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Vanishing Acts and Box-Office Poison: How Actors Can Steer Clear of Oblivion

Vanishing Acts and Box-Office Poison: How Actors Can Steer Clear of Oblivion: Cera: Jerod Harris / Stringer / Getty | Williams: Steve Granitz / Contributor / Getty | LaBeouf: Dominique Charriau / Contributor/ Getty | Mulligan: Stuart C. Wilson / Stringer/ Getty

Cera: Jerod Harris / Stringer / Getty | Williams: Steve Granitz / Contributor / Getty | LaBeouf: Dominique Charriau / Contributor/ Getty | Mulligan: Stuart C. Wilson / Stringer/ Getty

Where do movie stars go when their careers cool? That ebb-and-flow appears to be built into the careers of Hollywood’s best actors, and it’s been that way right from the days when Katharine Hepburn, James Cagney and Fred Astaire got written off as “box-office poison.” Those legends pulled out of their professional nosedives just fine; in more recent years, so have Robert Downey Jr, Matthew McConaughey, Ryan Reynolds, Ben Affleck, Drew Barrymore and more. But the road back from oblivion isn’t as smooth as it looks. How do struggling stars find it?

“There are dozens of reasons why a big star can lose his mojo,” says a top talent agent who has brokered deals for some of the biggest under-30 names in the business. “All it takes is a couple of high-profile movies to tank, or for audiences to perceive a talent as overexposed, or for that talent to be off his game due to some public slip-up or personal issues. Every challenge calls for a different strategy. I recommend some actors grab a good role in a good play. Or else I suggest that they absolutely kill it in a smaller, unexpected role in a movie or on TV—something to show more range or different colors. Another alternative is to just stay out of sight for a good long while, studying, going to back to school, experiencing more of life. Then the press can welcome them back.”

Take Shia LaBeouf. His personal challenges, performance art-style public behavior (the actor is reportedly currently hitchhiking across the U.S.) and odd career choices (Nymphomaniac Vol. I and II, anyone?) have led to his stock tumbling from his Transformers heights. The thing is, LaBeouf can act. He was so good in Brad Pitt’s not-so-good WWII film Fury that Pitt called him “one of the best actors” around. But the movie didn’t ignite, and LaBeouf’s comeback fizzled. Getting himself together and stopping his name from being a punchline would go a long way to rehabilitating his career, but LaBeouf’s next best bet is to be terrific in the recently announced tennis biopic Borg vs. McEnroe, in which he’ll play the volatile Johnny Mac.

Almost on the opposite end of the spectrum from LaBeouf is Carey Mulligan. For a while there, it felt like Mulligan was in every other new movie, being hailed as a new “It” girl, whether she was obsessing Leonardo DiCaprio in The Great Gatsby, driving several guys to ruin in Far From the Madding Crowd or risking her life for equality in Suffragette. But when the latter two movies disappointed critics and left ticket buyers cold, Mulligan returned to her element, the stage, where she won raves for starring in both the London and New York productions of David Hare’s Skylight. Then she outright surprised some by taking an eight-episode role on a web series, The Walker. Right now, she has only one completed film on the horizon: a WWII-era indie drama opposite Garrett Hedlund, Mudbound. Look out for that one.

Since Michael Cera’s last high-profile movie gig six years ago, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, the Superbad and Juno star has spent lots of his professional time off camera, lending his talent to charming, low-key performances in Sausage Party and on TV’s Children’s Hospital, with more voice acting promised in the animated The Lego Batman Movie and Blazing Samurai. He’ll appear in the ensemble comedy How to Be a Latin Lover and, more intriguingly, as part of the Twin Peaks revival cast. Maybe the trick for the likable Cera is to distinguish himself from the edgier, more celebrated Jesse Eisenberg, who has, after all, bagged an Oscar nomination and written and starred in a play in New York, and has showy roles in big hits like Now You See Me and even a franchise role in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

Have you been missing Michelle Williams on screen for the past two years? Since Oz the Great and Powerful (ouch) and My Week with Marilyn, the three-time Oscar nominee has been working Broadway, getting slammed for Cabaret and Tony-nominated for Blackbird. But she’s too damn good to remain among the Hollywood missing, so this year and next watch for her opposite Casey Affleck in the emotional powerhouse awards contender Manchester by the Sea and bigger roles in the highly-praised indie Some Women, co-starring Kristen Stewart and Laura Dern, and another directed by Todd Haynes called Wonderstruck with the director’s muse, Julianne Moore.

Now, with Taylor Lautner already doing just fine on Scream Queens and Taylor Kitsch showing signs of a career turnaround with the upcoming wildfire drama Granite Mountain, can the talented but unucky Robert Pattinson be far behind? It’s only a matter of timing, luck and the right vehicle.

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