there were no egos. Everyone knew we were there to service the history of these people. That's why the chemistry just leaps offscreen with everyone. Everyone who encounters Taraji and their relationship and you can feel the camaraderie."

Monáe and Ali also appear in Barry Jenkins' "Moonlight" with perhaps the purest ensemble of the year, as there is no true lead. The three-part drama shot over just 25 days in Miami with at least 10 significant speaking roles. Jenkins had some actors, including Harris, on set for just three days or others such as Ali, who filmed his scenes just on the weekends around his TV commitments. And, yes, that meant absolutely no time to rehearse beforehand.

"Literally, you get to work and you look around and are often shooting the first take," Ali says. "You know, physically showing up and, 'All right, so this is what we're going to do. We're going to walk, blah, blah, blah, blah. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.