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What Could Have Been

December 11, 2012

What Could Have Been

Written by Garrett O’Brochta

YES

“Let’s go Garrett! It’s time for the movie!” my mom impatiently screams at the top of her lungs. I run down the stairs, slip on the hardwood floor and fall face first into the family room. No one notices my elegant entrance.

I decide to counter act my moms impatience with an obnoxious question.

“What are we watching!?”

Already knowing the answer, I wait for her response.

The Graduate,” she says with a hint of annoyance.

Sitting on the floor, I wait for the movie to start. Green reflects on my face as precaution appears on the screen. My heart races with excitement- there’s nothing like watching a classic for the first time. The entire week I danced around the kitchen singing, “and here’s to you Mrs. Robinson…” Needless to say, my family was ready for my obsession excitement to be over.

I knew very little about the movie, aside from it being the first for Dustin Hoffman. Waiting to see a younger version of  Mr. Focker, a familiar face appears instead. I turn to my sister in shock, “I didn’t know Jack Nicholson was in this!?”

“Shh,” she says.

At this point I’m a little nervous. I grab the movie cover and read the synopsis. I come across the main character Benjamin Braddock, played by Dustin Hoffman; this calms me, until I hear someone yell “hey Ben!” I look up, there he is, Jack Nicholson. At this point I’m in denial, “maybe they have the same name?” I say with a twitching eye. “Maybe he’s an evil twin?”

Looking around the room, no one’s even flinched. “I’m just being dramatic,” I think. Until, I look at the cover- Dustin Hoffman has been replaced by Jack Nicholson. I slowly turn it over, fearing to read the name. At that moment, the letters Dustin Hoffman form into Jack Nicholson. Right when I can comprehend it’s a dream…

I wake up.

Laying in bed, I ask myself why it’d be so awful if Jack Nicholson starred in The Graduate?

All I could come up with was how perfect Hoffman was. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge Nicholson fan, but no one else could have played that role. Hoffman embraces the vulnerability of the character; where as Nicholson would’ve brought a cocky attitude. Dustin Hoffman allowed the character to be quirky, funny, awkward and cute; Nicholson would’ve made him cool, snide, confident and smug.

There seems to be this presence with Nicholson. He’s the guy “You’re So Vein” should be written about- he has the cool factor. That said, Benjamin Braddock is not cool. That’s the beauty of the character, he’s quirky, but somehow gets two women at the same time.

Hoffman played the “I’m not the guy this should be happening to.” Nicholson, among other actors, would’ve played it like, “yeah man, I got two chicks and their in the same family. Win.” By embracing the vulnerability, Hoffman made a character you sympathize, rather than love to hate.

Pretty Woman

In the words of Vivian Ward, casting Nicholson would’ve been a “big mistake, big, huge.” Which leads me to my next thank god that didn’t happen. Meg Ryan starring in Pretty Woman.

Julia Roberts wasn’t Disney’s first choice to play the iconic role. Right off her success of When Harry Met Sally, Ryan had the potential to play opposite Gere, and I thank my lucky stars it didn’t happen.

Let me first start off by saying, I’m the biggest fan of When Harry Met Sally, no one else could have played the role of Sally Albright, and the same goes for Pretty Woman. Although Ryan is a talented actress- and holds her own against Roberts- Vivien Ward was made for Julia.

Roberts, like Hoffman, brings a vulnerability to the character, that I personally don’t think anyone else could have. Ward is a complex, yet shallow character and Roberts nails it right on the head. There’s an undertone to Ward, she’s broken, but glued and scotch taped together. Although she has walls, within the first scenes you can see how desperate she wants them torn down. Ryan would’ve given this an unconvincing portrayal.

The great thing about Ryan is she does the “difficult woman” so well. The character that has a mind of her own, and loves the guy, but can live without him, but secretly hopes he calls. She plays the single girl desperately looking for love but isn’t going to show it.

That works for Sally Albright, but not for Vivian Ward. Roberts’ portrayal is as smooth as butter, she was made to play it.  Ryan would’ve been trying too hard. You can’t help but love Julia Roberts, you can be annoyed by Meg Ryan. Even though I love them both.

Forrest-Gump

Life is like a box of chocolates, but there’s only one type that can play Forrest Gump. Tom Hanks. Before being cast, John Travolta was offered the iconic role and turned it down. Although Travolta has been quoted as saying it was a mistake, I can’t help but jump for joy.

There is no way John Travolta could’ve played Forrest Gump as flawlessly as Tom Hanks. When it comes to a complex character, Forrest Gump is one of the leading contenders. Gump is the boy next door. He’s the kid you went to high school with and you’ve forgotten. He’s a wallflower. Portraying this is more difficult than any other role, because you have to bring life to the character. Tom Hanks not only brings life to Forrest, but makes him lovable.

If Travolta would’ve played him, it would be a complete contradiction. John Travolta plays the seductive role so well. He’s Danny Zuko for crying out loud! He’s the guy you don’t want to bring home to your mom but you did anyways- just to piss her off.

Similar to Nicholson, Travolta has an undertone of confidence, when Forrest doesn’t even know what that means. John Travolta was a leading man, Forrest Gump is not. Hanks’ boyish good looks, quirky attitude, and ability to embrace awkwardness made his portrayal irreplaceable.

All three of these portrayals are irreplaceable, but I have to ask if it’s just because I’ve seen the movies starring these actors. My answer is of course. If Nicholson, Ryan or even Travolta played these roles, I wouldn’t have known the difference. However, I don’t think they would’ve turned into classics.

When I think about my favorite movies and the actors that play them, I can’t picture anyone else. Yes, it’s because they’re the only one’s playing it, but it’s something else. Roles such as Benjamin Broddack, Vivian Ward and Forrest Gump are complex characters. Not because they are druggies or crazy, but because they are portraying realistic qualities. They’re embracing the flaws of people.

Whenever you have a film that is embracing flaws, you need more than just good looks, and good acting. The movie needs an actor that can relate to their character and bring them to life. Any movie with an over-dramatic character, although difficult, relies on the acting, where as roles depicting a certain reality, rely on the actor giving a part of themselves.

In these three movies that’s what the actors do. Although they’re acting, you can still see just a hint of them in their character. Dustin Hoffman’s quirkiness. Julia Robert’s laugh. Tom Hank’s awkwardness. These are just a few of the qualities that brought these characters to life and made them classics.

All I can say is, well done casting directors.

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