Robbie Murphy runs through the history of some of the acting industry's greatest career comebacks.The film industry, media and public have a fascination with faded stars attempting a resurgence. Robbie Murphy explores some success stories.Hollywood is always interested in a comeback. Though it is the very system which would have caused an actor to become in need of a career regeneration, the comeback of a down-and-out former star becomes a major selling point. It attracts the interest of both the media and the paying public who often rush to see a film if it legitimately offers a view of an actor entering a second wind in their career.
“What is most impressive about Downey Jr.’s comeback is the scale of it, that he could transform from an addict in public freefall into one of the most popular stars of his generation.”Robert Downey Jr.’s career turnaround saw him turn from charismatic Academy Award nominee to untouchable pariah to becoming the world’s highest paid actor in 2015. This comeback is especially notable due to the depths to which Downey Jr.’s reputation had appeared to plummet as he was fired from the legal drama Ally McBeal in 2001 due to two consecutive drug arrests. His re-emergence in films such as Zodiac (2007) and Tropic Thunder (2008) built the groundwork for a comeback which culminated with the lead role in Iron Man (2008), part of the mammoth Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise. Robert Downey Jr. was reborn, receiving a second Oscar nomination for Tropic Thunder and winning a Golden Globe in 2010 for his performance in Guy Richie’s Sherlock Holmes, which earned over $500 million at the global box office. What is most impressive about Downey Jr.’s comeback is the scale of it, that he could transform from an addict in public freefall into one of the most popular stars of his generation.
“His sensitive display appeared to carry the weight of years of real disappointment and self-doubt.”Mickey Rourke had rarely been seen since the height of his success in the late 1980s, when he announced his intentions to pursue a career as a boxer, claiming to have become disenchanted with the industry and its background politics. Having re-appeared in heavy makeup to praise in Sin City (2005), Rourke would be similarly unrecognizable from his former self in Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler (2008). Without heavy makeup, the results of his years away from the spotlight was laid bare, the consequences of broken bones from his boxing career and from several prosthetic surgery procedures. It appeared that with The Wrestler, Rourke’s role as a washed-up former star vying for a last chance at success echoes his own life and the resulting performance is heartbreaking. His sensitive display appeared to carry the weight of years of real disappointment and self-doubt. Rourke’s failure to secure an Oscar triumph adds to the narrative of this near miss that has continued with his failure to capitalise on his comeback. Despite it not stretching far beyond this moving performance, Rourke’s revival is notable for matching the tragic arc of his career in its failure to meet its own potential.
“Keaton too missed out on Oscar glory but capitalised on his resurgence, appearing in the Oscar winning Spotlight the following year and continuing beyond that to feature consistently in varied roles.”Like that of Mickey Rourke, but also with crucial differences, is the re-emergence of Michael Keaton. Keaton had been one of the biggest film stars in the world in the late 80s and early 90s, appearing in the title roles of Tim Burton’s films Beetlejuice, Batman and Batman Returns. Following an extended 20-year period in relative obscurity, Keaton was announced to be making his return in 2014 with Alejandro Iñárritu’s Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), in which he portrayed the former star of a superhero movie franchise making a desperate last attempt at legitimacy. Keaton was, as the narrative told, performing a rendition of his own life in real time. His performance in Birdman is masterful, a poignant turn from an actor who could either be playing himself or a warped version of a stereotype he had begun to fill. Keaton too missed out on Oscar glory but capitalised on his resurgence, appearing in the Oscar winning Spotlight the following year and continuing beyond that to feature consistently in varied roles.The acting comeback is a spectacle, offering to the audience a real-world drama to run parallel to that which they see on screen. The narrative of art imitating life is often spun to add an extra weight to the performance on screen. This spectacle can show a performer reinventing themselves and entering a second career prime but often the magic doesn’t continue beyond one last shot at the big time.Amendment: This article was incorrectly credited to another contributor in the print edition of Otwo. This error has been corrected for the online article.