27 October 2020 1140 Views

Academic Actors: Which Stars Convince as Credibly Clever Researchers?

by James Murphy

Anyone can be called ‘Doctor’ / ‘Professor’ onscreen and we are expected to ‘buy’ it. To succeed? It takes a special X Factor charm.

In the week that Tom Holland is expected to look all macho and clever at once as some sort of Archaeologist in the Drake Nathan / woteva movie..let’s think about the actors who stand out as convincing, compelling and credible as field experts with great brains. It takes more than putting on a pair of specs and standing by a chalk-board (though yes, those help!). 

Here is a list of the top of the class; best of the best: our hit squad academics on film!

 

 

  • Robert Downey Jr: The man is a real life genius. So you buy his delivering mountains of exposition, be it techno-babble or plot detail. In real life, the guy enjoys discovery and technology, whilst avoiding any kind of messianic delusions. Notice his FootPrint Coalition initiative will look at solving eco-problems, without crowning Downey as some sort of pioneer / actual Tony Stark. There is a naturally loquacious Irish blarney turn of phrase, anytime this actor opens his mouth, be it improv onscreen or interviewed off it. Wonder Boys, Iron Man, Sherlock Holmes: Downey is born to play characters in academic power-bases.

 

  • Harrison Ford: Sure he is laconic, dry, even ponderously slow in delivery. Contrasted with his fast shoot / punch first action heroics. But he has charm and does not try too hard to convince as a thinking man as well as one of action. He just IS that way. Indiana Jones, Jack Ryan, What lies Beneath, Extraordinary Measures and so on. The man gravitates to clever, expert, competent. Even in normal non professorly roles, there is a forensic professionalism in the dialogue: Working Girl, Fugitive, Air Force One, etc.

 

  • DENZEL! EVERY. SINGLE ROLE. Everything this actor does just oozes class. Even if he plays a type of villainous bent or questionable ethics, he manages to convey that and still inject a curious smile and articulacy. But as he notes, himself, that is the innate actor/movie star relationship. ‘One for me, one for the audience and one in between’. It’s those in between movies, whereby Denzel is playing a traditional leading/romantic/supporting star yet still within a cerebral context, that shine brightest. Crimson Tide and Pelican Brief are of particular quality here.

 

  • JULIANNE MOORE: The lady is beautiful. But never shuns roughing it up in fatigues or Doctor scrubs or whichever attire suits the part. Her cameo in The Fugitive therefore leads, directly, to her turn as a Dino-expert in 1997’s The Lost World.

 

  • SIGOURNEY WEAVER: It’s her adaptability that shines through here. The Ellen Ripley of the ALIEN saga must evolve, in each movie, via innate abilities but also learned skills, on the run. The lady never accepts the first answer and is always searching out the facts, both as character and in prep FOR character. I won’t tell you what Sigourney was prepared to do for Gorillas in the Mist but..well, you can find out yourself and yes..THAT is dedication, but also informed, academic conviction.

 

 

 

And this is ONLY THE BEGINNING (PART 2 tomorrow).



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