featured image with Cary Grant asking Who Is Your Favorite Actor?

Who is Your Favorite Actor and Why?

Sometimes we are drawn to certain actors and we cannot explain why. In this podcast, I answer a question that I received from one of my students. She was asked, “Who is your favorite actor is and why?” and she she was required to answer from an academic point of view. She found that question challenging to answer in an analytical way, so I decided it would make a good topic for this episode (because it often is a difficult question to answer in an analytical way).

Relevant Links:

Ewan McGregor

Phil Hartman

Austin Powers (Movie)

Alan Rickman

Galaxy Quest (Movie)

Ralph Fiennes

Harry Potter (Film Series)

Aidan Turner

Leonardo (TV Series)

Poldark (TV Series)

Being Human (TV Series)

Emilio Estevez

Young Guns (Movie)

Men At Work (Movie)

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Full Episode Transcript

NOTE: This podcast was transcribed by a tool I highly recommend called called Happy Scribe (affiliate link). We do our best to adjust the transcript so that it reads smoothly, but if we missed something please forgive any typos or errors.

Hi there, everyone, I am Leslie Lello, and I am going to make this a little bit short this week, I’m short on time and so let’s get started real fast.
I had a question from one of my students who is in my producing class, and I thought it would be an interesting thing to explore on this podcast. The question was about doing an analysis of an actor regarding why it is her favorite actor…

Sorry, that was a totally weird way to phrase that… She is in a class in addition to mine that has a homework assignment that requests her to analyze why she likes her favorite actor or a favorite actor.

And that’s actually a really hard question. She asked me for help with it, and I’m not really even sure how to frame it, you know, the right way, because it seems like it wasn’t framed in any sort of way.

So I could simply say I like Ewan McGregor because he’s super hot, you know, like that would be my answer. And that seems like in that [lack of framing provided by the teacher], framing [my answer that way would be] a legitimate answer. But I have a feeling her teacher was not just asking for that. Ewan McGregor is also a phenomenal actor, and I could get into that with him or with another number…

First of all, this is a challenging question because there are so many… There’s so much criteria. And that’s what I meant by bringing up that example. There are so many criteria upon which one could answer that question. And it’s why a lot of people have many different favorite actors and actresses.

And so…

It also came up in a Twitter conversation that was happening a few days ago on Saturday Night Live and who is the best, you know, player, actor from Saturday Night Live, like a regular.

And I… Well, mine is Phil Hartman, and there’s again, that was my snap decision, but I can back it up with a lot of different reasons.

So I guess you could also say what is the snap decision for this [favorite] actor answer [to the teacher’s] question?

And then you better be able to back it up and it better not…

I’m going to guess she’s not going to get a good grade if she just goes, “Well, this actor’s super hot.”

My answer for Phil Hartman was that he not only had the nickname The Glue at Saturday Night Live, which I know because I’ve read books on Saturday Night Live. I have gone through phases where I’ve been obsessed with Saturday Night Live. I love that show. I have loved that show for decades. And I’m actually going through VHS tapes right now where I’m going through old Saturday night lives that I taped. Some of them I taped because I love the band. Like I taped the one that had Nirvana on it the first time and all that.

So there’s… It’s kind of been fun going through all that. But I picked Phil Hartman and I just know that every time I see him on screen, I just go, “Oh my God, I love you.” Feel like I’m so sad about what happened to him and everything. And I just…

But that’s not the reason I picked him. It’s also because I say that, “I so love you, Phil Hartman,” [and] it’s because every time I see him doing something on Saturday Night Live… I would say like 90 percent…. I am just elated with how much I’m laughing from what he’s doing, [and] going into the acting portion of it, he can do so many character actors that I feel just really hit the mark. And not only are they funny, but he commits to them and I feel like that and makes them real. And that is also a beautiful thing. It’s not just a cursory characterization, which a lot of the time happens with comedy. It is a deep dive.

