ABSTRACT

Star acting, however, produces a tension in this relationship. In narrative fi lm, a character is a narrative agent, whose actions contribute to the progression of the plot, and who is diff erentiated from other fi gures by a set of individuating qualities. As the actor uses the voice and body to give material substance to those actions and characteristics, so acting contributes to the making of the narrative world and the creation of story. But stardom introduces a further dynamic into the character/actor relationship. In economic terms, stardom is defi ned by the marketability of a performer, whereas the cultural signifi cance of stardom arises from how widespread media exposure of certain performers circulates ideas about identity or provides fi gures of identifi cation for the movie-consuming public. Whether judged in economic or cultural terms, star status relies on a performer becoming a known fi gure. Many actors, not just stars, are recognizable faces to moviegoers due to their previous roles. In the case of the star, however, familiarity with the performer goes further: not only are they are a household “name,” but knowledge of the performer frequently extends beyond the screen to his or her private life. It is the recognizability and familiarity of the star actor that creates the tension in the character/ actor relationship. In I am Legend (Francis Lawrence, 2007), for example, Will Smith is at once Robert Neville and Will Smith. For her role in Julie and Julia (Nora Ephron, 2009), Meryl Streep did all that was necessary to reproduce the vocal and physical idiosyncrasies of Julia Child, but still at every moment she was Meryl. Through playing characters, stars contribute

to the representation of the story world, yet at the same time they are visible as known onscreen identities and so therefore are on show. It is this tension, the tension between story and show, or between the representation of character and the presentation of the star, that forms the basic contradiction of fi lm star acting.