(Re-posted from LimitéMagazine.com)
An annual feature, this year’s “Limité Honors” explores the careers and recent projects of 5 innovators and boundary breakers—masters of film and television. Highlights include Idris Elba, Catherine Keener, Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, and Mark Ruffalo. The selection process involved staff members collectively identifying individuals who deserve recognition based on merit of talent, length and success of career, potential to further grow her or his career, cultural influence, and the potential to inspire a younger generation of innovators. From an expanded list of individuals, a final list of 5 honorees was chosen. Tell us who you think deserves a spot on this list.
by Stephanie Dawson
When Idris Elba hit the screen as Russell “Stringer” Bell in the highly acclaimed HBO series The Wire, he seemed to spring from nowhere. But his staying power is evident in blockbusters like American Gangster (2007) and Thor (2011). Elba has star power that shows no sign of stopping, and for this, Limité honors him.
Idrissa Akuna Elba grew up in East London to a Sierra Leonean father and Ghanaian mother. At the encouragement of his high school drama teacher, he pursued acting and was awarded a scholarship to the National Youth Music Theatre. Early on, Elba nabbed small roles on TV, but took odd jobs, including DJ-ing weddings, to pay the bills. (His musical acumen would later lead to two EPs as DJ Big Driis, as well as appearances in music videos for Fat Joe, Angie Stone, English rapper Giggs, and Busta Rhymes.)
After a few recurring roles on British series like Family Affairs,Ultraviolet, and The Inspector Lynley Mysteries, he moved to New York in 2000 in search of bigger roles. Elba was cast in The Wire, and he catapulted to stardom.
He landed firmly in American living rooms after a recurring role on the hit comedy series The Office. A guest spot on The Big C earned him an Emmy nod and he won a Golden Globe for his performance as the title character in the BBC series Luther. African-American audiences embraced his performances in Tyler Perry’s Daddy’s Little Girls (2007), This Christmas (2007), Obsessed (2009), and Takers (2010). Perhaps the actor’s most important role to date, however, was as South Africa’s most iconic symbol of freedom, Nelson Mandela, in last year’s Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, for which he secured a Golden Globe nomination.
Elba’s ability to tackle both action roles and complex dramatic characters keeps him working on both sides of the pond. London came calling for films like 28 Weeks Later (2007) and RocknRolla(2008). Hollywood keeps Elba on speed dial for action tent poles The Losers (2010), Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2012), and Thor: The Dark World (2013). His firmly entrenched bi-continental audiences ensure we’ll be seeing more of him in the future.
by Morgan Goldin
Out of the pool of talented Hollywood actresses working today, few stand out in the way that Catherine Keener does. She possesses a versatility and range that has allowed her to thrive in the industry for a couple decades now. With a potent mix of deft comic timing and strong dramatic gravitas, Keener can nimbly bounce between diverse genres like the true-crime biopic Capote (2005) or the surreal absurdist comedy Being John Malkovich (1999), earning herself supporting actress Oscar nominations for both films. She can call on both traits for some truly outstanding performances, like in Please Give (2010), where she plays Kate, a privileged Upper West Side antique dealer trying to assuage her liberal white guilt. That film’s director, Nicole Holofcener, has turned to Keener for all of her feature film efforts. Aside from cerebral indie fare, Keener has provided a winning presence in mainstream movies, like in the mega-hit The 40-Year-Old Virgin (2005) or in last year’s Oscar-nominatedCaptain Phillips. Comedy or drama, independent or mainstream, Keener is able to effortlessly transition between these worlds.
