An actress friend once told me that all actors are essentially after two things, money and notoriety. Though money can be gained through a variety of methods, notoriety requires the actor to perform well in roles which draw the audience’s attention. As such, portrayals of a “crazy” character are highly coveted because they draw the attention of the audience, thus leading to the two acting goals listed above. Though these roles hold a lot of potential, they are also very challenging as the actor must get in the mind of a character who isn’t all there. The immersion becomes easier, however, if the actor himself isn’t the most normal person you’ve ever met. In order to honor these eccentricities, this list will name 15 insane characters played by equally insane actors. Therefore, this list will not only find actors who are a little bit zany, but ones whose own brand of real life antics matches up with the characters they portray.
On the list, you’ll find a wealth of well-known actors, as well as some relative unknowns. One particular actor even finds himself on this list for two separate roles. Hopefully, with the completion of this list, it will become more acceptable (if it isn’t already) for actors to act crazy, as long as it leads to more great portrayals. All facts and storylines about these movies are based on the writers own first-hand knowledge. Similar knowledge was used regarding the “crazy” antics of the actors listed.
15. Jim Carrey: Batman Forever
In the 1995 superhero epic, Batman Forever, Jim Carrey plays a maniacal jokester bent on destroying all of Gotham. Aside from the destroying entire cities thing, the maniacal jokester part seems a lot like Carrey himself. Anyone who has seen an interview with Carrey (especially recently) knows that he’s a little off, so I’m sure playing the unhinged Riddler wasn’t too far of a stroll down Looney Street than Carrey was used to. Despite many other stars being in this film, Carrey’s performance noticeably impressed and was one of the main highlights of the film. I would say that that’s likely a result of him identifying just a little bit too much with his crazy character.
14. Russell Crowe: A Beautiful Mind
I debated putting Russell Crowe‘s role in A Beautiful Mind on this list because, while his character is sick (diagnosed with severe schizophrenia), Crowe is just plain crazy. A Beautiful Mind is a truly heartbreaking film about a renowned professor who develops late in life schizophrenia, thus ruining all his professional and personal relationships. Russell Crowe, however, just gets really mad and beats people with his phone. This obvious discrepancy keeps this portrayal from being higher on our list, but the breadth of this movie, along with Russell Crowe’s outrageous antics lands them here at #14.
13. Gerard Butler: 300
When 300 debuted in 2006, it was revolutionary in its use of CGI and an almost theatrical interpretation of historical fiction. For the lead of the Spartan King Leonidas, producers cast relative unknown Gerard Butler. The role of Leonidas likely seemed daunting to Butler as the character alternates throughout the film between a wise king and a bloodthirsty warrior. Butler has been noted by insiders as being a larger than life personality and as someone who would be more comfortable at a medieval round table than a Hollywood mansion. As such, Butler was able to slide seamlessly into the role of the ancient king, thus earning him a spot on our list at #13.
12. Brad Pitt and Angeline Jolie: Mr. and Mrs. Smith
Most of the actors on this list are here because they take their own craziness and transfer it into a memorable role. Brad and Angelina, however, aren’t on here for transferring their craziness to an on-screen role, but for transferring something else. Something that starts with an H and rhymes with corny. Everyone is familiar with how Brad and Angelina met on the set of Mr. and Mrs. Smith, and how that ended Pitt’s relationship with Jennifer Aniston. However, going back and watching the film, it is obvious that these feelings between them were prevalent throughout filming. Therefore, even though Brad and Angelina aren’t crazy, they were crazy about each other and it shows in their superspy roles here.
11. Charlie Sheen: Major League
The character Rick “Wild Thing” Vaughn in Major League is essentially a baseball pitcher with immense talent, but also so much personal baggage as to constantly waylay his success. I wonder if any part of that related to actor Charlie Sheen while playing Vaughn in 1989. Sheen started acting at the age of 8 (his dad is the famous Martin Sheen), and has a long history of both masterful performances and self-destructive behavior. Recently, Sheen became beloved for his role on Two and a Half Men before his outrageous salary demands and drug and alcohol abuse forced him from the show. Here’s to hoping Sheen eventually has a happy ending like the Wild Thing.
10. Matthew McConaughey: Fool’s Gold
Admittedly, the personality of Matthew McConaughey and his character in the 2008 film Fool’s Gold would be better characterized as “wild” than “crazy”. But in the name of diversity, I decided to include it here anyways. I could explain the plot of Fool’s Gold and the personality of McConaughey’s character, but I think a personal story of McConaughey himself provides a perfect description. A few years ago the police were called to McConaughey’s home in response to a neighbor’s complaint about a large, noisy party going on. When police arrived, they instead found McConaughey alone, naked, playing his bongos. The personality of the type of man who would do this is exactly the personality of McConaughey’s character in Fool’s Gold. Thus this portrayal lands itself on our list at #10 and was one of my favorite listings I’ve ever written.
9. Mel Gibson: Hamlet
This 1990 film is obviously an adaptation of the famous play by William Shakespeare. Perhaps the most famous “insane” role of all time, Hamlet is an already troubled youth who is further devastated by the untimely death of his father. However, upon a visit from his father’s ghost, Hamlet dawns the cloak of insanity in order to trick, and eventually kill, his nefarious uncle. Many writers argue (and I somewhat agree) that many of Gibson‘s oddities are engineered (or at least advanced) as his defense mechanism for dealing with the media. In this way, he dawns a “cloak of insanity” very similar to that worn by Hamlet to combat his enemies. Crazy like a fox.
