Seven plus-sized actresses with big careers.

Seven plus-sized actresses with big careers. (photo)

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Last week, Howard Stern got ruder than usual on the topic of recent Oscar nominee Gabourey Sidibe. Overweight people, he said, can’t have acting careers: “She should have gotten the Best Actress award because she’s never going to have another shot. What movie is she gonna be in?” But, of course, obesity is not an automatic impediment to thespian success, male or female — one need only look at Sidibe’s “Precious” co-star Mo’Nique for an example of a full-figured actress who has collected a steady paycheck from the movie business. True, it’s rare to see an onscreen presence bigger than a size two, but a life on the character actor margins can be eked out at the very least. So here’s a list of seven actresses that prove Stern wrong:

03152010_grapes.jpgJane Darwell

Arguably the most famous person from Palmyra, Mo., Darwell is uncharitably described on Turner Classic Movies database is kinder: “A heavy-set character player with a hearty voice and a slightly worried expression.” Darwell worried herself into somewhere around 170 film parts, including the iconic turns as the Bird Lady in “Mary Poppins” and Ma Joad in John Ford’s “The Grapes of Wrath,” where the only thing that exceeded her presence was the film’s incredibly hyperbolic trailer:

03152010_eightandahalf.jpgEddra Gale

Little is known about the enigmatic Gale, except that she was an opera singer Fellini discovered on a trip to Milan and ultimately threw her weight around the in film world, racking up a string of supporting credits in American films through 1980, most notably as Peter Sellers’ wife in “What’s New Pussycat.” But she’ll always be best known for her debut in “8 ½” as La Saraghina, the monstrously voluptuous prostitute who warps Marcello Mastroianni’s childhood on the beach:


Ricki Lake

Best remembered for playing the Hefty Hideaway-sponsored dance queen Tracy Turnblad in the original “Hairspray,” Lake went on to a successful career as a daytime talk show in the ’90s and slimmed down as a result, blaming child abuse for her one-time weight of 260 pounds. Frankly, some fans liked her heavier, such as Elizabeth Turnquist, who felt betrayed by the former plus-sized teen queen, writing on WeAreTheRealDeal.com, “I was 15 in 1989 when I watched the made-for-TV movie ‘Babycakes,'” she says. “It was the first time I was able to identify – as a fat girl – with an actress.” However, judging by how Lake stares off into the distance like patience on a particularly painful monument and the less-than-dignified song choice of “Big Girls Don’t Cry” in “Babycakes”‘ opening scene, perhaps it was the actress who wasn’t able to identify with the fat girl:

03152010_bringing.jpgQueen Latifah

Speaking of “Hairspray,” Latifah stepped into the shoes of Motormouth Maybelle for the 2007 musical remake, capitalizing on the success of her Oscar-nominated turn in “Chicago” and her abilities as an acting/singing double threat. But if you think about it, there’s really no one physically resembling Latifah at the same level of prominence, which may be why she’s been so prolific in recent years, mostly in pretty dubious material like “Bringing Down the House” and “Mad Money,” and has also become a controversial figure in the eyes of Turnquist (see above), who sees the actress as a turncoat for endorsing Jenny Craig. Not that Latifah sees it that way: “[The fans] see that I’m doing this for the health reasons but also say, ‘She’s still representing for the big girls.'”

03152010_misery.jpgKathy Bates

Until she won an Oscar for “Misery,” the brash and always fun Bates had been known for her ability to seamlessly fuse acid sarcasm and barely concealed warmth for much of her career. Fortunately, she didn’t allow herself to be typecast as the fat psychopath in subsequent pictures, instead carving out memorable appearances as Molly Brown in “Titanic” and, of course, getting naked with Jack Nicholson in “About Schmidt.” Upon her third Oscar nomination for the latter, Bates remarked, “I think the Academy gave me a nomination for that one so that I would never take off my clothes on camera again.” As if Jack looked any better.

