SNARK WEEK: Unlikely Frock Flick Actors

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Our Man Candy Mondays and Woman Crush Wednesdays are filled with the actors who tend to show up again and again in historical costume movies and TV shows. We start to expect them and their faces become familiar in frock coats or corsets. But not every actor is a natural for frock flicks. Here’s some of the surprising folks who’ve turned up period costume for better or worse…

 

The Unexpectedly Good

 

Cynthia Nixon

Cynthia Nixon, Sex and the City

While Nixon has turned to politics recently, for much of her acting career before and after playing businesslike Miranda on Sex and the City, she seemed happy to dabble in frock flicks land.

Lorl in Amadeus (1984)

Cynthia Nixon, Amadeus (1984)

Getting her frock flicks start as the maid hired to spy on Mozart.

Eleanor Roosevelt in Warm Springs (2005)

Warm Springs (2005)

Eh, she looks almost nothing like the Roosevelt, but then, Kenneth Branagh was playing FDR and he’s not exactly a ringer either.

Petranilla in World Without End (2012)

Cynthia Nixon, World Without End (2012)

I sense nubby linen.

Emily Dickinson in A Quiet Passion (2016)

A Quiet Passion (2017)

Loved this biopic of one of my favorite writers! Do more!

 

Kim Cattrall

Kim Cattrall, Sex and the City (2010)

Sex and the City‘s Samantha may have been all about a good time, but Kim Cattrall is a classically trained British actress familiar with costume dramas from early in her career to today. She’ll even be featured as Agrippina in the upcoming Horrible Histories movie!

 

Anne Ware in The Kent Chronicles: Part 1, The Bastard (1978)

Kim Cattrall, The Kent Chronicles: Part 1, The Bastard (1978)

Dig that funky ’70s title card. It’s for a Revolutionary War miniseries…

Anne Kent in The Kent Chronicles: Part 2, The Rebels (1979)

Kim Cattrall, The Kent Chronicles: Part 2, The Rebels (1979)

Imma just gonna leave this here — wait for more!

Justine de Winter in The Return of the Musketeers (1989)

Kim Cattrall, The Return of the Musketeers (1989)

I’d wear that hat, no lie.

Caroline Kipling in My Boy Jack (2007)

Kim Cattrall, My Boy Jack (2007)

Playing mom to Harry Potter!

Gloria Scabius in Any Human Heart (2010)

Kim Cattrall, Any Human Heart (2010)

A ’50s hottie.

Emily French in The Witness for the Prosecution (2016)

Witness for the Prosecution (2016)

Murder, glam, kitty!

 

Jennifer Beals

Jennifer Beals, Flashdance (1983)

She made her mark in 1983’s Flashdance — oh what a feeling! — as a welder / exotic dancer. But Jennifer Beals has been steadily acting in frock flicks long since she ditched her off-the-shoulder sweatshirt.

Eva in The Bride (1985)

Jennifer Beals, The Bride (1985)

I quite enjoyed this take on The Bride of Frankenstein. But then, I was 16, & it stars Sting. No clue how it holds up, especially looking at the costume & hair.

Lady Olivia Candioni in The Gamble (1988)

Jennifer Beals, The Gamble (1988)

Coming to a future Snark Week?

Gertrude Benchley in Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle (1994)

Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle (1994)

A small but important role in an excellent literary biopic.

Amanda Dickson in A House Divided (2000)

Jennifer Beals, A House Divided (2000)

Post-Civil War — “Confronted with the forces of greed and bigotry, Amanda has to face not only the hatred of a racist world, but the complex truth of a family whose lives have been built on a lie,” per IMDB.

Dolly Rose in The Feast of All Saints (2001)

The Feast of All Saints (2001)

Pretty decent adaption of the Anne Rice novel set in 1830s New Orleans.

Margo Taft in The Last Tycoon (2017)

Jennifer Beals, The Last Tycoon (2017)

In the short-lived Amazon series, Beals played an ambitious actress loosely based on Merle Oberon.

 

 

The Unsurprisingly Bad

 

Tom Cruise

He’s a creepy Scientologist and not a great actor in general. So OBVIOUSLY he’s not a value-add to a frock flick. Yet for some reason, Kendra admits she has a cheesy affection for Far and Away (1992) despite Cruise’s shitty accent, and I must admit I adore the infinite vampire schlock of Interview With the Vampire (1994), including Cruise’s overblown Lestat. Haven’t seen The Last Samurai (2003), but the whole concept looks deeply problematic, and I doubt Tom Cruise makes it better.

Tom Cruise

 

Julia Roberts

Oh pretty woman, you don’t belong in historical costume. But in 1996, someone thought you did — with a bonus shitty Irish accent — in Mary Reilly and Michael Collins. WHHHHYY?!??!

Julia Roberts

 

Billie Piper

Many people love her Rose Tyler from Doctor Who, but I feel like that’s the same character she always plays. Thus, her Fanny Price in 2007’s Mansfield Park, Sally Lockhart Victorian mystery series (2006-2007), and whore/undead chick in Penny Dreadful (2014-2016) were uniformly weaksauce.

