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What exactly makes a lead role?

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    filmfanatic
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    #1203485954

    I’m always confused how many people believe that Anthony Hopkins was rightfully in the lead category for Silence of the Lambs. The same thing goes for Louise Fletcher (One Flew Over…), DiCaprio was nominated as lead at the Golden Globes (Titanic), Cate Blanchett (Carol), Witherspoon (Walk the Line), Denzel Washington (Training Day), and Annette Bening (American Beauty).

    All of these actors either won or were nominated in lead categories and it confuses me so much because they were all supporting characters. None of their respective movies were about them. The only actor I can think of who’s had the least screen time of the main characters yet I still consider lead through and through is Kidman in The Hours. She opens and closes the movie and the characters are literally influenced by her book and the film focuses on her.

    So my question is what exactly makes a lead role? Or if you can’t give an objective answer, what to you is a lead role? What are your thoughts on the actors I mentioned?

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    JayDF
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    #1203486172

    I consider Hopkins lead because his character forwards so much of the story along. Lecter’s presence is there whether he is in a scene or not. That being said I have no problem with anyone considering the role supporting either. I call these characters teetering between. Screen time means less to me than most people. Nurse Ratched is similar but not as ever present as Lecter. Concerning Fletcher I’m sure the lack of highly visible options and 2nd billing helped her be considered lead by most award groups. Bening & Witherspoon sort of fall in that description as well, but I feel they both have stronger cases for lead because they are involved with the unquestionable lead’s story arc so much more than Fletcher. Without Washington & DiCaprio’s characters there is no story, plus Washington was the star despite the POV of Hawke’s character. Same for Blanchett. Keep in mind Lambs & Cuckoo’s nest are the only films here I’ve seen multiple times. Titanic twice, 20 years apart just to see if I still hated it & I did. Everything else just once.

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    NevadaR
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    #1203486227

    Sometimes it’s just about quality over quantity. For example Hopkins’ iconic and overpowering performance simply transcends time.

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    karls
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    #1203486359

    I consider DiCaprio (Titanic), Cate Blanchett (Carol), Witherspoon (Walk the Line), Denzel Washington (Training Day), and Annette Bening (American Beauty) co-lead…they share part of their story too along side the main character’s story
    And for Hopkins he’s supporting with a strong presence in his movie
    Fletcher is definelty supporting

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    Human Bartender
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    #1203486541

    Hopkins and Fletcher aren’t really leads, but they leave a huge impact and loom over the whole story so I don’t mind their classification.

    Supporting performances going as leads doesn’t bother me as much as leads going as supporting. The latter gives an unfair and big advantage while the former actually hurts the performances’ chances, so the only person it’s actually unfair to is them, except in situations like Hopkins and Fletcher where they won anyway.

    Let’s Go Bucks

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    estrelas
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    #1203487111

    In my opinion a lead role is defined by screentime and relevance to the story or arc. I’m one of those who always considered Hopkins supporting. It’s true that his presence is felt throughout the movie, but I think that’s more related to the quality of his performance. Emily Blunt (just an example) was always supporting in A Quiet Place for me. It’s essentially an ensemble movie, not to mention her arc is basically non-existing. Interesting that you brought up Nicole, because to me she was the least lead of the three. I always thought Julianne Moore was the ‘leader’. I don’t know if it’s the screentime or the fact that later in the movie, we learn she’s the mother of Ed’s character. I still stand by my pov that both Meryl and Julianne are co-leads while Nicole is more supporting.
    Regarding the others (except Fletcher ’cause I haven’t seen her) I consider them all co-leads. Whiterspoon is borderline but I think lead is fine for her role.

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    RobertPius
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    #1203487122

    1975 was a notoriously bad year for Best Actress. They were worried they wouldn’t be able to find five nominees. I’d guess Fletcher and the film saw an opportunity and went for it.

    Hopkins himself decided he wanted to go lead. It was a risky move. He’d have been a sure bet as supporting but in lead I was actually a surprise winner. Nick Nolte was the favorite.

    The oddest one to me is Patricia Neal as Best Actress in Hud. I expected the film to be about her and Paul Newman. Nope. I saw it on broadcast TV with commercials when I was a teen. I thought they must have edited out a lot of her scenes. I think I’ve read that that was the same situation as Fletcher. Not very strong year so they put her in lead.

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    FairWeatherAffair
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    #1203487203

    I hate the screentime argument for the separation between the two because it ignores the inherent blurriness of the boundary. What’s a supporting performance exactly?

    A leading performance is one in which the actor is portraying a lead character. Which characters is the story about and which characters serve the story? It’s all relational.

    The Silence of the Lambs is about the relationship between Clarice and Hannibal, hence two lead characters portrayed by two leading actors; similarly, see Carol, and, actually, most of the films you mentioned. The hardest, of course, is One Flew…: is McMurphy reacting to Nurse Ratched or to himself? It becomes moot, though, because her character serves as a manifestation of himself; she is both lead and supporting, so I am fine with a placement anywhere.

