Roaring into theaters this Friday is “The Fate Of The Furious” (read our review!), the eighth (eighth!) in the enduring, and somehow ever-growing, “The Fast And The Furious” franchise. The series has consistently added new blood into the mix as a way of keeping things fresh, with Dwayne Johnson, Kurt Russell and Jason Statham among the big-ticket additions to the series, but the upcoming movie comes with something of a credibility boost, with not one but two Oscar-winning actresses getting in on the fun, in the shape of Charlize Theron and Helen Mirren.
In Mirren’s case, it seems to have come out of a genuine affection for the series — she mentioned that she liked the franchise in an interview and producers jumped at the chance to include her. But Theron, it seems safe to assume, is on board mostly for the chance for a hefty paycheck, and it kind of shows in the film, where the excellent actress gives a performance that could be probably most generously described as “quite sleepy.”
But she’s hardly the first: at some point in almost every actor’s career, an offer comes in that would be such a profile-raiser, and pay them so much money after years of struggle, that their reservations about the script or co-star take a back seat. Sometimes that works out ok, most of the time it doesn’t, but in tribute to Theron’s turn as the appropriately named Cipher, here are 20 other actors who grit their teeth and thought of the directorial debut they were going to fund, or the place on Martha’s Vineyard they were going to buy, with their paycheck. And let us know your personal faves in the comments.
Juliette Binoche – “Godzilla”/“Ghost In The Shell”
Famously, Steven Spielberg offered Juliette Binoche the Laura Dern role in “Jurassic Park,” but the French actress had already agreed to make Krzysztof Kieslowski’s “Three Colors: Blue” instead, and successfully avoided the blockbuster train for the next couple of decades, even after winning her Oscar for “The English Patient.” But few escape that train permanently, and after a begging letter from director Gareth Edwards, Binoche agreed to appear in the director’s reboot of “Godzilla,” playing the wife of Bryan Cranston’s character. Unfortunately, Binoche doesn’t get much of a chance to make an impression: she dies in a nuclear reactor leak in the opening scene of the film, done by halfway through the first reel. She has a little more to do in her second recent blockbuster foray, playing Scarlett Johansson’s surrogate mother/creator in the aesthetically pleasing, thunderously stupid “Ghost In The Shell,” but not by all that much: director Rupert Sanders‘ lack of facility with actors clearly shows, and Binoche just looks a bit adrift. Still, it probably paid for the freedom for her to make Bruno Dumont’s next three movies, so at least something good came out of it.
Jessica Chastain – “The Huntsman: Winter’s War”
Since exploding into our consciousnesses in 2011, Jessica Chastain’s become one of the most in-demand actors around, which means that when she’s taken bigger-budget studio jobs, they’ve tended to be well-reviewed films like “Interstellar,” “The Martian” and “Crimson Peak” from A-list directors. Hell, even the obligatory Dreamworks animation job, “Madagascar 3,” was written by Noah Baumbach. That said, she proved to be not completely above the idea of doing it purely for the money with last year’s “The Huntsman: Winter’s War,” the completely unnecessary sequel/spin-off to “Snow White And The Huntsman.” Playing the long-lost warrior bride of Chris Hemsworth’s woodsman who teams with him to take down Elsa from “Frozen,” the film undoubtedly has plenty of class to the cast — Charlize Theron and Emily Blunt are the antagonists. But while Blunt is legitimately good, and Theron at least gets to chew scenery and probably shot her scenes in a week, Chastain has no real material to grapple with beyond a wonky Scottish accent. Still, it’s sort of fun to see her be an action heroine, and it likely bought her a summer house.
Penélope Cruz – Various
For an actor who has given some of the finest performances of any actress in recent years thanks to Pedro Almodóvar, and who won an Oscar with Woody Allen, Penélope Cruz sure has done a lot of garbage. The ageless Spanish star has been a notable name for 25 years on, and in American movies for nearly 20 of those, but her English-language work is decidedly patchier than what she does in her native tongue. One might forgive her a “Gothika” (which was directed by “La Haine”’s Matthieu Kassovitz and starred recent Oscar-winner Halle Berry) or a “Sahara” (a surprisingly fun though mostly forgotten Indiana Jones rip-off with Matthew McConaughey). But then you get a Jerry Bruckheimer movie about super-spy gerbils called “G-Force,” a cameo in “Sex And The City 2” and the worst “Pirates Of The Caribbean” movie, and you start to suspect she might need better representation, or at least a less-panicked approach to freelance employment. The beginning of 2016 marked a particularly bleak patch, with dreadful, demeaning spy comedy “Zoolander 2” being swiftly followed by dreadful, demeaning spy comedy “Grimsby.” Here’s hoping that her turn in Kenneth Branagh’s upcoming “Murder On The Orient Express” puts her on a better route.
Judi Dench – “The Chronicles Of Riddick”
Like a commenter on an Oscar blog, Vin Diesel really, really loves a dame, by which we mean he loves classically trained British actresses of a certain age. And long before Helen Mirren popped up in “The Fate Of The Furious,” he managed another coup by persuading Dame Judi Dench to appear in his not-quite-franchise-starting big-budget sci-fi fantasy tentpole “The Chronicles Of Riddick.” We say persuade, but it was more of a case of wearing her down, according to Dench, who said that the gravel-voiced star “came to see me at the Haymarket Theatre (where she was appearing with Maggie Smith in David Hare’s play “The Breath Of Life”) and sent me a bouquet of flowers that they couldn’t get up the stairs… You can’t say no to a man like that!” With what we assume was a hefty Universal paycheck, it was enough to get Dench to play Aereon, an Air Elemental who serves as something of a space-mentor to Diesel’s anti-hero in David Twohy’s messy but fitfully enjoyable actioner. It certainly helps give the film some gravitas, though it’s likely the least interesting thing the actress has ever done, including the bad Bond movies.
Toni Collette – “xXx: Return Of Xander Cage”
Again suggesting that Vin Diesel probably has a near-identical list of favorite actresses to Billy Eichner, the big-bad villain of his recent abortive franchise reviver “xXx: Return Of Xander Cage” is played not by some Euro sleazebag or tough-guy character actor, but by beloved Australian actress Toni Collette, star of “Muriel’s Wedding.” Collette isn’t necessarily a stranger to studio fare — the remakes of “Shaft” and “Fright Night” are among her credits — but playing the treacherous CIA agent Jane Marke in the extreme-sports-centric espionage actioner definitely stands out in her career as one of the stranger choices she’s made. It’s actually sort of refreshing — Collette does the shifty-spy-superior thing well, and convinces to an impressive degree when going toe-to-toe with Donnie Yen in the film’s plane-bound finale (before getting flung out of the sky). It’s particularly fun because the cast of the film seems to have been assembled almost at random anyway — a Bollywood star! Ruby Rose! The Hound from “Game Of Thrones!” Soccer player Neymar Jr.! — and Collette feels like the cherry on top. Hopefully this becomes the start of a Liam Neeson-style reinvention as an action hero.