Billie Piper

 

Robin Wright

The Princess Bride (1987) kind of doesn’t count because the story is a fairy tale and didn’t ask much of her as Princess Buttercup. But Moll Flanders (1996) required a bit more, and Robin Wright didn’t deliver. Just watch her in current flicks and ignore these early attempts.

Robin Wright

 

Ben Affleck

Some actors can jump from comedy to drama, from modern to historical, with ease. Some, not so much. Ben, play to your strengths. You can act in comedy and write/produce in drama. Don’t mix it up like you tried in Shakespeare in Love (1998) or Pearl Harbor (2001). He’s working on a new version of The Witness for the Prosecution, and I hope he’s not starring in it.

Ben Affleck

 

Gwyneth Paltrow

She won a Best Actress Oscar for Shakespeare in Love (1999), which seems like over-praise for a nice, fluffy performance. That was better, at least, than her Emma (1996), one of the worst of the mid-’90s Austen craze. Currently, she seems obsessed with her GOOP nonsense, which is at least keeping her out of costume dramas.

Gwyneth Paltrow

 

 

The Rest

 

Cher

Slap out of it! Cher can sing, dance, and act with the best of them, including an occasional frock flick like the charming Mermaids (1990) and Tea With Mussolini (1999).

Cher

 

 

Neil Patrick Harris

Somewhere between Doogie Howser M.D. (1989-1993) and How I Met Your Mother (2005–2014), NPH snuck in one frankly forgettable frock flick, Joan of Arc (1999). There’s potential for him to do better now, maybe in a musical?

Neil Patrick Harris

 

Sean Penn

Having enjoyed Penn as surfer Jeff Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982), I’d never have predicted he’d go on to win Oscars for deep emotional performances, including in one of my favorite films Milk (2004). That one doesn’t exactly count as a frock flick, since the events happened during my lifetime and I vividly remember them, but hey, I break my own rules sometimes. Less surprising was Sean Penn’s turn in Shanghai Surprise (1986), a spectacularly bad flick set in the ’30s with his then-wife Madonna.

Sean Penn

 

Elle Macpherson

This supermodel is best known for her Sports Illustrated swimsuit covers and various reality TV shows. But in the ’90s she popped up in the historical costume movies Sirens (1994), as a scantily clad artist’s model, and Jane Eyre (1996), as Jane’s super pretty rival. Uh, typecast much?

Elle Macpherson

 

Jason Schwartzman

Who’d have thought that hipster nerd Schwartzman of Rushmore (1998) and Slackers (2002) would make such a sweet and perfect Louis XVI in Marie Antoinette (2006) or the snappy Disney songwriter Richard Sherman in Saving Mr. Banks (2013)?

Jason Schwartzman

 

Chris Pine

I guess he’s OK for this sort of historical action flick — Wonder Woman (2017), Outlaw King (2018) — where he’s not required to talk a lot or even wear any kind of clothes that are terribly exotic.

Chris Pine

 

 

Which actors do you think should or should NOT give historical costume movies a try?

 

 

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About the author

Trystan L. Bass

Twitter Website

A self-described ElderGoth, Trystan has been haunting the internet since the early 1990s. Always passionate about costume, from everyday office wear to outrageous twisted historical creations, she has maintained some of the earliest online costuming-focused resources on the web. Her costuming adventures are chronicled on her website, TrystanCraft. She also ran a popular fashion blog, This Is CorpGoth, dedicated to her “office drag.”

32 Responses

  1. picasso Manu

    Cher can do anything! Well, except age, apparently. Deal with the Devil or plastic surgeon fidelity card? Same thing, most probably.

    And Cruise can act, sometimes. This to say I was pleasantly surprised at his Lestat, I thought he really captured the character flamboyance… Don’t get me started on Pitt & Banderas in the same movie, though. shudder

    Reply
    • Annie

      His Lestat was just, I’m not really sure how to put it, maybe, “fiendlishly enthusiastic”? Not how I saw Lestat at all, really, but he put his all into it. When I was watching Versailles recently, I thought how wonderful Chevalier would be as Lestat and Phillipe as Louis.

      Reply
  2. Saraquill

    On the DVD extras of “The Last Samurai,” there’s a “history versus Hollywood” feature. It features Cruise, the director and the guy in charge of weapons gushing over how accurate the movie is. Cruise makes a point of saying Westerners are actually the good guys, bringing modern ideas to the country. On the same token, he says that Japan was so awful before Commodore Perry, case in point, Japanese women couldn’t vote.

    Then there’s the movie itself. Bring throat drops to protect from the screaming. Shoes on tatami mats are just the beginning.

