It’s been called the curse of Star Wars.
No, not Harrison Ford’s recent accidents at Pinewood Studios and in the air above Los Angeles, though these were worrying enough. We’re talking the famous inability of cast members to retain the spotlight once they have walked away from the iconic space opera saga.
It happened to Carrie Fisher, AKA Princess Leia, whose post-Return of the Jedi travails were documented in her semi-autobiographical novel Postcards from the Edge (later an Oscar-nominated film). And it certainly struck Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), who never secured the A-list status handed to Ford despite being the original trilogy’s central figure. The less said about Jake Lloyd and Hayden Christensen from the later prequel trilogy, the better.
This week the Hollywood Reporter published an article reminding us that Ewan McGregor and Natalie Portman also failed to get a career bounce from their Star Wars gigs. And yet studio Disney has managed to pull together such an impressive array of so-hot-right-now acting talent for The Force Awakens and upcoming spin-off flick Rogue One that it would be a huge surprise if most of them failed to go on to even bigger and better things. Here are five cast members who might just buck the trend and use Star Wars as a genuine springboard for success.
Rumoured to be playing a Darth Vader-like villain, Driver is best known for his turn as unwieldy geek-hunk Adam Sackler in the hit HBO comedy Girls. It’s a startling multi-layered performance of remarkable intensity: part whirlwind of charisma, part whinging toddler in the body of a protein-shake-guzzling gym bunny. Whether the imposing Driver can conjure up sinister Sith venom in far shorter bursts of screen time remains to be seen, but you can’t fault the ambitious casting. It took two men to play Vader in the original trilogy: Dave Prowse in the suit, James Earl Jones making with the evil, velvet-lined baritone. Driver, 31, might just have the chops to succeed without additional aid, in which case the world really would be his Death Star.
Reportedly in talks to take the lead role in Gareth Edwards’s Star Wars: Rogue One, the Australian actor is another thesp who you simply can’t imagine being cast by George Lucas in the prequel films. He’s best known for playing loose-cannon bad guys, with the sleazy turn as a sociopathic Melbourne gangster in the excellent Animal Kingdom probably his standout performance. It was Joel Edgerton who proved the breakout star of David Michod’s critically acclaimed crime drama, but the 45-year-old Mendelsohn fully deserves his shot at the big time. He would make a fabulous well-worn and curmudgeonly X-Wing pilot if Edwards’s film, as predicted, reimagines the world of Star Wars from the point of view of its airborne grunts.
There are Oscar winners who fade from the limelight – just ask Dianne Wiest. But Nyong’o certainly appears to be making the best of her victory in the best supporting actress category last year for the historical drama 12 Years a Slave. As well as The Force Awakens – she’s rumoured to be playing a Jedi trained by Hamill’s Skywalker – the Mexican-Kenyan actor will reunite with Brad Pitt for the drama Americanah, based on Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s prize-winning novel about lovelorn Nigerian migrants and co-starring Selma’s David Oyelowo. She’s also tipped to voice the vulpine mother of mancub Mowgli in Disney’s forthcoming live-action remake of The Jungle Book, a part that will see her joining such Hollywood luminaries as Scarlett Johansson, Idris Elba, Bill Murray, Christopher Walken and Ben Kingsley in the sound booths. It could, of course, all go wrong from here. But don’t bet on it.
Rumoured (and these really are just rumours) to be playing Luke Skywalker’s son in The Force Awakens, Gleeson seems more likely to be around for decades to come as a standout character actor or indie lead than he is - say - stepping into the shoes of Tom Cruise or Hugh Jackman in marquee action fare. And yet the son of wonderful Dublin actor Brendan made for a hugely likable Hugh Grant stand-in on the surprisingly good time-travelling Richard Curtis rom-com About Time. He was also excellent as a low-ranking drug-addled mobster in the comic-book adventure Dredd, returning to take the lead for Alex Garland in the exciting British film-maker’s highly rated artificial intelligence thriller Ex-Machina. Somehow, we can’t see him spending the next 30 years in schlocky B-movies once Star Wars disappears into the rear mirror.
Largely known for his streetwise turn as a teenager defending his south London council estate against an unlikely alien invasion in the two-parts smart, one-part silly sci-fi romp Attack the Block, Peckham-born Boyega has also slowly been making his way in indie fare. The Guardian’s Henry Barnes praised the “toned precision” of his turn as a reformed LA mobster in the otherwise forgettable Sundance 2014 hit Imperial Dreams, and the 23-year-old has also starred with Chiwetel Ejiofor and Thandie Newton in the 2013 Nigerian historical drama Half of a Yellow Sun. Boyega plays a Stormtrooper rumoured to have deserted the Imperial army in The Force Awakens, and has already made his feelings clear about online splutter over the casting of a black man in the role. If Star Wars is a success, expect him to be similarly forceful on the Hollywood stage for years to come.
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