How To Write For An A-List Actor

A question I always like to ask people in the know is, “What kind of character should you write to give yourself the best chance to attract an A-List actor?” The reason I ask is because there’s no quicker way to get your script sold or produced than to attach a star.

by Carson Reeves

Chances are that manager, agent, or producer who’s reading your script right now is wondering, “Who can I get to play this part?” Unfortunately, so far, nobody’s given me a clear-cut answer. Maybe that’s because actors, like anybody, are all different. They have different interests, different needs, different tastes. But that doesn’t mean we can’t find commonalities in their choices. Maybe, if we can identify these common factors, we can write scripts that have a better chance of selling.

An A-list actor is someone who can open a movie
to at least 20 million dollars on his name alone.

Now there’s no perfect way to go about this so this is how I’m gonna do it. First, we need to agree on what an A-List actor is. An A-list actor is someone who can open a movie to at least 20 million dollars on his name alone. People go to see the latest Denzel movie. People go to see the latest Will Ferrell movie. These are actors who get you to open your wallet. Shia LaBoeuf’s name can certainly scrounge up enough money to make a low-rent thriller, but no one out there says, “Man, I gotta go see the latest Shia LaBoeuf movie,” so he and other actors of his ilk are out.

no one out there says, “Man, I gotta go see
the latest Shia LaBoeuf movie,”

I also needed a systematic way to choose the roles I’m going to break down. So what I’m going to do is take eleven A-list actors and dissect their last starring role. I know some of you are going to whine about the actors I left out but with 25 A-List Actors, I had to cut a few folks. These eleven represent the actors whose roles I know best and therefore can give the best breakdowns of.

actors sign onto movies for reasons
other than the character itself.

Also, I am quite aware that actors sign onto movies for reasons other than the character itself. I think it’s a safe bet that Leo wanted to work with Christopher Nolan bad enough that he would’ve made a movie with him as a deaf librarian trapped in a meat locker. But even in cases such as these, it’s likely that the actor shaped the character into a part he wanted to play. So that character is still relevant to this discussion. Let’s not waste any more time. Here are ten stars, plus one, with the last role they chose to play and why.

Actor: Will Smith

The movie: Seven Pounds.

The part: A gritty role where a man wants to commit suicide to donate his organs to seven needy individuals.

Why he likely chose it: At first glance, this part simply seems like an opportunity for an actor to emote. He gets to cry, he gets to look depressed. It’s a serious role that on the surface gets an actor some street cred. But if we dig a little deeper we find something interesting: Smith is playing a role where he sacrifices himself to save others. Can you think of a more heroic act than sacrificing your own life to save other people? This may sound crazy but actors have big egos and what better way to massage that ego than to play God, which is what Will Smith is doing here.

(To be continued next week)

-Carson Reeves

2 thoughts on “How To Write For An A-List Actor”

  1. Hi there – I’m loving this article and looking forward to reading more! I have to say tho, I credit Will Smith with more depth than to choose to do “Seven Pounds” for ego…

    You could also take the position that his character was someone stuck in an incredibly difficult situation forced to make the ultimate sacrifice… and with a choice about who would benefit from it. That its really about how you would choose to make a difference in the world under incredibly complex circumstances.

    The complexity of the characters circumstances would be what would attract me. The challenge of trying to imaginatively get my head inside that charactera and that circumstance… how someone would really feel in that situation… its so far away from reality that it would push me mentally and emotionally…

    Which seems to me, arguably, more up Will’s alley… and you should check out this clip of him if you haven’t seen it, its a must-watch:

    Cheers! Can’t wait for more!

  2. Carson, it feels a bit like this article is written by someone who doesn’t actually know any actors.

    Now I’m not famous and I haven’t met Will Smith, but I’ll chuck in my two-cents worth anyway.

    As an actor, writer and director, I’ve had a bit of experience offering roles and being offered roles, and my observation would be that good actors demand well-written characters with a solid emotional journey to undertake.

    The bigger the stakes, the more exciting the role (for me, anyway) – how would it really look if I was playing someone in a life-or-death situation? As a writer, these are also the roles I love to write – they demand the most intricate knowledge of human behaviour and a really truthful understanding of your characters. Not only ‘what would a person do in this situation?’ but ‘What would THIS person do in this situation?’

    When casting my first feature, I was really surprised at the number of actors with a solid professional profile who were willing to work on my little indie flick for no pay and with little chance of the film ever being distributed. So I asked: why are you here.

    It turned out that the cast really indentified with the overall themes of the script. Even the actor playing the villain was doing it because he wanted the good guys to win.

    When you have that kind of interest from good actors, then you know you’re writing stuff that will grab your audience.

    So rather than considering actors to be ego-driven people who like to ‘cry and look depressed’ – try considering them as your best audience. Of all the people that read your script, actors will read it with the most generosity, the greatest desire to find a character in there worth gunning for. Now that’s an audience I’d like to appeal to.


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