And you can tell that he took the time as an actor to really fill out the character that he’s playing in addition to it being funny. So that was another aspect of it, I feel. And then going back to The Glue comment, he really did cohere his class of SNL actors, in that he was able to help people write their material.

So this is something you wouldn’t know if you didn’t, like, study the actor, you wouldn’t know their behind the scenes personality, but he was really well loved by his fellow actors, and that’s interesting because Saturday Night Live, from what I’ve heard, is a pretty competitive environment usually, and it can actually be very challenging and competitive to get your what you write onto screen.

So the fact that he would help other actors is something that is really quite beautiful as a person and that might have informed me in choosing him. I’d like to add here, though, that I have a fondness for so many so many actors from Saturday Night Live and so many of them actually do fantastically committed character work.

And they also are good when other actors are doing their characters and they can come in and support that.

But really, that’s my criteria for picking Phil Hartman.

There were another number of other actors that came up when I was going to go in and do this analysis, and I guess another one that came up for different reasons was Alan Rickman.

That was in the front of my consciousness because I [had] just watched a video on YouTube about his career and his life and everything.

And it was the first actor that came up in my mind, because this Saturday Night Live conversation hadn’t come up yet on Twitter.

And so I was thinking of Alan Rickman because of that video, but also… I said, “Well, why?”

Everything they said in regards to him and being a phenomenal actor is true, but I feel like another great aspect of him that wasn’t mentioned actually in the video…

I will try to find this video, but if I don’t sorry, it was a few days ago and with Alan Rickman.

Well, first of all, the Harry Potter movies are my favorite. I’m not going to say favorite of all time, but that series had a big impact on my life and Alan Rickman playing Severus Snape.

And knowing the ending, being the only actor to know the ending…Hh had to know, he actually said to J.K. Rowling, “Hey, I need to know. It will affect the way I play this character.” And I’m sure it did.

And I’m sure we’ll never know what he would have chosen if she had answered… If the ending had been different with Severus.

But the nuance with which he plays a good / bad guy where you kind of love him even though he’s being a jerk…

Even when he’s firing… He’s defending himself against Harry’s shots, even when – SPOILER!

I don’t want to say that one!

But even when he does the worst possible thing you could possibly think he does Even though later you find out it’s kind of OK, that then you can still feel for this character, and you can take the ride of Harry hating him a little bit, and yet he [Severus] can be a compassionate character in the end.

And I feel like that takes a special talent because… I was thinking about this week in addition to just acting and characters… Think of this even in a broader world sense.

I don’t want to… I’m walking a fine line here and I know that.

But if you think about it, there are very few characters in movies, short of Mike Myers, Dr. Evil, who put their pinky up to their mouth and say, “I’m going to be evil now.”

And the thing is, when you play a character that is maybe judged by others as evil, the character you’re being does not think evil. And it thinks… Often like the Joker…

I don’t know why I keep bringing up these comic book references. If I’m getting this completely wrong, I apologize.

I’m not a comic book person, but it seems like a good example.

He [The Joker] was evil, but he feels like he’s doing a good thing. And he can’t play evil. Whatever character is play- …

Whatever, I’m sorry…

Whatever actor is playing that, quote unquote, “evil person” can’t play it from a point of “I’m being evil now!” because then it dehumanizes it and almost it’s a caricature… Then… Then… It is SNL [actor creating a superficial caricature by] being like an “evil person”.

And so I guess for comedy purposes, you could do that.

And even then, it’s not as a committed choice as saying, “OK, I’m going to fill out this character in a way that is humanizing and really puts me in those shoes.”

You know, if you’re saying, “OK, I’m going to play the Joker now,” and you get into those shoes and say, “How can I do this role?”

And still feel like, [as the character] “I am doing something that is in the best interest of at least me and maybe the world…”

You can kind of see it in the X-Men series.

Why do I keep bringing up. This is not… It’s so weird that I’m bringing up these comic examples.

So you see it in the X-Men is a perfect example. It just popped in my head.

