Gene Wilder — Best Actor ?

I don’t normally think about how other people do their job, but as Gene Wilder died yesterday, I began to think about how well he did his job — the job of pretending you are someone else. There are many iconic actors these days — action stars, superhero actors who “own” the part, people who hit just the right note with a certain scene, but that is scripted by one person, directed by another, lit by another, so a magical movie moment isn’t necessarily great acting, though it certainly can be. 
Looks is another piece to the whole “icon” thing, as is genre. Some men or women are “King or queen of the rom-com. Others are brilliant in musicals, and they are musically gifted, but it doesn’t make them great actors — good ones, maybe, but singing does not make one an actor. Finally, there are actors who play themselves in whatever role they’re in. Dustin Hoffman has been accused of this, even if he is a great actor. Such is life.
Years ago, I heard Harrison Ford tell a story about a studio executive who didn’t like him. In response, Ford showed him a clip in which Ford was playing a waiter. The executive didn’t like how he acted and said he was just a dumb waiter in the scene. Ford pointed out that is what an actor does. They play a character who isn’t them, while no one thinks about/knows their personality — just the character they play. 
If that is acting, Gene Wilder was a great actor. Willy Wonka, Dr. Frankenstein ( that’s Fronk-en-shteen!) and his character in any of his Richard Prior comedies couldn’t have been more different — all zany in some way, all odd in some way, perhaps, but vastly different from each other. Comedians are often overlooked when it comes to getting recognition, because we don’t take them seriously in their roles. I understand comedic acting is quite the challenge with the timing, etc. that’s required. But the acting part seldom gets noticed.
So here’s to Gene Wilder — great actor. May he be recognized for it, on whatever stage he is on now.


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