I’m always amazed by great acting. The best acting is invisible and almost always achieves some enormous emotional effect on you before you’ve even realized what’s happening. There have been many times in movies when I’ve been brought suddenly and surprisingly to tears by a performance. I know if you really break it down those moments end up being about more than just performance, having more to do with the ways the director and editor decided to use images and music to achieve a specific result. But there are those times when it IS the actor who just elevates everything. All their choices click in one magical string of moments to make a film incredible. Heath Ledger as The Joker, for example, or Daniel Day Lewis as Daniel Plainview. It’s these moments that leave me in awe of acting. It’s such a difficult thing to choose to be, and it rides a very fine and dangerous line between being a crucial, timeless calling and being a douchey, embarrassing waste of time.
Recently, I have been thinking about one of my favorite things about acting: line delivery. Lots of actors are great, but there are a few who have a singularly identifiable way of talking that becomes their signature. In most cases these actors are more easily parodied. Impressions become easy because their way of talking is so unique. I’ve decided to make a list of my favorites. I didn’t use everybody who has great line delivery because I wanted to restrict the list to actors who I especially love, and also because I wanted to make sure there were at least a few surprises in the mix. So, for example, I didn’t use either Enterprise captain (Patrick Stewart and William Shatner) even though a solid case could be made for including both (especially Shatner). Likewise I didn’t include someone like Heath Ledger, or Daniel Day Lewis, because while they can both have iconic line deliveries on their resume, it’s not a signature feature.
Anyway, enough rambling. Here’s the list.
1) Michael Cera
Didn’t see that one coming did you.
The first time I ever saw Michael Cera in anything it was Arrested Development. Back then I had no idea he was Canadian, and I assumed he was some famous teen actor that I’d never heard of. I’ve heard people complain that he just does the same thing over and over – and those people are probably going to hate this list – but I just think it’s Cera’s own little idiosyncratic style overshadowing his performances. Ali and I are big fans and we’ve seen pretty much every Michael Cera movie in theaters. There are great ones (Superbad) and weak ones (Nick and Nora’s…) but his average is good. I can’t wait for his Arrested Development reunion and I’m glad he’s still working and just getting started. Love him or hate him, I just love the way he talks. Here he is in one of my favorite scenes from Superbad.
*SNL’s Taran Killam does a great Michael Cera impression.
2) Jimmy Stewart
An oldie but a goodie. Even people who can’t do impressions like to give this one a try. Jimmy Stewart was my favorite actor when I was a little kid – most people would probably say they grew up loving him and his movies. He has one of those good ol’ fashioned, sounds good saying “gee”, everyone gather ’round the table, Apple Pie and lemonade type voices. Just a great way of talking. From a movie we’ve all seen, here’s a great example:
*And for the impression, how about a little Jim Carrey.
3) Judy Garland
Only one actress on the list – and honestly I looked and looked and I thought and thought but I just couldn’t think of many actresses that really stand out for great line delivery. And there are some really great actresses out there but not many whose voices and way of speaking really became a signature part of their identity. If you can think of any that I haven’t mentioned let me know in the comments. Judy Garland is famous for her singing voice but it was her speaking voice that always jumped out at me from her movies. I just loved the way she talked – Liza Minnelli has sort of become a self-parody of this, but there is a uniquely wonderful thing about the way they talk and I love it.
*Surprisingly (or not) I couldn’t find a Judy Garland SPEAKING VOICE impression. And all the impressions I did find were brutal.
4) Christopher Walken
Christopher Walken is perhaps the epitome of this list. He is as famous for the way he talks as he is famous at all. He has done cameo appearances, guest spots, and whole roles JUST to deliver lines with his signature style of talking. He’s a legend of the line delivery – and as a result he’s infinitely parodied and impersonated by comedians and other actors. But it’s not all fun and games. He’s an oscar winning legend of the craft and he’s one of the best. Yet throughout his long and illustrious career no director has ever capitalized on Walken’s ability to act AND his ability to deliver lines with as much force as Quentin Tarantino did in Pulp Fiction:
*Here’s Kevin Pollack telling a weird story about Walken with a great impression.
5) Alan Rickman
One of my favorite actors of all-time. I just love the way he does everything he does. When I was a kid I just couldn’t get over the way he would deliver his lines. Rickman’s use of pauses and spacing in his delivery is legendary. But more than that it’s the sugary sort of “Rrrr-ish” way his voice reverberates that makes the way he talks so integral to his identity. There are so many choice scenes to choose from and most were hard to find; in the end I settled on this one:
*My favorite Alan Rickman impression is actually from Family Guy
6) Jeff Goldblum
The best of the best. My favorite all time line delivering actor – whose way of speaking is just so weird and different. Most people were acquainted with Goldblum during the 80’s but I didn’t know he existed until Jurassic Park. His speech at the table where he says “your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should” jumped out instantly and is still one of my favorite movie moments to randomly quote. Lately, Goldblum is relegated to supporting parts in movies like “The Switch” but he’s great whenever he’s on screen. Here’s one of my favorite Goldblum moments:
*Well he may be inimitable. Pretty hard to find a good one. SNL’s “Celebrity Jeopardy” is always a pretty good go-to.