Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Squared Circle: The Best Are Good at Being Good and Bad

The greatest actors to me are those who can be equally convincing playing a villain or a hero. That sort of versatility requires a reservoir of talent much deeper than that necessary to be just a "good guy" or "bad guy." And the same is true with professional wrestling, in my opinion. Some guys spent their entire career being heroes (like Ricky the Dragon Steamboat) or villains (like the Sheik, or the Iron Sheik). All of these wrestlers were very talented, and knew how to tell a story, but the lack of multi-dimensionality is a major negative for me.

Besides, a great hero needs a dark side to overcome, and a great villain needs a sympathetic side to suffer from. The truly great performers, whether on the screen or in the ring, have to have the complex emotional resources necessary to pull off both sorts of roles.

And so, here are my top five actors who can play the babyface or the heel, with sample films of each:

  • Denzel Washington (Remember the Titans and Training Day)
  • James Cagney (Yankee Doodle Dandy and The Public Enemy)
  • Charles Laughton (Witness for the Prosecution and Captain Bligh)
  • Al Pacino (Serpico and The Godfather)
  • Basil Rathbone (various Sherlock Holmes movies and various Errol Flynn movies)
And, without further ado, here are the five greatest wrestlers of all time, guys equally successful as faces or heels:
  • Hulk Hogan. The Hulkster started out his career as a heel, then transition to be the ultimate babyface.
  • Jerry the King Lawler. The King spent decades as the top star in one territory, Memphis, working on top as either face or heel with great aplomb. During one stretch, he remained a face at Memphis while simultaneously wrestling as a heel for the WWF.
  • Sgt. Slaughter. The Sarge had great runs as a hero and villain, and possessed impeccable timing in the ring.
  • Rowdy Roddy Piper. The Hot Rod is probably better as a heel than a face, but he was incredibly popular during his face runs in the WWE and WCW.
  • Randy Macho Man Savage. Like Piper, Savage was a better heel, but it is important to remember that when Hogan needed time away from the belt for surgery and Hollywood, it was Savage that Vince McMahon picked to hold the title as a face. 
Honorable mention goes to Ric Flair, who has performed both roles successfully, but was a bad guy the vast majority of his career.

What are your thoughts? Who are your favorite actors or wrestlers who could elicit cheers and jeers?

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