Love Actually is my favourite romantic comedy (what? You don’t have one?). This is because its got a great mix of soppy, funny, absurd and sad which means there is literally something for everyone. It’s also got a fantastic cast to fill the key roles in the movie. I was reading an interview in Empire magazine with Richard Curtis who made the point that if it was cast today, with the same actors, Love Actually would be the most “overcast” movie ever.
This got me thinking. What has happened to the key cast from one of the best British movies of recent times? Its surprising how many have gone on to great things, become household names, in America and in Britain, but also how many have done very little, or had their career plateau. We start with the two biggest successes…
In Love Actually, Colin Firth was the love struck man who had to woo his sweetheart without words. We watched as he struggled to communicate his feelings and the two got closer and closer. It ends in a very funny way and plays on the character Firth had been known for up until then – the dashing British gentleman. He was known most for Mr Darcy and arguably Bridget Jones’ Diary but it would be The King’s Speech that would see him gain a Best Actor Oscar and become an international, household name. He hasn’t jumped at many new and exciting roles but he is arguably the biggest success from the British romantic comedy.
The second person from the movie to go from practical obscurity to huge, worldwide, household fame. She isn’t even a huge part of the movie but is in one of the scenes many remember, as Andrew Lincoln (we’ll get to him in a moment) silently confesses his love to her while her husband sits in the living room oblivious.
Love Actually was released in the same year as the franchise that catapulted her to fame, Pirates of the Caribbean. Since then she hasn’t looked back, with roles in Never Let Me Go, A Dangerous Method and Antonement. Though she hasn’t won an Oscar, she is still one of the most successful actresses from Love Actually.
Liam Neeson was already a solid, Hollywood name before he did Love Actually but if you look at the movies he did before and around the romantic comedy, they are a far cry from the action hero with special skills we know him as today. In the movie he is a man struggling to raise a son after the loss of his wife but if you told me what Neeson was most famous for now, it would be kicking ass in Taken, The Grey and Unknown, to name just a few.
Martin Freeman’s role in Love Actually is one of the smallest but he is soon to be one of the biggest Hollywood stars to come from Britain. He plays a man who helps set the lighting and camera angles for porn movies, who through this work, falls in love with Joanna Paige (who has an even smaller role before she goes on to become a British star in Gavin and Stacey). Now he is much more famous as the modern Doctor Watson to Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock and even more well-known for playing Bilbo Baggins. Not bad for the guy who played Tim from The Office.
Before Love Actually, most British people would associate Andrew Lincoln with his role in Channel Four drama Teachers. After Love Actually, Lincoln wasn’t seen much on British television until he got the starring role in the massive American drama, The Walking Dead. Now he is almost unrecognisable as either Simon from Teachers or Mark from Love Actually. In fact, I bet most Americans wouldn’t even know he’s British.
Of course, not everyone can go on to huge success and while I looked down the cast list of Love Actually, it’s actually surprising how many people have done very little than plateau since Love Actually. For example…
If you look at Hugh Grant’s movies since Love Actually, there is very little to distinguish him from the same, usual characters. They are all likable, British buffoons. Cloud Atlas is his biggest departure from the casting niche he has found for himself. It’s not a bad thing to have found that one role you can repeat but I’m sure there is more to Hugh Grant’s abilities than muddling over awkward speech.
If you look at Bill Nighy’s career since Love Actually, he has never really been the star. He has never led a movie or owned a role completely. His most famous turn after Love Actually is probably as Davy Jones in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. He has a lot of work, is always fantastic and is probably more famous for his voice than his look, which is a shame because there is much more to Nighy than his film acting career really demonstrates.
Rowan Atkinson is a British comedy legend but if you look at his work after Love Actually, it soon becomes apparent that the movie was the end of the best of Atkinson’s work. He is great in Love Actually, influencing stories and playing key parts in each characters life but since this great role, he’s relied on previous characters and not in a good way. Another Mr Bean movie and another Johnny English film were both poor uses for his talents.
He was good in the Olympic opening ceremony though…
Overall, Love Actually demonstrates the best of British acting talent and also gives a rare glimpse at some actors at the prime of their career and others at the very beginning, before they go onto huge things or even reinvent themselves completely. I’ve missed so many others that could deserve a mention, like Laura Linney, Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson and Billy Bob Thornton but the names above would be enough today to sell a movie on their own, let alone in a cast as good as the one Love Actually has.