The other night I watched a movie called August: Osage County. It is based on a play of the same name written by Tracy Letts. It’s described as a “black comedy,” but truth be told I found little comedic about it. I enjoyed it, but not in the usual way I enjoy a movie. [Does that make any sense?] So what got to me? It wasn’t the plot. It wasn’t the action. It wasn’t even the characters.
It was the actors. The cast is full of names you would recognize and some that seem familiar. It’s quite an ensemble. So for better or worse here’s my take on some of the actors in the movie …
Sam Shepard – There’s something about Shepard’s presence that sets the tone of every scene he is in. His affect is often flat, but to hold your own on screen opposite Meryl Streep (more on her later) is no small feat. And he does far more than fade into the woodwork.
Ewan McGregor – He is a chameleon. I was halfway through the movie before I realized it was him. If your only familiarity with McGregor is Star Wars, you are missing so much. He is an incredibly versatile actor. In another time, we would be talking about him as a great ‘character actor’ – a phrase I don’t hear much anymore. But it fits.
Chris Cooper – One of those faces you recognize, but you can’t place the name. Think: Bourne Identity, Seabiscuit, The Muppets, and Amazing Spider-Man 2, among a bunch of others. He’s an Academy Award winner and a Golden Globe winner and nobody knows who he is. And I don’t think he cares! He just seems to work, do it well, and find immense satisfaction in it. He was exceptional here; very impressive.
Margo Martindale – Like McGregor: Versatility. A strong dramatic presence in this film. She is currently starring opposite Will Arnett in the comedy The Millers on CBS. She’s also done Iron Jawed Angels and Dead Man Walking. In an age when big name stars make movie after movie playing essentially the same role over and over again, the value of versatility is lost.
Can’t stop without mentioning two more:
Meryl Streep – In my opinion, quite simply the finest living American actor. She’s exhausting to watch because she’s just so good! And consistently so for over thirty years. There is none finer.
Julia Roberts – What most impresses me is how she continues to develop as an actor; to grow and shape herself as an artist. This is not the Julia Roberts of Steel Magnolias and Pretty Woman, as good as those performances were. This isn’t even the Julia Roberts of Erin Brockovich and Ocean’s Eleven. It’s better! If you have any doubts as to whether or not Julia Roberts is one of the finest actors of our time – this movie should put those doubts to rest.
The gist of it all is this …
You don’t have to be the star to have an impact. You, your role and what you bring to it matter and make a difference. Whatever you do, do it well. Do it with integrity and let the rest of it go. Don’t worry about credit, acclaim, money, or influence. None of the things that matter in life [really matter] depend on those things.
As a person of Christian faith, I see this in the teaching of Jesus repeatedly. “The last shall be first and the first shall be last.” “Seek first the Kingdom of God and all the rest will be given to you.” It’s a message I was reminded of as I watched this movie: perhaps an unlikely place.
If you stop growing and stop learning, you stop living. Each of these people, in their own way, have worked hard at their craft. They keep pushing themselves to grow and develop as artists. They are not satisfied with where they are and are convinced that they have more to learn - even after decades of acting at a very high level. In August: Osage County, these were full, authentic performances from people who refuse to settle.
In faith as in life, the same is true. The Apostle Paul said, “Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” That eliminates the possibility of taking the easy road. I pray I will always have the same drive to excel, learn, and grow. Not just as a Christian, but as a person. I am encouraged by people who never stop growing as Disciples, never stop reading and learning more about the Scriptures, never stop asking questions and looking for answers. That’s where I see authentic faith.