It occurs to me as I read memorials to Leslie Nielson this morning, [Link] that being an actor is rather like strolling in a minefield. The analogy is really rather logical.
Take the proposition: Any good actor wants to give a compelling, believable performance. Part of this is artistic compulsion, part is simple economics – the better the performance the more people who like it and the more likely the actor will get more roles and hence, more pay.
The counterpoint to this is that if the performance is too compelling, too believable, then the actor will not be compelling nor believable in other roles. In effect the actor becomes defined by that role.
Consider if you will, William Shattner and Leonard Nemoy. Both are defined by their Star Trek roles; their roles afterwards were unrecoverable despite the actors’ best efforts. The same may be said for Mark Hamil and Carrie Fisher.
It also seems that the more the actors’ roles carry the movie, rather than its theme or plot, the more likely this crystallization is to occur. This is why Leslie Nielson was not frozen in being Commander Adams. Simply put, Forbidden Planet had excellent theme and plot and all the actors did with their performances was enhance and resonate; their performances did not define the movie.
So what we have to mourn as much as the passing of an actor who got to express himself in many dimensions is the deterioration of the science fiction video to the sad state that it has neither theme nor plot that is believable and is only rescued by sacrificing good actors.