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The difference between movie stars and actors

Leonardo DiCaprio in "Inception"

Photo: Leonardo DiCaprio in "Inception," courtesy Warner Bros.

Is the distinction mutually exclusive? A few chosen actors and actresses prove otherwise.

Is there a difference between “movie stars” and actors? Both of them act, obviously, but one of them does it as an art form and the other does it – how does one say this? — for the adulation and the box office. There has been endless speculation about psychological motivations. Why would someone need to act on the big screen? Why would someone feel the need to be known by so many people? Did their mothers give them enough love when they were children? Movie stars occasionally do off Broadway – for the craft, for the prestige — but generally they pick their roles not so much for an Oscar or a Screen Actors Guild award so much as for winning the weekend. Tom Cruise, to put it plainly, is a movie star; Willem Dafoe is a – capital “A” — actor. There is a difference.

Recently choleric super-producer Harvey Weinstein – whose muses have, over the years, included Gwyneth Paltrow and Penelope Cruz – was spotted publicly pitching woo at Katy Perry to star in the Paul Potts biopic. From Page Six: “The mogul behind ‘The Artist’ spoke to Perry about playing the wife of Potts — the English mobile-phone salesman who became a singing sensation after winning Simon Cowell’s ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ in 2007. Weinstein was spotted chatting with Perry, who responded, ‘I love a challenge,’ at his pre-Oscar party at Soho House.”

Swell and lovely, Katy. But does loving a challenge make Katy Perry an actress or someone who sometimes acts? Her performance in the “Firework” video notwithstanding, Weinstein was not looking for someone dedicated to the craft for this role. Katy has a fan base; Katy is interesting; Katy sings; Katy can get butts in seats. Katy Perry could conceivably become a movie star. Being a “movie star means being pretty and/or interesting on screen. But the public, to be sure, is fickle.

The pendulum swings. The box office magic doesn’t last. Julia Roberts and Harrison Ford were once stars of such a magnitude as to be in another cosmos altogether. Neither of them is that now. Holding the attention of the public is not easy. What prevailed in the 80s doesn’t hold twenty years later. It is almost like we are in a relationship with movie stars – and all celebrities, really. A one-sided relationship. And when we have had enough of them, when we are no longer interested, we break up. We have essentially fallen out of love with Harrison and Julia. But can we still be friends?

There are, of course, exceptions to the rule. Brad Pitt is both an actor and a movie star and so are Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp. All are interesting and beautiful and can get people into theaters when they star in the leading role but they also tend to favor serious and complex stories. Angelina Jolie can play Lara Croft in a kick ass role, but she also is also not averse to telling a difficult story about Bosnia or playing the wife of a Wall Street Journal reporter murdered by terrorists. Neither of those films was made to get the maximum number of asses into theater seats. Shia LaBeouf – God bless his heart — would never make such an altruistic calculation. Shia is all about the bottom line – entertaining people with big, shiny movies.

Leo DiCaprio is another example of an actor and a movie star. It is hard to imagine Leo doing an action film or even a slapstick comedy – not that there is anything wrong with that. There is a place for Iron Man and there is a place for J. Edgar in this world. But the stories that Leo wants to tell, the stories that Leo wants to be a part of, involve complicated people in serious situations. And though life has its funny moments and though we love our fantasies, this is what Leo wants to represent.

Capital A – as in art — Actors are not quite in it for the money or the fame. But if you are an actor in the movies you are, ipso facto, famous and rich. It is obviously a complicated relationship; as complicated, really, as an independent film. Obviously an actor could stick to stage work, doing Ibsen off Broadway. But if you are going out an auditioning for films in Los Angeles, fame and/or money are clearly a motivating factor. Not the number one factor, but a big factor nonetheless. So there is clearly a difference between capital a Actors and movie stars. But the difference is not as great as we would like to think.

Who are your favorite movie stars and Actors? Tell us in the comments below or on Facebook and Twitter.

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