Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Thoughts sparked by Nick Stahl. Googling for information about Nick Stahl feels far more shameful and perverted to me than trawling for porn. Oh my god, there is some Stahl fan art on the internet that makes me want to die, it is so embarrassing! In order from most to least embarrassing , here is my hierarchy of embarrassing fan behaviours: fan art; fan songs; erotic fanfic; non-erotic fanfic; cosplay; conventions; fan video montages/slideshows; pictures of fans with the celebrity; fansites; posters/computer wallpapers of the celebrity; social networks/blogs.

By this you can conclude that I find fandom very embarrassing, even though I should probably save my embarrassment for my own obsession with the Terminator franchise; at least these poor Stahl fans have never made a cake in the shape of Nick Stahl's head. Which brings me back to the man in question, who starred as John Connor in Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.

What a strange-looking man he is, with his wide- and deep-set eyes, little nose, giant chin and sticking-out ears. He intrigues me because in one of my favourite parlour games, Plausible Family Casting, I can't really think of anyone else currently working in screen acting who looks enough like him to be a plausible Stahl (perhaps Matt Damon, at a pinch – interestingly, Stahl lost the lead role in All The Pretty Horses to Damon).

Stahl got his start as a little tacker in Mel Gibson's movie The Man Without A Face. It's interesting how much more conventional and corn-fed he looked as a child. Here he is with Unkie Mel at the pre-mere in 1993:

The reason I am going on about the way he looks is that, while in the past I have not been interested in Nick Stahl at all, over the last month or so I have been spending a lot of time staring at a screen with him on it. I've been working my way through the two series of Carnivale, in which Stahl starred as Ben Hawkins. (I won't go on about the actual show too much, although a heartfelt shout-out goes to my brother Matt for indulging me on Sunday in a gratifyingly lengthy discussion about its Byzantine plot.)

It's an interesting role in which Stahl doesn't have much dialogue and is called upon to look confused and uncomfortable much of the time. But I was quite intrigued by the way that Stahl makes bewilderment romantic and even heroic in Carnivale. Here he is at work, displaying Ben Hawkins's trademark knitted brow and slack mouth:

There is also a particular way he walks, a kind of slouching amble, and a slow, Southern way of talking, that made me wonder how much of what I was seeing was the character and how much was Stahl himself. So I did the unthinkable. I rewatched Terminator 3.

I stand by my previous assertion that Stahl was horribly miscast in this film. The standard cry is "Where was Edward Furlong?" Here, I'm afraid, was Edward Furlong:

Still kinda badass, I suppose. ("Later, dickwad!") But anyway, of all the potential actors who could have played John Connor they got Nick Stahl, and it turns out the walk is probably just the way Nick Stahl walks, because he did it in this movie, too. What also struck me is that the bewilderment from Carnivale is also there in Terminator 3. I had always interpreted this as wimpiness, but this time around I responded sympathetically, and I felt as though Stahl's John Connor better dramatised the tragedy of someone at the mercy of an unwanted destiny.

The rest of the movie remains pretty bad, though.

But this makes me wonder two things:

1. Do we become affectionate towards people merely by looking at them a lot?
2. How much of our private selves is visible in the work we do?

Today I saw the Michael Caine movie Is Anybody There? I was thinking about how Nick Stahl is really small biscuits in terms of 'actor persona', since Michael Caine has always played versions of the same character. But are we really seeing Caine the person, or a quality that he realised, early in his career, he was good at portraying?

However, Is Anybody There? is set in an old folks' home and I kept noticing the way that the old folks had wedding rings that looked as though they'd been worn for decades. You know, almost sinking into the skin – these rings didn't look like costumes. It made me think about how visceral acting is, how much the illusion of life on screen depends on subtle corporeal details such as these. In small ways, actors do inhabit their roles.

Commenting on a really old blog post that I found when I was looking for a picture of nick stahl in order to prove that alexander siddig is the muslin version of nick.

I thought I would email you because of your comment: "I can't really think of anyone else currently working in screen acting who looks enough like him to be a plausible Stahl..."

I saw Alexander in an old episode of spooks/MI 5 - so I don't know that he is currently working but your comment made me laugh
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