Helen Mirren in 'Fast 8'? How actors balance blockbusters, indies

Dame Helen Mirren, who will appear in the newest film in the hugely popular 'Fast and the Furious' franchise, is attempting to balance big blockbusters with smaller films.

Thibault Camus/AP/File
Actress Helen Mirren poses for photographers at the screening of the film La Fille Inconnue (The Unkown Girl) at the 69th international film festival in Cannes, southern France, May 18, 2016.

Oscar-winning actress Dame Helen Mirren is the newest actor to join the very financially successful “Fast and the Furious” film series. 

Dame Helen has reportedly signed on for the eighth film in the series, set for release in spring 2017, a movie release season that has served the “Fast” films well in the past. 

Actress Charlize Theron, another newcomer to the series, will also reportedly appear in the upcoming film.

Dame Helen is most likely best known to movie and theater fans as the star of films like “The Queen” (for which she won a Best Actress Oscar) and “The Audience,” a Broadway play for which she reprised her role as Queen Elizabeth II. 

But like many other actors working today, she has also appeared in blockbusters that for the most part grossed far more than “Queen,” like the Pixar sequel “Monsters University,” the “RED” action series, and the movie “National Treasure: Book of Secrets.”

For decades, many actors have attempted to balance appearances in blockbusters with roles in critically acclaimed small films.

Some actors receive critical acclaim for a lesser-seen movie and use that to launch themselves into a franchise, like Jennifer Lawrence, who received a Best Actress Oscar nomination for the 2010 film “Winter’s Bone” and then starred in the “X-Men” and “Hunger Games” franchises.

Other actors reverse the order, first becoming known to audiences for a big hit movie and then starring in an independent film that receives awards recognition, like Ms. Lawrence’s frequent co-star Bradley Cooper, who appeared in the “Hangover” comedy franchise and has now received multiple Oscar nominations for films like the 2012 movie “Silver Linings Playbook” and the 2013 film “American Hustle.”

Film analyst Robert Mitchell theorized in an interview with The Independent that an actor becoming well-known through a blockbuster could then help the financial performance of a smaller film in which they star. 

“[Marion] Cotillard can work her career knowing she has the power to do films like ‘Rust and Bone’ alongside ‘The Dark Knight Rises,’” Mr. Mitchell said. “The blockbusters increase her star appeal, which in turn puts more attention on the smaller films because people think: ‘Oh, she was good in ‘Inception,’ I’d like to see ‘Rust and Bone.’ ” 

And Scott Meslow of The Week suggested that for actors who have starred in acclaimed, smaller films, the decision to star in blockbusters could have a financial aspect as well. 

“If even our best actors want steady work without chaining their careers to a single franchise or subsisting on a diet of microscopic indie salaries, these kinds of action movies [like Liam Neeson's 'Taken'] are the easiest and most lucrative route,” Mr. Meslow wrote.

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