Maybe her skills are derived from her family life. Keener was born in Miami in 1959, the third of five children. With a mother of Lebanese descent and a father of Irish descent, she was raised Roman Catholic. When she came of age, she attended Wheaton College in Massachusetts. After a few theater productions, she started getting work in film and television, most notably on Seinfeld, where she played Jerry’s girlfriend in an episode called “The Letter.” After that, she earned her first starring role in Tom DiCillo’s Johnny Suede(1991) opposite then-unknown Brad Pitt. That gig earned her first Spirit Award nomination for Best Female Lead (there would be two more to come), and she would go on to work with DiCillo again in three other feature films. Over the course of her career, it seems that Keener appears to foster good working relationships with some truly talented filmmakers; aside from DiCillo and Holofcener, she has worked in all of Spike Jonze’s films and appeared in Charlie Kaufman’s directorial debut, Synecdoche, NY (2008). Her most recent film is John Carney’s musical dramedy Begin Again, in which she plays the wife of a down-and-out music executive (played by fellow honoree Mark Ruffalo).
Whether it’s high-concept, ambitious art, or crowd-pleasing multiplex blockbuster, Keener can amply navigate her way through the industry. By supplying her generous talents and supporting unique and original visionaries, Keener has contributed to the medium of cinema richly. With her beauty, intelligence, and wit, she is a force to reckon with. Catherine Keener is truly a marvel.
by Curtis John
During the past few years, America has seen a resurgence of funny ladies. These comedians and comic actors, channeling the legacies of Carol Burnett and Gracie Allen, are bold and unapologetic in their performances. In the upper tier of these is Amy Poehler, the star and producer of the NBC sitcom Parks and Recreation, which recently wrapped its sixth season. The Newton, Massachusetts-raised Poehler scored the lead in Parks after seven-plus years as a cast member inSaturday Night Live, where she quickly established herself as a go-to player with her impressions of Ann Coulter, Michael Jackson, and most famously Hillary Clinton. She would eventually co-anchor “Weekend Update,” a coveted spot, until her departure from the show in 2008.
As prominent as it is to be a star featured player on SNL, Poehler’s star only shone brighter thanks to her role in Parks and Rec. The workplace comedy centers on Poehler as Leslie Knope, an overachieving Deputy Director of the Parks Department in the fictional town of Pawnee, Indiana. Knope’s city government loving, refined-sugar slugging, staunch feminist has an idealism that’s infectious among her colleagues and friends, who, despite their indifference to doing any real work, will always (eventually) help Knope accomplish her goals—including ascending to the ranks of the City Council.
Poehler plays the original character with a genuineness that is distinguishable from the performer that she is on stage at the Golden Globes, which she and fellow upper-tier funny lady Tina Fey co-hosted the last two years. In addition to the duo’s return to the stage hosting next year’s Golden Globes, they will reunite with fellow SNL alum—and 2014 Limité Honors honoree—Maya Rudolph inThe Nest, about two sisters who throw one last house party before their parents sell their home. The film, which is directed by Pitch Perfect’s Jason Moore, is slated for a 2015 release.
by Saidah Russell
Are women funny? No, seriously, are they? It seems like every month, another blog or website is devoted to answering this question. It’s pretty absurd, especially when there is so much evidence towards the affirmative. But some are not so easily swayed. So I think it would be effective to provide a case study, meant to (hopefully) answer once and for all the age-old question surrounding women’s comedic abilities. My subject is the lovely (and somewhat underappreciated) Maya Rudolph.
Rudolph is probably best known for her work as a cast member onSaturday Night Live (from 2000 – 2007), but she actually got her start in music. She sang backup vocals and played keyboard for a rock band after graduating college. Only after the band disbanded (no pun intended) did Rudolph shift gears. She joined famed improv comedy group The Groundlings before joining the cast of SNL soon after. Rudolph’s tenure saw her featured with cast members like Tina Fey (who was also head writer—point for women!), Rachel Dratch, and fellow 2014 Limité Honors honoree Amy Poehler. Rudolph stood out, however, because of her sheer versatility. She was able to portray (with hilarious accuracy) Beyoncé, Paris Hilton, Liza Minnelli, and Charo. The comedic actress is a chameleon, adapting to multiple characters.
Rudolph’s talents extend beyond SNL. In 2011, she appeared in the breakout hit Bridesmaids (ahem, female cast and writers), as well as the sitcom Up All Night, alongside Christina Applegate. It’s also worth mentioning that Rudolph isn’t just a talented comedic actress, but a talented actress, period. Her work in the Sam Mendes film Away We Go (2009), a comedy-drama about a couple traversing the country looking for the perfect place to raise their unborn child, received much critical praise for moments that were both heartbreaking and heartwarming.
