Film choices

We look at the actors who make blockbusters to finance their secret independent movie habits...

1/2
Bill Murray

One for you: Ghostbusters (1984)
One for me: The Razor’s Edge (1984)
Murray agreed to play wiseacre parapsychologist Peter Venkman in Ghostbusters on the proviso that Columbia Pictures would green light his pet project The Razor’s Edge. The latter sees Murray ditch his glib schtick and slip into the shell-shocked skin of a WWI ambulance driver searching for the meaning of life in the backstreets of Paris and the foothills of the Himalayas. Unfortunately, despite being a fine piece of work, the film failed to find an audience and its failure prompted Murray to take four years out of the business – quite possibly the amount of time it took him to count his Ghostbusters money.

Tilda Swinton

One for you: The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe (2005), Constantine (2005)
One for me: Broken Flowers (2005), Absent Presence (2005)
The reigning queen of the art/cash scene is Swinton, whose dedication to pushing the boundaries of the cinematic form is matched only by her compulsion to make a swift buck. For Swinton, 2005 was a banner year, as she pulled off the rare ‘two for you, two for me’ manoeuvre with aplomb. On the one hand, it’s cartoon-baddy roles as the White Witch in The Lion… and transgender Angel Gabriel in Constantine. On the other, it’s a turn as one of Bill Murray’s exes in slacker midlife-crisis road movie Broken Flowers, and an appearance in fashion-art crossover installation, Absent Presence.

Al Pacino

One for you: Dick Tracy (1990)
One for me: The Local Stigmatic (1990)
The self-financed Stigmatic features little man Al as a cockney sociopath with an accent that could churn butter and is as low budget as a film can get, while his neo-Nixonian turn as Big Boy Caprice in Warren Beatty’s dizzyingly garish adaptation of Dick Tracy kept the wolf from the door. The same year also brought The Godfather: Part III, which blurred the line between cash cow and critical acclaim beyond all recognition.

Stan Brakhage

One for you: Alferd Packer: The Musical (1996)
One for me: Numerous shorts (1996)
Brakhage is one of the leading lights of the experimental cinema scene: in 1996 alone he completed no fewer than 30 shorts. But in everyday life Brakhage is also a film teacher, so when budding screen pranksters Trey Parker and Matt Stone begged him to play a cameo role in their feature-length graduation film, a musical comedy about snowbound cannibalism (based on the real-life cannibal of the film’s title), the big man felt it churlish to refuse. Parker and Stone went on to create South Park. Brakhage went on to make The Lion And The Zebra Make God’s Raw Jewels. Who’s laughing now?

Gérard Depardieu

One for you: Green Card (1990)
One for me: Cyrano de Bergerac (1990)
From street-tough rapscallion to Le Duc of the period piece was a tough climb for Depardieu, an actor whose medieval mug is rendered leading-man material mostly through sheer charisma. Discerning cinema-goers in 1990 may have seen him invigorate the heart and soul of French literature with his pitch-perfect Cyrano, but capes and prosthetic noses were never going to fly Stateside; an immigration chick flick, however, was literally on the money (around US$30 million in box office) and Depardieu momentarily loomed large in Hollywood’s consciousness. Luckily for Europeans, LaLa Land held little allure for the big guy and he was soon back on terra firma with further literary plans: hour upon endless hour of Asterix Et Obelix movies. Merci, la vie.

Steven Spielberg

One for you: Jurassic Park (1993)
One for me: Schindler’s List (1993)
Perhaps the most infamous example of the art/cash dichotomy remains the fact that, while shooting commenced on devastating Holocaust requiem Schindler’s List, Spielberg was also remotely engaged in fine-tuning his forthcoming dinosaurs-in-distress money-spinner Jurassic Park. Unprecedented commercial and critical success followed – Schindler’s List won seven Oscars and Jurassic became the biggest box-office draw of all time. Spielberg repeated the formula in 2005 with War Of The Worlds and Munich.

Judi Dench

One for you: The Chronicles Of Riddick (2004)
One for me: Ladies In Lavender (2004)
With a handful of appearances as 007’s school-marmish boss in the Bond films, game Dame Judi Dench was already an old hand by the time she appeared in this odd couple. Written and directed by Charles Dance – who himself has never been averse to slumming for the dollar before high-tailing it back to Blighty to tread the boards for peanuts – Ladies In Lavender is a sprightly chamber piece co-starring Maggie Smith. Riddick, on the other hand, was a Vin Diesel sci-fi behemoth in which Dench wafted about as an Obi-Wan Kenobi manqué for what we hope was serious coin.

Compiled by Tom Huddleston and Adam Lee Davies. Frost/Nixon is on general release

More from Film & TV

A kid accidentally calls in the universe’s deadliest hunter, the world’s clumsiest spy is out to save the world again and Blake Lively has a ‘simple’ favour to ask

Why we need to start taking Annie Starke seriously

A boy becomes best pals with a wolf, Jennifer Garner makes an action-packed comeback and there’s a scary movie

We meet the crew behind Netflix’s latest Marvel series Luke Cage

A cult-classic gets a remake and some crazy rich people have trouble in paradise

Star Constance Wu talks filming the rom-com

Newsletters

Follow us