The movie star’s survival guide: How some of Hollywood's most luckless leading men and women can rev up their careers again

Is it time to reach out to those Hollywood stars with self-sabotaging agents?

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The age of the movie star is dead: that’s the received industry wisdom these days, at least, with star vehicle after star vehicle flopping, and studios turning their attention to franchises rather than “names”.

But maybe, to get a bit Norma Desmond, it’s not the stars who got small, it’s the pictures that got pants? Such was the thought that struck me while watching the latest Nicole Kidman release Before I Go to Sleep: a sub-Hitchcockian, nay sub-ITV thriller, in which she plays the thanklessly vacant role of an amnesiac British schoolteacher, it’s a stinker matched only by the year’s other Nicole Kidman release, Grace of Monaco. Fine actress that Kidman can be, it’s clear that she’s been receiving some disastrous counsel for quite a while now. In which case: is it time for The Independent on Sunday to reach out to her and all the other Hollywood stars with self-sabotaging agents? Well, of course, it’s the least we can do. And so, in our entirely unasked-for opinion, here is how some of our most luckless leading men and women can rev up their careers again.

Nicole Kidman

Nicole Kidman plays in Grace of Monaco

The problem

: she’s too try-hard for her own good – which is to say, enough of being earnest in busted awards bait (The Railway Man, Grace of Monaco, Rabbit Hole, Cold Mountain).

The prescription: become a camp icon. This has always been well within her abilities: remember her precociously diva-ish turn, aged just 28, as sociopathic weather girl Suzanne Stone in To Die For? And, subsequently, all her best performances have strayed towards the fabulously OTT, from her whooping Moulin Rouge showgirl to her trailer-park femme fatale in The Paperboy. Fact is, she’s about as convincing acting “ordinary person” as a Made in Chelsea cast member, so she should play to her outlandish strengths: it’s time to get Pedro Almodóvar or John Waters on the blower, we say.

Cameron Diaz

Actress Cameron Diaz

The problem

: she’s one of Hollywood’s most likeable IRL presences, but has barely made a decent film this millennium: after breaking big in The Mask, she made a play for artistic-cum-indie credibility but gave up as soon as the studios started offering her big bucks to do her sunny SoCal thing. The endpoint? Last week’s Sex Tape.

The prescription: do a Matthew McConaughey. Who better to take comeback inspiration from than another surfer-hippyish star who showed flashes of greatness before getting mired in romcom drek? And so, though it may roll less easily off the tongue than the “McConaissance”, the “Diazurgence” should use the same blueprint: a prestige TV drama (is it too late for True Detective, Season 2 consideration?), a physically transforming film role and a pose of wry amusement in interviews when asked about the “lost years”.

Vince Vaughn

Vince Vaughn

The problem

: Vaughn was great in Swingers as an obnoxious mid-twentysomething man-child. Then, nine years later in The Wedding Crashers, he enjoyed his second big break as an obnoxious mid-thirtysomething man-child. Meanwhile his recent career has involved him diverting into obnoxious, mid-fortysomething man-child roles. But as the box-office figures for The Internship, The Watch and The Dilemma bear out, audiences have begun to grow tired of such wilful eclecticism. (And though he is rumoured to have been cast in that aforementioned, endlessly-discussed HBO cop drama, it’s somehow too obvious a comeback move for him.)

The prescription: a superhero movie. Now hear us out. As any fan of the genre knows, it has been decreed that superheroes must be “humanised” in today’s adaptations. And how more human – i.e. miserably flawed – can you get then a standard-issue Vaughn obnoxious man-child? Critics will call it “a sobering, post-Bush parable about the toxic distribution of power” ... or something.

Tom Cruise

Tom Cruise

The problem

: at some point around the time of the Oprah sofa shimmy, Cruise’s on-screen presence become overshadowed by off-screen “charisma”. Meanwhile, Jack Reacher,  Knight and Day and Edge of Tomorrow have shown that audiences aren’t much interested in him playing action heroes any more. 

The prescription: “Being Tom Cruise”, the post-modern, self-reflexive drama we’ve all been waiting for. There are, after all, few questions that nag the modern consciousness more than what the hell is going on inside Tom Cruise’s head? And this would please the art-house crowd, tease the gossip-mongers and prove, once and for all, that he can convey self-deprecation.

Reese Witherspoon

Reese Witherspoon

The problem

: the worst Oscar curse this side of Cuba Gooding Jnr: since she won for Walk the Line in 2005, her credits have ranged in awfulness from Four Christmases to Water for Elephants.

The prescription: a television sitcom. Witherspoon can be a great comic actress, and everyone knows the best comedy writers are going small-screen these days. Actually, what d’ya know, we have the perfect project already in mind: a half-hour series centred on the adult incarnation of Tracey Flick, her demonically driven schoolgirl from 1999 high-school classic Election who presumably will have ended up somewhere in the Republican Party leadership by now. It will sit somewhere between Veep, Parks and Recreation, Fox News and Dante’s Inferno and surely be the toast of the 2016 Emmys.

Adam Sandler

Adam Sandler with his award for favourite comedic movie actor

The problem

: Sandler’s name on a poster used to generate good box office, regardless of the film’s quality. But the takings of recent vehicles such as this year’s Blended have proved that his sorcerous hold on audiences is finally slipping ….

The prescription: Darren Aronofsky. Sandler is going “quality director” with Jason Reitman’s new drama Men, Women and Children, but we think Aronofsky could be the one to do something really dark and interesting with the comic’s erratic energy. Also with The Wrestler and Black Swan, Aronofsky has made two  great films about the hell of performing – and who better than the star of Jack and Jill to help him make it three?