03152010_margo.jpgMargo Martindale

Like Bates, Martindale fit the bill when Alexander Payne was looking for a hefty middle-aged Midwesterner and gets the full seven minutes to herself in “14th Arrondissement,” Payne’s contribution to “Paris je t’aime,” in which she plays Carol, the real American in Paris who wants badly to connect with another culture but doesn’t know how. Charges of condescension were leveled against Payne as they always are, but this is a great empathetic showcase for the longtime character actress who is probably known to most as the woman behind the dry cleaning counter in that ubiquitous Yoplait commercial:

03152010_fat.jpgKirstie Alley

What can we say about Kirstie Alley that she hasn’t said herself? After sailing past the 200-pound mark in 2005, Alley hope to reboot her flagging career with the meta Showtime series “Fat Actress” after her last shot at a movie career peaked with “Drop Dead Gorgeous” in 1999. Lasting all of seven episodes, Alley took the Charlie Kaufman approach to the half-hour comedy, playing herself and pluckily confronting the struggle with weight that made her catnip for the tabloids, but with none of the awkwardness. So what’s a fat actress to do when her show’s cancelled? Jenny Craig, of course. Those are the breaks.

[Photos: “Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire,” Lionsgate, 2009; “The Grapes of Wrath,” 20th Century Fox, 1940; “8 1/2,” The Criterion Collection, 1963; “Hairspray,” New Line Cinema, 1988; “Bringing Down The House,” Buena Vista, 2003; “Misery,” Columbia Pictures, 1990; “Paris, je t’aime,” First Look International, 2006; “Fat Actress,” Showtime, 2005.]

SAW, Shawnee Smith, 2004. ph: Greg Gayne/©Lionsgate/courtesy Everett Collection

Saw's Death Traps

The Creepiest Death Traps From the Saw Movies

See Jigsaw's creepiest traps.

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The deathtraps featured in the Saw movies are basically what would happen if Rube Goldberg and Hellraiser had a demon hell child. Jigsaw (and his assistants) build devices of such staggering complexity that it’s a wonder what they could actually accomplish if they used their skills for good instead of for ironic punishment.

Before you catch the Saw movie marathon on IFC, check out the most creepiest traps from each movie which, of course, are very NSFW unless you work for Jigsaw.

1. The Reverse Bear Trap, Saw

The Reverse Bear Trap was the most visually distinctive contraption of the original movie and set the macabre template for the rest of the series. A large metal machine is connected to the victim’s face. If they fail the test, powerful motors will open their jaw to a truly fatal degree. It basically takes all of our dental surgery fears to a horrifying new level.

2. The Razor Box, Saw II

The Razor Box presents a serious dilemma: A poisoned victim sees a clear box containing an antidote. But if they reach in to grab it, razors cut into their arms. Just a few seconds of examination would have revealed the trap’s key on top of the box. It turns out that when you’re locked in a filthy pit of death traps by a lunatic, the most obvious solution completely goes out the window.

3. Amanda’s Test, Saw III

Amanda survives the Reverse Bear Trap from the first movie and goes on to work with Jigsaw. (And you thought your job interview was bad.) Unfortunately it turns out that most people building death traps don’t actually want their victims to survive. When Amanda shoots someone rather than releasing them from a shotgun collar, Jigsaw explains that that was Amanda’s test. Just after manipulating his other apprentice into shooting her in the neck.

4. See No Evil, Speak No Evil, Saw IV

Two men wake up wearing collars chained to a winding cylinder. One has his eyes sewn shut, the other his mouth, so they’re not really in a condition to take a calm look at the situation. The result is a perfectly brutal tragedy of miscommunication and mutilation.

5. The Fatal Five Teamwork Traps, Saw V

Five victims face a series of traps which can be non-lethally solved with the power of teamwork. (Jigsaw could’ve had a great side career as a corporate trainer.) Unfortunately for the five (then four, then three…) they compete with and kill each other until the final test, where they have to sacrifice a total of ten pints of blood to escape. With only two people left, it doesn’t go well.

6. Breathing Room, Saw VI

A health insurance executive and his company’s heavy-smoker janitor are locked into crushing vices connected to breathing masks. The more they breathe, the tighter the vices close, until only one survives. We’ll be honest; we love this because someone specifically built it so that the “breathing room” pun isn’t the most painful aspect.

7. The Love Triangle, Saw 3D: The Final Chapter

The many Saw sequels meant that Jigsaw and his cohorts had to get even more creative to keep their deathtraps fresh. The Love Triangle took things into the outside world by sticking three actual bodies in a mall display full of actual saws. How did Jigsaw install a murder machine and three actual living humans in a public display booth without being caught? And where is Batman when you need him? Jigsaw is really approaching Joker territory here.


Do You Know Jackie?

Test Your Knowledge on All Things Jackie

Take the Jackie quiz, That '70s fans!

