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.]

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Weird Roles

Anthony Michael Hall’s Most Rotten Movies

Catch Anthony Michael Hall in Weird Science on Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Universal/Everett Collection

Anthony Michael Hall was the quintessential ’80s nerd. We love him in classics like The Breakfast Club and National Lampoon’s Vacation. But even the brainiest among us has his weak spots. In honor of Weird Science airing this Rotten Friday, we analyze Hall’s worst movies.

Weird Science (1985) 56%

A low point for John Hughes, Weird Science is way too wacky for its own good. Anthony Michael Hall’s Gary and his pal Wyatt (Ilan Mitchell-Smith) create the “perfect woman.” Supernatural chaos ensues. The film costars a young Bill Paxton, floppy disks, and a general disconnect from all reality.

The Caveman’s Valentine (2001) 46%

This ambitious drama starring Samuel L. Jackson couldn’t live up to its rich premise. Jackson plays Romulus, a Juilliard-educated, paranoid schizophrenic who lives in a cave. Hall co-stars as Bob, a rich man, who wants to see Romulus play the piano. The plot centers around Romulus investigating a murder, but with so much going on, the movie never quite finds its rhythm.

All About the Benjamins (2002) 30%

Ice Cube plays a bounty hunter who teams up with Mike Epps’ con man to catch diamond thieves. Hall plays Lil J, a small-time drug dealer. It’s definitely a role we’ve never seen Hall in, but overall the movie isn’t funny or original enough to justify its violence.

Freddy Got Fingered (2001) 11%

This showcase for Tom Green’s goofy gross-out comedy is often hailed as one of the worst films of all time. Green plays Gord, a 20-something slacker, who dreams of having his own animated series. Hall is Dave Davidson, a CEO of an animation studio who eventually helps Gord find success. Too bad Tom Green wasn’t so lucky.

Johnny Be Good (1988) 0%

Hall plays against type as Johnny Walker, a star quarterback. Robert Downey Jr. is his best friend and Uma Thurman plays his devoted girlfriend. Despite the support of a future A-list cast, the movie lacks central conflict and charm. Or, as TV Guide put it, “Johnny be worthless.” Ouch.

Catch the “Too Rotten to Miss” Weird Science this Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Season 6: Episode 1: Pickathon

Binge Fest

Portlandia Season 6 Now Available On DVD

The perfect addition to your locally-sourced, artisanal DVD collection.

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End of summer got you feeling like:

Portlandia Toni Screaming GIF

Ease into fall with Portlandia‘s sixth season. Relive the latest exploits of Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein’s cast of characters, including Doug and Claire’s poignant breakup, Lance’s foray into intellectual society, and the terrifying rampage of a tsukemen Noodle Monster! Plus, guest stars The Flaming Lips, Glenn Danzig, Louis C.K., Kevin Corrigan, Zoë Kravitz, and more stop by to experience what Portlandia is all about.

Pick up a copy of the DVD today, or watch full episodes and series extras now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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Byrning Down the House

Everything You Need to Know About the Film That Inspired “Final Transmission”

Documentary Now! pays tribute to "Stop Making Sense" this Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Cinecom/courtesy Everett Collection

This week Documentary Now! is with the band. For everyone who’s ever wanted to be a roadie without leaving the couch, “Final Transmission” pulls back the curtain on experimental rock group Test Pattern’s final concert. Before you tune in Wednesday at 10P on IFC, plug your amp into this guide for Stop Making Sense, the acclaimed 1984 Talking Heads concert documentary.

Put on Your Dancing Shoes

Hailed as one of the best concert films ever created, director Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs) captured the energy and eccentricities of a band known for pushing the limits of music and performance.

Make an Entrance

Lead singer David Byrne treats the concert like a story: He enters an empty stage with a boom box and sings the first song on the setlist solo, then welcomes the other members of the group to the stage one song at a time.

Steal the Spotlight

David Byrne Dancing
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Always a physical performer, Byrne infuses the stage and the film with contagious joy — jogging in place, dancing with lamps, and generally carrying the show’s high energy on his shoulders.

Suit Yourself

Byrne makes a splash in his “big suit,” a boxy business suit that grows with each song until he looks like a boy who raided his father’s closet. Don’t overthink it; on the DVD, the singer explains, “Music is very physical, and often the body understands it before the head.”

View from the Front Row

Stop Making Sense Band On Stage
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Demme (who also helmed 1987’s Swimming to Cambodia, the inspiration for this season’s Documentary Now! episode “Parker Gail’s Location is Everything”) films the show by putting viewers in the audience’s shoes. The camera rarely shows the crowd and never cuts to interviews or talking heads — except the ones onstage.

Let’s Get Digital

Tina Weymouth Keyboard
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Stop Making Sense isn’t just a good time — it’s also the first rock movie to be recorded entirely using digital audio techniques. The sound holds up more than 30 years later.

Out of Pocket

Talk about investing in your art: Talking Heads drummer Chris Frantz told Rolling Stone that the members of the band “basically put [their] life savings” into the movie, and they didn’t regret it.

Catch Documentary Now!’s tribute to Stop Making Sense when “Final Transmission” premieres Wednesday, October 12 at 10P on IFC.

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