So when you look at the mutants that want to only have mutants [exist], it looks evil, especially for people being humans, you know, because they want to wipe out the humans, mainly because they’re being attacked by the humans.

And so… The normal humans, the non-mutants and…

So they [the “evil” mutants] see it as, you know, cleansing an inferior bunch of beings. Actually, Harry Potter does have that dynamic, too.

So if you look at Voldemort…

I’m all over the place today. I apologize.

If you look at Voldemort and even… And that character…

Ralph Fiennes did not really… He was…

 You didn’t really feel…

You did, though.

You even felt for Voldemort, because at the end, you just see him as this really pathetic, crumbling of a spirit who can’t get past that, you know? And again, I’m not going to get too much into the details.

I apologize for spoilers, but I think I’ve been pretty good about that and not being specific.

But you’re in the midst of him [Voldemort] being powerful and evil. There had to be a piece of Ralph Fiennes performance that said, “Hey, I am going to also find the humanity, the compassion for this character.”

And, you know, in his mind, he probably did some…

Maybe some of his process was going back to the childhood [of Voldemort] and how he became how he was.

I think J.K. Rowling gets into some of that also in her books, and so what I’m saying is a lot of actors that I love have that nuance in that they can even take you for a ride with them from, you know, just knowing the bad things that they do.

But also if they’re playing bad, like, “the antagonist”, you know, but you also can see a real side to them that is maybe explaining what it does and you can see the way they play that.

And that’s an important aspect, even when they’re sometimes their most evil, or in Snape’s case, they’re most grouchy or whatever. 

So that is another way to look at it.

That’s maybe how I would answer it, too.

I also came up with Aidan Turner.

Aidan Turner is someone who also plays… Hmm. I don’t want to say tortured soul, but in the things that I’ve seen…

I’m really excited he’s doing Leonardo da Vinci and he’s going to be in that. If it hasn’t already come out, it’s coming out. And I’m excited for that.

But a lot of the roles that I’ve seen him in, even Poldark, he’s got this side of him that just takes over a little bit where he has to go do this noble thing, even if it puts him in danger, his family in danger, his wealth in danger, all this stuff.

And that’s how the book is written. But he did a really good job of really displaying that balance. And he’s also in something called Being Human and that – WHEW -is so good!

It’s and it is… I mean, everyone on that show is amazing. And I particularly… I found that show by looking at more Aidan Turner material. And that was wonderful to watch because again, you’re like, “oh, he just wants to-“

He’s a vampire on that show.

And [as you’re watching it] you’re like, “He’s really trying to be a well-behaved vampire.”

And he does such a great job of really trying to override his natural urges as a vampire, and you see him go from one end to the other.

And when he breaks down maybe in certain seasons, him going into a really, really vampire mode, then you kind of still feel his agony from doing that… Like you can still see his desire to be humanized, and that’s really actually a theme in that whole show. It’s really interesting.

I saw it a couple of years ago, so I’m not as strong in my memory about that.

But I just remember really feeling for him, but also knowing he does kind of bad things sometimes. And so I guess with Aiden, I just really appreciate the nuance with which he approaches that.

I’ve given you a lot of examples here. Sorry they’re all guys. Those were the first ones that jumped in mind.

Oh, one more thing about Alan Rickman.

You know, I didn’t… I haven’t seen any Die Hard movies. Sorry.

But I have seen him in Galaxy Quest and seeing that side of him [Alan Rickman] in the comedic sort of way.

I wish there had been a Galaxy Quest 2. I really do. And I’m really, again, saddened by how, you know, how quickly he went…. Alan Rickman, but… And just he’s gone, and that’s sad because he was a phenomenal actor that would have made so much…

So many more fantastic movies and roles real.

Had he been around…

And so Galaxy Quest 2 is not happening, but Galaxy Quest 1… with Alan Rickman is, well… A bunch of phenomenal actors like Sigourney Weaver, just so many. 

And she’s also one of my favorites. 