    Reply
  3. Sam Marchiony

    Every time I thought I’d thought of someone, I realized that the main reason I knew them was because of a Frock Flick.
    So, since you brought up 1/4 of the Hollywood Chris Quartet, I will say that I think Evans and Hemsworth ought to get in the Frock Flick game more thoroughly, and Pratt should stay faaaaaaar away.
    As for ladies? Well, I get the sneaking feeling that poor Sophie Turner is going to end up in a PFG-Starz collaboration, but if she were in a GOOD production with literally any other team, I’d be here for that.

    Reply
    • Trystan L. Bass

      Maisie Williams was already in the Mary Shelley biopic last year, so yep, Sophie is up next for some frock flicks. Of the Chrises, I dunno, I’m not a fan of any of ’em so they can stay in their low-effort comic-booky things ;)

      Reply
    • Nzie

      I think you could ease Evans in via 20th century… he seems to like to explore some interesting ideas in the smaller projects he picks. Not that I ever want them to do a remake of The Natural, but I could see him playing a role like the lead in that, and then maybe work back from there. Not sure about anything super old/where he’d have to have an English accent though. I haven’t seen Hemsworth in much else, but I’d buy that he could do frock flicks.

      Pratt I think could do something like an O Brother Where Art Thou/30s regular folk era something. But otherwise I think he’s likely to come off like an Affleck—does not belong there, period.

      Reply
  4. Lady Hermina De Pagan

    You missed as Cynthia Nixon Frock Flick role. In the Shlocky Western, Young Riders, she played the 2 part role Annie. A mail order bride who falls for Travis Fine’s character before finally marrying the man who abandoned her at the rail station.

    Reply
  5. Susan Pola Staples

    Both Wynona Rider and Michelle Pfeiffer should do more frock flicks. I loved both in Age of Innocence (Gabriella Pescucci) and Michelle in Cheri (costumes by Consolata Boyle).

    Another actress is Helen Mirren (I’m adding HBO for her Catherine II miniseries when it airs).

    Actors well I agree Tom Hanks should avoid frock flicks but Chadwick Boseman and Sam Heughan should do more.

    Reply
  6. Charity

    Hate on it all you want, the 1996 Emma was my gateway drug into Jane Austen. And Jeremy Northam is still my Mr. Knightley. ;)

    Reply
  7. Karen K.

    I will always love Kim Cattrall in the Downton Abbey spoofs for BBC Comic Relief. And I had a friend once met her on the set of Sex and the City and said she was absolutely kind and lovely.

    Reply
  8. skippy

    If you want Neil Patrick Harris in whackadoodle and occasionally historical outfits, try A Series of Unfortunate Events on Netflix.

    Reply
  9. Faye

    Orlando Bloom should stay far far away from any frock flicks. Terrible in Troy, Kingdom of Heaven, and all those Pirates films.

    Reply
    • Boxermom

      Yes! His problem seems to be that he gets upstaged by other actors:
      Troy – upstaged by Brad Pitt
      Kingdom of Heaven – Pretty much everyone
      Pirates – Johnny Depp
      He’s supposed to the the star of all these movies, but he fades into the background. :)

      Reply
  10. Ctrent29

    I don’t care about Tom Cruise religious beliefs. He is a great actor as far as I am concerned. I’ve sr too many great performances by him to believe otherwise. Also, I disagree with you about 1996 Emma. I found it very enjoyable to watch and thought Paltrow was the best Emma Woodhouse I have seen. And I’ve seen several versions of the character.

    Reply
  11. Mitzy G

    I thought I was the only one who hated Billie Piper! She is a horrible actress and there is something about her face I hate. I almost didn’t watch Penny Dreadful just because she was in it. Rose Tyler is the only role she ever did that was even tolerable and I hate Rose, too.

    Reply
  12. Donnalee

    Hmm, I found Tom Cruise surprisingly attractive in that Rock of Ages movie, so if they used the same sort of long hair and whatever worked then, and didn’t have him emote much, or have opinions, that would be nice to see–just saying.

    Reply
  13. Sophie

    As a fantastic post I think came from twitter says, “Ben Affleck should not be in period pieces, his face looks like it knows what phones are.”

    Reply
  14. Tinny

    Oh lord, I hated Billie Piper as Fanny Price so much that my psyche had entirely erased the memory, and now I am LIVID because this post has brought it all back to me. Why. Why does that film have to even exist. There are so few movies that are unwatchable to me, but that was definitely one.

    Reply
  15. Elizabeth Mahon

    Why do we need yet another version of Witness for the Prosecution. I thought the recent version with Andrea Riseborough and Toby Jones was fine. Agatha Christie wrote like a zillion books but people insist on making movies out of the same 5 books.

    Reply
  16. Marina

    Keira Knightley should just stick with modern films. She is a decent actress, but her face and mannerisms are all very 20th-21st century: I just cannot associate her square jaw, skinny figure and lack of boobs with, say, 18th century standards of female beauty. Not not mention the annoying habit of wrinkling her nose when she smiles – it is cute generally, but feels very out of place in a costume flick. BTW, her Lizzy Bennet in 2005 Pride&Prejudice is my most hated movie.

    Reply

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