Do audiences ever truly forget they are watching actors?
28 Nov 2013 - 11:42 AM  UPDATED 26 Feb 2014 - 4:24 PM

“When you're known, you have maybe 15 minutes to make people accept that you are the character you are supposed to be,” Catherine Deneuve was quoted as saying in the Sydney Morning Herald last Saturday.

But Revolutionary Road is a film that prompts the question: Does an audience member ever truly forget that they are watching a star play a character? Why do I single out Revolutionary Road, besides the fact that it airs at 9.30pm this Saturday on SBS ONE? Because it is impossible not to see Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet playing off each other up on screen without thinking of Titanic – even if they are all grown up now compared to back then. After all, Titanic was massively popular, smashing box office records when it was released in Australia and remaining the biggest ever hit for a dozen years until Avatar came along in 2009.

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Attaching much-admired internationally known actors to a project often triggers financing and is an invaluable marketing hook. But once the audience is sitting in the seats watching them pretend to be a fictional character, surely Sandra Bullock and George Clooney in Gravity, for example, remain Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. Ditto Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine.

It is not just clearly remembering the actor's other performances that can make it hard to believe they're now someone else – DiCaprio is not just burned into my brain as Jack in Titanic but also as Romeo and Jay Gatsby in two Baz Luhrmann films – but also because of the way that aspects of their personal life swirl around.

In the case of Revolutionary Road, for example, here is a film about hopes and dreams and expectations and marriage, which Winslet had to beg Sam Mendes to direct when he was her husband – and now they are no longer married. If while watching the film the mind is suspiciously working overtime to process exactly why Winslet connected with the book, undoubtedly it is a distraction.

Actually, perhaps the bigger question is: Do audiences ever truly forget at all that they are watching actors? Is that back-of-the-mind complicity just part of the experience?

Deneuve is implying that it is a bigger challenge for known actors to become new characters and my follow-up question to the famous French actress would be: What are the key tricks of the trade? Many film critics assert that it is emotional connection between characters and audiences that ultimately distinguishes great films. Emotional connection, in this context, might be thrills and spills in the case of an action film, or grief in the case of a very black drama. I'd like to know if she agrees.