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Jackie is the spoiled little rich girl of That ’70s Show, which doesn’t stop her from being right a little more often than her friends might like. But how many right answers will you get in our quiz that’s all about the motormouth of the That ’70s Show gang? Find out below.


Source Code Michelle Monaghan

Michelle Visits CB!B!

5 Michelle Monaghan Roles We Love

Michelle Monaghan stops by Comedy Bang! Bang! tonight at 11P ET/PT on IFC.

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Photo: Summit Entertainment/Courtesy Everett Collection

Here’s an interesting tidbit you might not know about Michelle Monaghan: when she was growing up, her parents also took in foster kids to their Winthrop, Iowa home. They raised a solid dozen of them over as many years, and we can’t help but think that being exposed to different people from so many circumstances helped Michelle build the empathy and eye for character that has made her one of our favorite actresses.

To get you ready for Michelle Monaghan’s appearance on this week’s Comedy Bang! Bang!, we put together an extremely biased list of her five best roles. Sorry, Pixels doesn’t make the cut.

5. Harmony Lane, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

Shane Black’s demented Hollywood noir is on our short list for most underrated flick of all time. Not only did it bring Robert Downey Jr. back to the big screen as petty criminal turned unwitting detective Harry Lockhart, but it features possibly the best post-Iceman Val Kilmer performance of all time. The third player in the film’s triangle is Michelle Monaghan as Harmony Laine, Harry’s childhood friend all grown up. Harmony is the motor that drives the twisted story of lust and revenge, and she does a bang-up (pun intended) job walking the tightrope between small-town innocence and Los Angeles sleaze.

4. Diane Ford, Trucker


Plum Pictures

The 2008 indie Trucker might have flown beneath your radar, but you should check it out on Netflix because it’s one of Michelle Monaghan’s finest performances. She plays Diane Ford, a long-haul driver who finds her screwed-up life of getting blitzed and having one-night stands upended when her 10-year-old son comes back into her life. It’s a story that could easily get obvious and cliche, but first-time director James Mottern dodges dramatic pitfalls with the aid of his incredible lead, instead producing a deft character study that is very worth watching.

3. Maggie Hart, True Detective

Season one of the acclaimed HBO crime drama was aided by an incredible cast of actors, including Michelle Monaghan’s Maggie Hart. As one of the key female figures in a very male-dominated show, Maggie has to carry a lot of weight. When we found out halfway through that she’d cheated on her husband (Woody Harrelson) with Matthew McConaughey’s Rust Cohle, it served as a new lens to examine their twisted relationship. It’s a challenging role that Monaghan rises to with aplomb.

2. Christina Warren, Source Code

Source code

The premise for the 2011 thriller Source Code is pretty ridiculous — a top secret military project gives Jake Gyllenhaal the ability to travel back in time and re-live the last eight minutes of somebody’s life over and over like the world’s worst Groundhog Day — but the end result is a damn fine film. Michelle Monaghan provides an important emotional anchor as Christina Warren, who Gyllenhaal’s character builds a deeper and deeper connection with every time he loops back. Without her, the whole premise would collapse, and the actress rises to the occasion ably.

1. Julia Meade, Mission: Impossible III


Paramount Pictures

Playing the romantic lead in a Tom Cruise-led spy actioner is a pretty thankless job, but director J. J. Abrams gave Monaghan plenty to chew on as Ethan Hunt’s fiancee Julia Meade in the third Mission: Impossible flick. Initially Julia starts out as a clueless damsel in distress, captured by arms dealer Owen Davian to compel Hunt to steal some Macguffin or other. But by the end of the film she’s up to speed with her fiance’s covert career, saves his life with an electric shock and even pops a cap in the ass of IMF traitor John Musgrave.


Award Winners

Fred Armisen and Bill Hader to Receive American Ingenuity Award

Smithsonian Magazine honors Documentary Now!

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During its inspirational 50th season, Documentary Now! earned our undying love and support. Now it’s earning awards, too. The show’s creators and stars, Bill Hader and Fred Armisen, have won Smithsonian Magazine‘s American Ingenuity Award for the Performing Arts this year. Senator Al Franken will present the duo with the award in a ceremony on Thursday, Nov. 12th. No word on whether Blue Jean Committee will perform.

In addition to the award, Bill and Fred received another honor—the chance to get their mugs on the cover of Smithsonian Magazine‘s December issue. Looking good, guys. And for more Documentary Now!, check out the archives, music and full episodes.

Smithsonian Magazine

Smithsonian Magazine

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