Carrie Fisher

Carrie Fisher’s death yesterday, a few days after she suffered a heart attack on a trans-Atlantic flight, came as a terrible shock.  Fisher was only 60, and she had so much to offer to the world as a writer, actor, and advocate on mental health issues.

Fisher was great in The Blues Brothers and When Harry Met Sally, and she wrote a number of funny best-selling books, but of course she will always be remembered by many — including me — as Princess Leia of the original Star Wars films.  I’m sure that Fisher often bridled at her association with that gun-toting resistance leader with the fantastic and iconic hairstyle, but I’ll always believe that her depiction of Leia Organa was one of the things that fundamentally and forever shifted the kinds of roles that women played in Hollywood films.

Of course, women had always had some meaty roles, but in action films or sci-fi films women typically were the objects around which the action revolved, rather than the proponents of the action.  Not so with Leia Organa!  From the first moments of Star Wars she was the key driver of the plot, setting R2D2 off with the plans for the Death Star, standing toe to toe with Grand Moff Tarkin and Darth Vader, recruiting Luke and Obi-Wan Kenobi and Han Solo to the cause of the resistance, getting tortured and firing blasters and trading insults with the best of them.  (“Could somebody get this walking carpet out of my way?”)  Princess Leia was as far from the damsel in distress as you could get.  Sure, she ultimately fell for Han Solo — who wouldn’t? — but she was always ready to strangle Jabba the Hut or blast a squadron of imperial storm troopers on a moment’s notice.  Not every actor could pull off such a role, but Carrie Fisher did it flawlessly and convincingly.

Lots of people make movies that achieve enormous popularity, but then fade over time to the point where their roles are only dimly recalled and people wonder what all the fuss was about.  Not so with Carrie Fisher.  She was a true trailblazer, in her acting, in her writing, and in her frank and always humorous discussions about her struggles with her condition, her addictions, and her weight.  She touched more people than she perhaps ever realized.

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Starving Actor, Parisian Style

Actors and not enough work.  It’s an age-old problem.

 009If you’re an actor in Paris and you can’t find work, your options apparently are few.  I say this because it seems as though one of the last-ditch options is to post a sign along a busy Parisian thoroughfare, feature some of your different publicity photos that make it look like you could play just about any role from heartthrob to homicidal maniac, toss in an obscenity, and end with a command — all in English, too — and hope for the best.

I don’t know whether this sign had the desired effect and produced a lot of high-quality acting work for Fabrice Yahyaoui, but it did give me a laugh as we headed to lunch in the Marais today.

James Gandolfini, R.I.P.

James Gandolini has died.  Only 51, he passed away on a trip to Italy, of an apparent heart attack.  It is tough news for those of us who admired Gandolfini’s acting and held out hope that, at some point, we might see a bit more of The Sopranos.

Many people consider The Sopranos to be one of the best — and maybe the best — TV shows ever made, and James Gandolfini was its spiritual core.  His Tony Soprano was one of the most fully realized TV characters ever to grace the small screen.  Viewers understood his angst and sympathized with his crises, cringed at his extraordinary episodes of hyperviolence and serial philandering, celebrated his successful schemes, marveled at his generosity and quick turns of mood.  The character was the product of great writing, but also of Gandolfini’s brilliant acting.

My favorite Sopranos scenes were from the early years, between Gandolfini’s Tony Soprano and Nancy Marchand as his formidable, emotionally brutal mother.  It was naked, powerful, astonishing stuff.  Their convincing portrayals of a devoted son and a caustic mother in a devastating family relationship — and the flashbacks to Soprano’s boyhood — made the notion of a mob boss going to a therapist seem very plausible, indeed.

The Sopranos was TV lightning in a bottle, with the perfect combination of concept, cast, and writing.  It will be enjoyed by TV viewers for so long as people appreciate talent.  Fifty-one is much too young for a talent like Gandolfini’s to exit the stage, and his death is an enormous loss for his family, his friends, and his fans.