Bryan Cranston got the jump on would-be critics of his latest film role. The actor stars in “The Upside,” the Hollywood remake of the hit French film “The Intouchables,” a 2011 buddy comedy which follows the unlikely friendship between a wealthy paraplegic white man (Cranston) and his black ex-con home health aide (Kevin Hart). Both films are inspired by the the real life friendship between French businessman Philippe Pozzo Di Borgo and his French-Algerian caretaker, Abdel Sellou. Both films cast an able-bodied actor in the role of Philippe.
“Well, that’s another business decision,” Cranston told IndieWire about the choice. “Wasn’t even my decision, but maybe that points out to bring more focus on disadvantaged or disabled actors, to be put in positions to have more opportunities and more diversity.”
Indie film actor Adam Pearson, who played opposite Scarlett Johansson in the 2013 film “Under the Skin,” and more recently as a lead in Aaron Schumburg’s “Chained for Life,” criticized Cranston’s casting. “Yet even more ‘cripping up’ in Hollywood, this time by, regrettably, one of my favourite actors [Bryan Cranston],” the actor tweeted recently. “Referring to it as a ‘business decision’ was a poor choice of words.”
Much like arguments put forth by those who wish to see the end of cisgender actors playing transgender roles, Pearson pointed out the disproportionate number of awards won by abled actors in disabled roles compared to any awards won by actors with disabilities.
“In the 90 year history of the Oscars, 16% have been awarded for movies / performances based upon a portrayal off disability and the disabled experience, with 20+ abled bodied actors winning awards,” wrote Pearson. “In the same period however only 2 disabled actors have been awarded the same accolade, most recently was [Marlee Matlin] (back in 1987).” (Matlin won Best Actress for “Children of a Lesser God.”)
Cranston pointed to the movie’s discussion of white privilege and income disparity as one reason why he thought this story was worth telling. “There’s all those conversations to be had, and I think they’re all legitimate. I hope that doesn’t take away from the story. The story is of these two men who, strangely, find a bond with each other that they had no idea was present or was coming,” he said.
“My character is basically living in the past, when he was whole, when he could walk and eat and talk and make love to his wife…and now that was taken away, and he doesn’t see a future for himself,” Cranston said. “Kevin [Hart]’s character comes in, and he is a young, black man in America, coming out of incarceration. He doesn’t have a future either. He doesn’t know if he’ll be alive tomorrow, so he’s gotta live for the present and get it now. You have a man who lives in the past, a man who lives in the present, and neither think they have a future.”
Whether that message is important enough to override concerns about representation of actors with disability, audiences will have to decide. With a 43% on Rotten Tomatoes, critics don’t seem to think so. To those who cry (quite obnoxiously), “It’s called acting!”, Pearson had this to say: “I think the idea that ‘anyone can play anything’ or that if a disabled person plays a disabled character the level of acting is somehow less need to be discussed and critically examined.”