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    nevkm
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    #1203487432

    I hate the screentime argument for the separation between the two because it ignores the inherent blurriness of the boundary. What’s a supporting performance exactly? A leading performance is one in which the actor is portraying a lead character. Which characters is the story about and which characters serve the story? It’s all relational. The Silence of the Lambs is about the relationship between Clarice and Hannibal, hence two lead characters portrayed by two leading actors; similarly, see Carol, and, actually, most of the films you mentioned. The hardest, of course, is One Flew…: is McMurphy reacting to Nurse Ratched or to himself? It becomes moot, though, because her character serves as a manifestation of himself; she is both lead and supporting, so I am fine with a placement anywhere.

    I couldn’t agree more. The movie is not about Clarice but about her relationship with Lecter so they are both equally important. Moreover the book series is titled “Hannibal Lecter” and everything revolves around their twisted connection. This applies to the movie as well and just because he has less screentime doesn’t mean he’s less important to the story.

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    ArtIsntEasy
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    #1203487477

    I think Anthony Hopkins is the perfect example for this because I distinctly remember not having a single issue with him being in Lead and it wasn’t until a couple of years later, someone mentioned he was only onscreen for something like 17-20 minutes and that even Scott Glenn had more screen time.

    Needless to say, I was floored by this and couldn’t believe I didn’t notice. It’s truly a testament to the power of his performance. In that case, I definitely can concede to Lead or Supporting.

    I do think Fletcher ending up in Lead is fine as well.

    This is the first time I’ve heard someone argue DiCaprio in TITANIC as being Supporting. I get that it’s more Winslet’a arc but I feel like he is a definitely a co-lead.

    Bening and Washington are both on the fence but I am fine with the former being in Lead and wouldn’t have nominated the latter at all.

    I think Blanchett and Mara are both co-leads but if I was forced to choose one lead, I would still say Mara slightly edges her out.

    Another case I actually find a little bit strange is Frances McDormand in FARGO. She may have been billed as the star and we may have a lot of time with her onscreen in sections but she even feels like a borderline Supporting role while I might be more inclined to think of Macy as the true lead of the film.

    “The art of making art is putting it together...”

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    RobertPius
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    #1203489076

    Jessica Lange always gets flack for Tootsie not being a supporting role but I think it clearly is. The whole film revolves around Hoffman. She may be the leading lady but in this case the leading lady role was a supporting one.

    Same thing with Meryl Streep in Kramer Versus Kramer. Some people insisted she was a lead but she is gone for a huge junk of that movie. (an hour I think.)

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    MHS83
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    #1203495917

    1975 was a notoriously bad year for Best Actress. They were worried they wouldn’t be able to find five nominees. I’d guess Fletcher and the film saw an opportunity and went for it.

    Hopkins himself decided he wanted to go lead. It was a risky move. He’d have been a sure bet as supporting but in lead I was actually a surprise winner. Nick Nolte was the favorite.

    The oddest one to me is Patricia Neal as Best Actress in Hud. I expected the film to be about her and Paul Newman. Nope. I saw it on broadcast TV with commercials when I was a teen. I thought they must have edited out a lot of her scenes. I think I’ve read that that was the same situation as Fletcher. Not very strong year so they put her in lead.

    Whenever this subject comes up my brain immediately goes to Hud.

    This is my shorthand definition: If you had to say what the movie is *about* (not just a plot summary) in two or three sentences, would the character be significant, or even mentioned? If not, they are probably not a lead. Was Hud *about* Hud and Alma? Or was it about Hud and his relationships with everyone around him?

    Despite the ubiquitous beach scene, From Here to Eternity was not *about* Sgt Warden and Mrs. Holmes. She is barely in the story.

    Being the most prominent character of the opposite sex does not automatically make you the lead.

    With that in mind, I need to remind myself that in those days the studios submitted the category placement, so any “big star” went lead, regardless of the size of the part. Rosalind Russell could have easily won BSA 1955 for Picnic but refused to let the studio submit her that way, even though it was clearly a supporting role.

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    Elazul
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    #1203496869

    With that in mind, I need to remind myself that in those days the studios submitted the category placement, so any “big star” went lead, regardless of the size of the part.

    At the end of the day, categories exist for movies and not the other way around so “category fraud” will always be second to “giving the spotlight to more performances”…

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    AMG
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    #1203498053

    Here’s a thought, let’s imagine that the examples in the original post all went Supporting:

    Louise Fletcher – One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest
    Leonardo DiCaprio – Titanic
    Cate Blanchett – Carol
    Reese Witherspoon – Walk the Line
    Denzel Washington – Training Day
    Annette Bening – American Beauty

    How many of these keep/gain a nomination. Do any of them win? Who wins their category instead?

    For instance, I can kind of see Cate Blanchett beating Alicia Vikander to Supporting Actress for Carol. But Mara wouldn’t beat Brie Larson.

    Check out more of my thoughts on Twitter (@AMG_Review) and Instagram (amg_reviews)

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