I have so many. 

So she can do comedy and she can do action. It just… I especially like her in comedy, though, I don’t think how she’s really known for.

I’m going off on too many tangents, I could talk about my favorite actors forever, and so I’m going to leave it at that.

But going back to the original question… Doing an analysis of an actor that you like, there is so much criteria upon which to base that.

And a lot of the favorite aspects of it has to do with either a role or several roles they’ve chosen and portrayed in a way that appeals to you, or it’s maybe even a project that.

Like the Harry Potter movies, they are important to me. So, you know, in high impact…

And so in addition to the books…

And so that is maybe a good way to start your answer.

But really, I would go back to the first time you noticed the actor and try and recall why you noticed them, and that will inform you as to why they’re your favorite.

And I’m going to go back to one that was my favorite, like, decades ago.

And I can tell you why it’s not as much of an aesthetic actor thing as one would say about my other selections.

So when I was in high school… I think it was high school.

Yeah, my best friend was like, “Oh my God, have you seen Young Guns?”

And I’m like, “No, I have it.”

And they’re like, “Oh, you should see Young Guns! Oh, my God, Emilio Estevez! Like, oh, my God!”

And so, like teenagers are, we went to see Young Guns and they were a bunch of very handsome, cute guys in there, and especially Emilio Estevez.

And his character was so full of bravado, which again, in high school was something that was like, “YAY!”

And so, you know, in that time of my life, that movie was liked and that character was liked because he was just cute and his character that he played in that movie was great.

And I had this bond with my best friend over that movie.

And I have to say, moving on through my life, that movie… I’ve had so many bonding conversations with people from that movie and from quotes from that movie.

So that actor sent me off in a direction that was just like totally about that movie and has actually filled out other friendships with bonding conversations based on that movie. It’s very weird.

But going back to Emilio… So I got interested in that role and there was a playfulness about it. Even though he was like this killer, you could definitely see the humanity in him because he just started, you know… It was a bad choice he made and then it just led to more killing.

He plays Billy the Kid. And so instead of this person who is just this evil killer, you kind of get the idea that it’s more of a, you know, an “Oops, bad mistake” for this guy [Billy the Kid] to do this, and then he [Billy the Kid] starts feeling very, you know, grateful for the person who helped straighten out his life. But people want to take this…

That person that saved him and, you know, [that] straightened him up and educated him… He ends up being killed. And so then he [Billy}] does want to kill and revenge. And then that just starts a downward turn and a lot of violence.

So you still feel for him and he’s got a personality that’s playful.

So, you know, going I guess from a more analytical point of view, I can say that. 

But just as a teenager it was like, “Oh, he’s so cute and he’s so funny and whatever.”

But then that led me to go see what else he’s [Emilio Estevez] done.

And in addition to the John Hughes movies, I also started looking at him from a writer and a director point of view.

And then I started watching…

I saw Men At Work.

I saw that on the opening day because I was so into him [Emilio Estivez].

I would tape… VHS tape… Movie interviews with him.

I think he had one with Connie Chung and I and I swear, I had it on VHS.

I don’t have it –

OH NO.. I haven’t watched that tape yet.

I might actually be watching that in the next two days… Of Connie Chung interviewing him and his brother for the movie Men At Work.

And so I started to follow his career and I just started loving his career even more as I observed it.

So that was how I became one of my favorite actors in my high school years.

So that’s about it.

This was not at all short, but I hope it was fun.

It was fun for me to talk about actors that I love and projects that I love.

This is the kind of weird turn for me because normally it’s about producing.

But this relates to my course because somebody asked me a question about it. So let’s get into it.

It’s a bit about, you know, if you need to instruct an actor how to play an evil character, unless you’re doing Austin Powers, you can say you got to find the humanity in that character.

And it might not be obvious to the audience, but you as the actor have to find it.

So that’s it for today. Thanks for listening and I do hope I answered the question and I hope you had fun listening and I will talk to you soon. Have a great day.
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