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Published: Sunday, 10/19/2003

Shooting stars


A common refrain from movie stars is that they are normal, just like you and me, when clearly those stars who are so big that they achieve icon status have almost nothing in common with us, and nothing to do with reality, apart from the coincidence that they happen to reside in it. They like to think they're ordinary, when in fact their fate, at least on a movie screen where it plays out, is as predetermined as any seafaring hero in Greek myth.

We tend to like this about them - and resent them for it at the same time.

Cary Grant played Cary Grant. Tom Cruise is a dead ringer for Tom Cruise. Stepping outside oneself is a risk for a star. For every Bill Murray, receiving the best notices of his career for ditching his curtain of irony in Lost in Translation, there's an earnest Jim Carrey attempting another Majestic.

Movie stars come to parts trailing behind them reputations and expectations - and as movie critic Molly Haskell wrote back in 1974, at the fringe of an era when a new scruffy type of movie star was emerging who openly disdained the idea of being pigeonholed: “Stardom itself is only one half of a binding contract, in which money and power are granted an actor on the basis of his fulfilling a certain fantasy, to be tampered with only at great peril.”

Take Meg Ryan and Val Kilmer. Both started in movies in the 1980s, both became superstars in the early '90s, then lost their heat or held on or shunned stardom altogether. Either way, this fall, in new movies, they've arrived at the same place - they're both competing with their own reputations. Here's a look at how two actors handle typecasting.

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