CHARLIZE THERON IN YOUNG ADULT (2011)
Charlize Theron is known as a former model largely because of a couple of years she spent in the profession as a teenager. While her successful two decades-long acting career might suggest it’s time to lay the former model tag to rest, it could be argued that the same criteria should just be applied to everyone else too, so Andrew Garfield would be known forever as “Former barista Andrew Garfield”, and Johnny Depp would be “Former ballpoint pen telemarketer Johnny Depp.” Regardless of the particulars of her teen job, Theron is absolutely brilliant in Young Adult – damaged, deluded and devastating – and we’ll get into a mortifying drunken argument at a baby’s naming ceremony with anyone who disagrees.
GEMMA WARD IN THE GREAT GATSBY (2013)
Constantin Stanislavski famously said that there are no small parts, only small actors, but this one might be a stretch: as “Languid Girl,” Gemma Ward is in The Great Gatsby for approximately four seconds of its 143-minute running time. It’s difficult to accurately rate four seconds of anything, but she does give her one line of dialogue some gusto. In reflection, perhaps she gives it a little too much gusto, considering the only information the screenplay provides on her character is that she’s languid. Still, at least she’s better than Tobey Maguire: given his woeful miscasting, it’s a shame he also wasn’t in the film for that long.
NATALIA VODIANOVA IN CQ (2001)
It’s never a great sign when your acting debut is in a film with Billy Zane. Such was the fate of Natalia Vodianova, who played a tiny role in CQ, Roman Coppola’s affectionate, underseen homage to 60s film-making. Fortunately for her, CQ, while below Orlando (1992) or Zoolander (2001) in the grand pantheon of Billy Zane movies, is several fathoms above The Scorpion King 3: Battle for Redemption. With Vodianova’s part restricted to two small scenes, her spotlight was stolen by another model with a substantially bigger role, Angela Lindvall, much like Billy Zane’s spotlight in Titanic was stolen by that cad Leonardo DiCaprio.
MONICA BELLUCCI IN THE MATRIX RELOADED (2003)
To include Monica Bellucci in this list is to make it an unfair fight, so we’re handicapping her by going with The Matrix Reloaded rather than, say, Irréversible (2002) – also we never want to watch Irréversible ever again. The first of many mid-career follies from the Wachowskis, The Matrix Reloaded doesn’t lack ambition, but also doesn’t lack for endless raves scenes or confusing reams of exposition either. Bellucci is largely wasted as neglected wife Persephone, with little to do other than be cheated on and later reveal a passage hidden behind a bookcase like she’s in a cyberpunk Scooby Doo.
GISELE BÜNDCHEN IN THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA (2006)
Gisele only agreed to be in The Devil Wears Prada if she wouldn’t have to play a model, which is as if Mo Farah agreed to appear in a remake of Chariots of Fire on the condition that he didn’t play a distance runner. She turns up during the scene that takes place in most early Anne Hathaway-starring films – the “Anne-Hathaway-is-wearing-slightly-nicer-clothes-and-everyone-is-shocked-at-her-transformation-even-though-she-looked-like-Anne-Hathaway-this-whole-time” moment. Despite Gisele’s limited acting ability and negligible role it’s remarkable how well she holds the screen. If she took some acting lessons who knows what great films she might be able to not play a model in.
ABBEY LEE KERSHAW AND ROSIE HUNTINGTON-WHITELEY IN MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (2015)
It’s long been assumed that the only things that might live through a global apocalypse are cockroaches. The upcoming Mad Max: Fury Road posits another possible group of survivors: models. For his first return to dystopian oil-starved Australia in 30 years, director George Miller has wisely eschewed Mel Gibson for the likes of Abbey Lee Kershaw, Rosie Huntington Whiteley, and “former model” Charlize Theron. This can only be an improvement, unless Huntington-Whiteley also turns out to be a horrible misogynist racist in a couple of years.
LILY COLE IN THE IMAGINARIUM OF DR PARNASSUS (2009)
Tom Cruise is regularly teased for his diminutive stature, but movie stars are a decidedly tiny breed. It’s difficult to say why so many are shorter than average – perhaps their condensed features are good for close-ups? If this is the case then Lily Cole was born for the cinema, not so much for her height (average), but for her broad, expressive face. She puts it to good use in The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus, exerting much charm amongst the ill-disciplined excess that unfortunately characterises much of Terry Gilliam’s later work. Cast her in a kitchen sink drama set in a dying industrial town and she’ll really shine.
SASHA PIVOVAROVA IN IN TIME (2011)
Given that Angelina Jolie once played Colin Farrell’s mother, it might be sadly unsurprising to find Sasha Pivovarova cast in In Time as Vincent Kartheiser’s mother-in-law. Thankfully, the reason for this is not Hollywood’s appalling gender-based ageism, but the film’s time-as-currency premise, where everyone stops aging at 25. Pivovarova doesn’t get an opportunity to explore this potent idea, however: if you’ve seen In Time‘s trailer then you’ve witnessed the entirety of her performance. She stands there for a few moments, looks strangely uncomfortable for someone whose job involves being photographed a lot, and that’s it. It’s probably a good thing her role wasn’t any bigger or her unmistakeable nerves might have caused her to spontaneously combust.
CARA DELEVINGNE IN THE FACE OF AN ANGEL (2014)
Without cheating, answer this: who plays the main character in The Face of an Angel? A cursory glance at the film’s marketing materials would suggest Cara Delevingne, but her role as Daniel Brühl’s new barmaid friend is peripheral at best. Nevertheless, Delevingne is warm and engaging in Michael Winterbottom’s knotty film – a much-needed dash of humanity in a mostly cerebral exercise. Three films into her career she’s no Charlize Theron, but then Charlize Theron’s debut was Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest (1995), so maybe she’s doing okay so far.
MILLA JOVOVICH IN THE FIFTH ELEMENT (1997)
Does The Fifth Element exceed the statute of limitations for this feature? Possibly, but Jovovich’s committed comic performance deserves appreciation: her portrayal of the eponymous Fifth Element is by far the best thing in Luc Besson’s obdurately Gallic sci-fi action-adventure. The only dampener is that she would later squander the promise she demonstrated here on workmanlike action movies. At last count Jovovich had appeared in 17,304 instalments of the Resident Evil (2002) franchise, all of them terrible.