8. Wesley Snipes: The Expendables 3
As someone who grew up near the federal penitentiary where he served his sentence, it was big news when Wesley Snipes was convicted in 2008 for tax fraud. Shortly after serving his time, Snipes would begin a role (essentially as himself) in the Expendables 3. In the film, Snipes‘ character makes several references to his real life predicament, with the character describing himself as a guy who had it all, but then went a little nuts and lost it all. I’m sure that this line resonated a great deal with Snipes at a personal level. His meta-role in the Expendables 3 shortly after being in prison, earns Snipes a spot on this list at #8.
7. Charlie Day: Everything He’s In
When I started formulating this list I knew Charlie Day deserved a spot somewhere in the upper echelon, however, I couldn’t decide just which of his roles to reference in this section. So I decided to just reference them all. In any role Day takes, he plays essentially the same character. I’ll quote his character from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and call him the “Wild Card“. In this way, Day just blends his own crazy and zany antics into any role to which he is cast. The portrayals that he is most famous for, It’s Always Sunny and Horrible Bosses, are essentially the same role (with different names and backgrounds). Since Day’s craziness shows up in multiple roles, he finds himself pretty high on this list at #7.
6. David Duchovny: Californication
As a rabid X-files fan I naturally became quite a fan of Duchovny‘s most well known role as FBI agent Fox Mulder. However, after watching interviews with Duchovny, it’s clear that the character was not a reflection of Duchovny himself. One role, though, which does match up with Duchovny’s particular brand of craziness was his role as the star of Californication. In Californication, Duchovny plays the role of an immensely talented writer whose ego and other personal demons cause problems along his professional path. I think incredible parallels could be drawn between this character and say, someone who leaves a hit show in its final three seasons because he doesn’t want to get typecast. Good for #6 on this list.
5. Jack Nicholson: The Shining
Over the years there have been several actors who have played the father turned monster Jack Torrance. With these films being based on the book by Stephen King, all these portrayals have been chilling, but the one which is unanimously remembered as the most disturbing was the one by Jack Nicholson in 1980. For those of you who have not seen/read The Shining (should), Torrance is a disgraced college professor with a serious alcohol addiction who seeks to reclaim his life as a caretaker of an old resort atop a mountain. Possessed by scores of evil spirits, Torrance becomes a mallet yielding maniac. Nicholson’s own anger issues are of course well documented, so well known that he starred in a feature film Anger Management making fun of some of his past tantrums. Perhaps his own personal experiences allowed him to play the part of the enraged Jack Torrance so masterfully.
4. Lindsay Lohan: I Know Who Killed Me
By the time I Know Who Killed Me debuted in 2007, actress Lindsay Lohan was no longer the America’s sweetheart she had been just a few years earlier. Appropriately then, was her role of a young stripper from the wrong side of town in this supernatural thriller. Stalked by an unseen assailant, Lohan’s character is the definition of damaged; refusing the help of police and others to pursue a series of nights filled with endless drugs and sex. Those of you who are familiar with the heyday of Lohan’s party days in 2006-2011 can easily draw parallels between Lohan and the emotionally distraught main character of this film.
3. Heath Ledger: The Joker
Even before the debut of The Dark Knight in 2008, insiders were raving about Heath Ledger‘s performance as the maniacal Joker. We all know the tragedy that befell Ledger while filming, and shortly afterward reports began to surface about how unbalanced Ledger had become. Despite this, I don’t think even the term, “pure greatness” adequately describes what Ledger was able to do with this challenging role. In a film where so many things were happening, attention is constantly directed back to the Joker and so many of his scenes here were simply mesmerizing. This is an example of an actor being too closely related to the character he plays with this relationship leading to unbelivable tragedy.
2. Mel Gibson: Braveheart
When I usually mention a specific movie in my articles, I hope that my readers will take the time to watch the film themselves and see what they think. I am in no way doing that in this case. While a pretty solid movie, Braveheart is over three hours of constant heartbreak and historical warfare that will literally drain you physically. Not only that, there are large portions where Gibson is “acting” crazy to the point of the film becoming uncomfortable. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Braveheart, it is the story of William Wallace, a Scotsman living in Scotland in the late 1300 following the invasion of the English King. From there, the film centers around Wallace’s attempt to unite the Scots against their English overlords. In order to do this, Wallace gives several heartened speeches to his brethren. Much like Gibson in real life, however, Wallace often becomes so impassioned when speaking that by the ends of his speeches he is merely spouting a series of guttural yells. As someone who has seen various Gibson interviews (which essentially devolve into him passionately yelling), I’m guessing Gibson was putting a little too much of himself into this role as Wallace.
1. Tom Cruise: Interview With A Vampire
When I started compiling this list, it took me a while to think of Tom Cruise’s role as Lestat in Interview With a Vampire, but once I did it seemed a perfect fit for this list. In the 1990’s Tom Cruise was a darling of Hollywood, starring in box splashes like Top Gun and Jerry Maguire. Then America saw him on an interview with Oprah and everything changed. Instead of the wholesome image Cruise had previously projected, now Cruise seemed like an obsessive nutcase boyfriend. Similar was the progression of his character Lestat in Interview With a Vampire. Initially adored by Brad Pitt‘s character Louis, it is eventually revealed Lestat is a sadistic narcissistic obsessed with his protégé. The incredible parallels between Lestat and Cruise himself put this role at the top of our list at #1.