Other recent credits include The Way Way Back (2013), Grown Ups 2(2013), Turbo (2013), and her very own variety show, The Maya Rudolph Show, which aired on NBC this past May. Coming up for her isInherent Vice, a crime drama directed by Paul Thomas Anderson (her long-time partner and father to her four children), as well as dramaThe Greens Are Gone, with fellow 2014 Limité Honors honoree Catherine Keener. But just because the Emmy-nominated actress is flexing her drama muscle doesn’t mean she’s straying too far away from comedy; in 2015, she will star in The Nest alongside Fey and Poehler.
Undeniably, Rudolph thrives in comedy, and it’s admirable that she seems to make a point of working with other funny women. These days, the landscape for women in comedy is less about competition and more about community, and veterans like Rudolph are partly to thank. So, Maya Rudolph: multi-talented, incredibly successful, hilarious, a woman. Are there any more questions?
(Daniel Quitério contributed to this profile.)
by John Lee
Mark Ruffalo has been in the film industry for years. Having acted in nearly 50 films, he’s managed to balance nuanced character work in independent fare with big budget commercial films. Yet, it has only been in the past few years that he’s really hit his stride and captured the attention of mainstream moviegoers.
Coming from Wisconsin, Ruffalo moved with his family to Virginia Beach when he was a teenager. Following high school, he moved with his family to San Diego, eventually making his way to Los Angeles. He took classes at the Stella Adler Conservatory and shortly after co-founded the Orpheus Theater Company, where he worked in nearly every capacity—learning skills in acting, writing, directing, and producing to running the lights and building sets. During this time, Ruffalo was a bartender for nearly nine years to make ends meet and reached a point where he was ready to give up. A serendipitous meeting that resulted in a collaboration with writer Kenneth Lonergan changed everything.
Lonergan cast Ruffalo in his play, This Is Our Youth (1998), which brought him critical praise. That success led to Lonergan using Ruffalo again as the lead in his film, You Can Count on Me (2000). The performance drew rave reviews and invited comparisons to an early Marlon Brando. From there, Ruffalo starred in several disparate films over the years, including In the Cut (2003),View from the Top (2003), Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind(2004), Zodiac (2007), and Reservation Road (2007).
In 2010, Ruffalo achieved a breakthrough by directing dramaSympathy for Delicious, which won him the Special Jury Prize at Sundance. That same year, he co-starred with Annette Bening and Julianne Moore in The Kids Are All Right. His supporting role earned him Oscar, SAG, BAFTA, and Spirit Award nominations. Soon later, Ruffalo was cast in his biggest mainstream role to date, Bruce Banner/Hulk in the ensemble blockbuster The Avengers(2012). Taking on a role that had been played previously by two other actors, Ruffalo’s portrayal was a favorite among critics and comic book fans alike.
This year has already been a banner year for Ruffalo. He took a lead role in Larry Kramer’s HBO adaptation of AIDS drama The Normal Heart, based on the Tony-winning play. Largely autobiographical, Kramer’s story is set in New York City during the early 1980s and the rise of the HIV-AIDS crisis. Ruffalo’s character, Ned Weeks, becomes an advocate, lending his voice to the growing dilemma, despite the arduous uphill climb to change hearts and minds. For his performance, Ruffalo earned an Emmy nomination.
Ruffalo’s most recent release is Begin Again, starring opposite Keira Knightley in a New York City-set musical dramedy. The actor plays a down-on-his-luck music executive who attempts to leverage Knightley’s musical talent to propel him back to the top of his game. Later this year, he will be seen in Cannes favorite Foxcatcher, in which he plays an Olympic champion wrestler. The film, which also stars Steve Carell and Channing Tatum, has gained huge critical praise and is considered an early Oscar frontrunner.
(Daniel Quitério contributed to this profile.)