Tony Earnshaw: The perils of selling out to a long-running film franchise

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I have to hand it to Ethan Hawke: the man has class. Not only did he commit to making Richard Linklater’s Boyhood over a 12-year period, thus assisting in the creation of a genuinely unique film project, he also turned down the chance to be part of the ever-expanding Marvel franchise.

Or did he? In a new interview the 44-year-old hinted that he was in the frame for the lead in Doctor Strange, the role that eventually went to Benedict Cumberbatch. Hawke claims Joaquin Phoenix was offered the part, but declined. What’s more he goes on to muse on the prospect of someone of the calibre of Daniel Day-Lewis playing such a part…

A huge gulf has opened up in the movies on offer in our cinemas. On one hand there is Boyhood, costing $120,000. Then there are the extravaganzas on display from Marvel and Co – mighty spectacles built on eye-popping CGI in which the likes of Robert Downey Jr and Don Cheadle swap acting for posturing, heavyweight for lightweight and quality for throwaway smarts.

They’re all at it. Ben Kingsley, even Robert Redford. Every one has signed on to join the growing Marvel ensemble. It’s all about the money, money, money.

Hawke hit the nail smartly on the head when he spoke of the longer-term commitments facing stars in a Marvel movie. Making the picture is only the start.

Afterwards there follows the treadmill of PR tours, convention appearances and the endless, deathless association with one particular character.

Sir Alec Guinness experienced it with Star Wars and Obi-Wan Kenobi. Aged 62 he signed up to a strange sci-fi drama with “ropey dialogue” which he expected to sink without trace. Instead it swamped his later years. Forget all the classics for Ealing and David Lean. Forget the Oscar for The Bridge on the River Kwai. Kids of the 70s and 80s saw him as a Jedi knight. Period. And it haunted him until his death in 2000.

Ethan Hawke has escaped all of that. I’m not setting him alongside Sir Alec –and neither is he – but it says a great deal when the Marvel bandwagon is something to avoid. Maybe actors no longer see these overblown comic strips as gravy trains to be raided to fund pensions. Instead they’re a sticky honey pot that could be the ruination of a career and reputation.

We all know the stats about actors – that 80 per cent are out of work at any one time. Who could begrudge anyone taking the money and running for the hills with it?

Ethan Hawke is perhaps fortunate in that he doesn’t need the pay cheque. As for Benedict Cumberbatch, he’s a man on the cusp of astonishing success. Maybe Marvel is just a stepping-stone. But he should take note of the Star Wars effect and what happened to Alec Guinness. It made him a millionaire but left a bitter aftertaste. Selling out does that.

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