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9 Amazing Performances By Actors Who Stopped Giving A Damn

Despite what Jeff Bridges and Matthew McConaughey have been working for decades to disprove, being an actor is hard. For even the smallest roles, there’s typically an intense amount of work going on behind-the-scenes to make that performance a reality. The best actors work tirelessly at their craft, often going to insane lengths to get into character.

Then again, some actors are so good at what they do that they could show up on set drunk, high, and belligerently pants-less, but when the cameras start rolling, they’re able to turn it on and deliver the goods.

Because when you’re a truly brilliant actor, you don’t necessarily have to bring your A-game to turn out a brilliant performance. And it’s not necessarily just actors, either. Some of the greatest musicians of all time, including Jimi Hendrix and Marvin Gaye, made some of the greatest albums of all time for no other reason than they were contractually obligated to do so. That’s the difference between a hard-working, competent entertainer and a damn genius.

The following actors were somehow able to take care of business and put some amazing performances on film while being as lackadaisical about their roles as someone can be while still having a pulse.

9. Edward Norton – The Italian Job

Paramount Pictures

Contractual obligations don’t always create great artistry, but in the case of Edward Norton and his behind-the-scenes battles with Paramount over his required involvement in The Italian Job, it cemented the fact that Norton is a consummate professional who’s nearly impervious to giving a bad performance.

Norton wanted nothing to do with the remake of The Italian Job, but since he’d signed a three-picture deal before making his onscreen debut in Primal Fear, Paramount threatened to sue him for millions of dollars if he refused to make the movie. After much back-and-forth between the actor and the studio, Norton eventually caved and agreed to participate. Though he was reportedly very businesslike and amiable during filming, he refused to do promote the movie afterward.

You can almost feel the behind-the-scenes disdain seeping out of the screen whenever Norton is present, which imbues his slimy villain with a natural sense of mischief. He doesn’t ever come off as detached, though it’s likely his natural charisma simply didn’t allow that to happen.

The Italian Job may rank just outside of Norton’s top 10 performances, but considering the circumstances, it’s hard to imagine anyone else coming in and playing the character of Steve Frazelli any better.

8. Jackie Chan – Rush Hour

New Line Cinema

Rush Hour is another installment in the odd couple/buddy cop action movie oeuvre, this time bringing together goofy martial arts legend Jackie Chan and even goofier comedic sidekick Chris Tucker.

It wasn’t exactly an Oscar-worthy performance from either of them, and in fact doesn’t rank anywhere near the top 10 from Chan’s filmography, but it was the first time most audiences outside of Hong Kong were introduced to his combination of top-notch stunt work and silly (and occasionally subversive) comedy.

But for Chan, it was a disheartening experience:

“I have reasons to do each film, I have something to say. Unlike ‘Rush Hour’ – there was no reason [in making it]. You just give me the money and I’m fine. I dislike ‘Rush Hour’ the most.”Chan thought the stunt work was uninspired and the fight choreography was too “Americanized”. And yet, anyone watching the movie without prior knowledge of the action star’s previous work would be wowed by scenes where Chan effortlessly scales a 15 foot wall and drops hundreds of feet (with the use of wires, of course) onto a makeshift slide.

It’s a reminder that even when he’s just going through the motions, Jackie Chan is one of the most underrated action stars of all time.

7. Chevy Chase – Community

NBC

No recent TV relationship has been as tumultuous (and publicly petty) as that between Community showrunner Dan Harmon and Chevy Chase. During Chase’s four seasons on the cult show, he and Harmon were constantly at odds about the way the character of Pierce Hawthorne should be portrayed. For the most part, this made him hate being on the show.

According to Harmon and some of the other cast members, when Chase didn’t “get his way” he would frequently succumb to his more childish instincts, stepping over his co-stars’ dialogue and seemingly ruining takes on purpose. Joel McHale, the show’s lead, once told Howard Stern that Chase simply “didn’t want to be there” and that whenever he tried to get his co-star back on track, Chase would try to physically fight him.

That type of petulance is exactly what made his character, Pierce, so irritating to watch. It’s also what made him an occasionally brilliant presence on a show that routinely went too far up its own butt. In a weird way, Pierce’s aggressive bewilderment toward the other characters — who were always one meta joke away from complete overload — actually kept the show grounded.

And much of that came from Chase’s real-life disinterest in the self-referential humor Harmon was so fond of. Chase voicing his bemusement through Pierce is what made the show relatable for much of the audience.

6. Alan Rickman – Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves

Warner Bros.

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves was this close to being an unwatchable mess. Then along came a hero — who happened to be playing a villain — to carry the hot mess of a script on his back while completely disregarding the suggested tone of the movie. That hero was Alan Rickman.

Between Kevin Costner’s wavering English accent, charmless secondary characters, and bombardment of intrusive subplots (including the always-looming threat of rape), Robin Hood needed someone to hold the audience’s hand and assure them it was okay to take the movie as a bit of fun. Rickman’s extraordinarily hammy turn as the Sheriff of Nottingham did just that.

It’s as if Rickman watched Costner’s bored, brooding orations from the sidelines on the first day of filming and decided, then and there, that he’d have to single-handedly make up for the star’s lifeless portrayal. Or, at the very least, he was going to have some damn fun making an awful movie.

Rickman’s lines are delivered with the kind of sashaying menace that makes you forget how terrible the dialogue actually is, instead drawing you in with campy readings that put the entire cast of Batman & Robin to shame. Somehow, some way, it works.

5. Orson Welles – The Transformers: The Movie

Levy/AP

No, not the live-action Transformers with Shia LeBouf. The original animated version from 1986, which features less robot testicles and, astonishingly, voice work from one of the greatest actor/directors of all time, Orson Welles.

This Transformers flick also includes some wonderful performances from Leonard Nimoy, Robert Stack, and Judd Nelson. Even weighed against this respectable ensemble, though, Welles stands out as Unicron, a man-eating super planet.

The fact that he manages to do this while not appearing to remotely care about — or even understand — what the role was makes it all that more impressive. During production, Welles apparently told his biographer the following:

“You know what I did this morning? I played the voice of a toy. I play a planet. Some terrible robot toys from Japan that changed from one thing to another… I menace somebody called Something-or-other. Then I’m destroyed. My plan to destroy Whoever-it-is is thwarted and I tear myself apart on the screen.”

Those aren’t the words of someone heavily invested in his role, which makes sense because Welles was in poor health at the time. In fact, he died mere days after finishing work on the movie.

4. Alec Guinness – Star Wars

Lucasfilm

It’s always a hard pill to swallow when one of the most essential actors from one of the most revered movie franchises in movie history says that he abhors said franchise. Unfortunately, that seems to be the case with Alec Guinness, who plays mystical mentor and all-around badass Obi-Wan Kenobi.

But the experience of working with George Lucas is one he was happy to be done with once he wrapped on Return of the Jedi. Guinness reportedly despised the dialogue, and expressed while on set that ol’ Georgie didn’t have a firm enough grasp on the characters he was writing for:

“Apart from the money, I regret having embarked on the film[s]. I like them well enough, but it’s not an acting job. “The dialogue — which is lamentable — keeps being changed and only slightly improved, and I find myself old and out of touch with the young.”

A letter Guinness wrote to a friend during production reinforced his dismissal of the material:

“New rubbish dialogue reaches me every other day on wadges of pink paper. None of it makes my character clear or even bearable.”

Despite his contempt of the material, Guinness provided a performance that Star Wars fans hold close to their hearts, and even non-Star Wars fans can admire.

3. Marlon Brando – Superman

Warner Bros.

As Marlon Brando approached the end of his career, the genius method actor who diligently crafted legendary performances in The Wild One and On the Waterfront. For instance, rather than coming to the set of The Godfather with his lines memorized, he requested the use of cue cards, which had to be carefully placed around set — sometimes on the chests of other actors in the scene — so as not to be seen in the finished shot.

But at least in that case, Brando seemed to be invested in his character and in the film itself. The same can’t be said for his portrayal of Jor-El in the original Superman movie.

According to his co-star, Terence Stamp — who plays General Zod — when Brando first arrived on set, he asked him if the script was any good. Stamp, bewildered, asked Brando if he’d read it yet, to which he replied “No, I was worried it might be poop.”

This anecdote proves two things: 1) Marlon Brando, one of the greatest dramatic actors of all time, casually used the word “poop” in conversation, and 2) He didn’t even have to read through the script to deliver the second best performance in Superman, just behind Gene Hackman’s definitive portrayal of Lex Luthor.

2. Robert Shaw – Jaws

Universal Pictures

By his own admission, Robert Shaw didn’t take his profession too seriously. And by most accounts, he didn’t take his sobriety too seriously, either, which caused a whirlwind of ungiven f*cks on the set of Jaws. The combination of rampant alcoholism and incessant pranking somehow helped churn out the most memorable performance of Shaw’s long career.

According to one story, Shaw drank himself into a blackout while he was filming the famous S.S. Indianapolis monologue. He’d convinced Steven Spielberg that he should be a bit tipsy for the scene, since his character had been hitting the bottle. It was basically alcoholism masquerading as method acting. Unsurprisingly, not much work got done that day.

When he wasn’t drinking, Shaw was humiliating his co-star, Richard Dreyfuss. He’d spray him with a firehose or convince him to jump off frighteningly tall edifices for a hundred bucks. Basically, one of the greatest characters of all time was borne from one boozehound’s flair for f*cking off in grandiose ways.

A couple of years after he finished Jaws, Shaw was asked about his penchant for boozing, to which he responded “Can you imagine being a movie star and having to take it seriously without a drink?” And indeed, it seems like the loosey-goosey approach Shaw took in bringing fisherman/shark bait Quint to life probably made the best version of the character.

1. Marlon Brando – Apocalypse Now

United Artists

Apparently this entire list could’ve been culled together using nothing but examples from the back half of Marlon Brando’s filmography.

By now, the on-set animosity between Brando and Francis Ford Coppola is one of Hollywood’s worst-kept secrets. The tension was so thick between actor and director that an entire documentary was made about their behind-the-scenes antics.

Playing the integral role of Colonel Kurtz, a lean and savage Green Beret, Brando showed up on set monstrously overweight and wholly underprepared, as was his MO around this time in his career. He didn’t bother to read the source material, couldn’t memorize his lines, and supposedly halted filming on numerous occasions to discuss the script.

In spite of all this, Coppola and Brando found a way to churn out a legendary performance. The process became simple: Dress Brando in black, shoot him in shadowy lighting, and just let one of the world’s greatest actors improvise until there was enough material to use. Essentially, Marlon’s role was fleshed out on the fly, with the camera pointed at him until he didn’t want to monologue anymore.

That’s a special kind of laziness right there.

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