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What Makes "Star Quality"? By Eleanor Ball

I’ve been hearing a lot of things about Jennifer Aniston recently, which got me thinking. What kind of noise do you make when you hear the name “Jennifer Aniston”?I hear “urrrgh” or “yaaaay!” or “gaaaah” or “squeee!” or “SHHH”. Turns out that for such a supposedly vanilla streak of innocuous American camera-fodder she’s quite a controversial figure. (This blog post, by the way, is about her career, not her personal life.)

I’ve been asking folk what they think of her, and the noises do indeed come before the coherent verbal opinions. Sometimes it’s a non-committal “mehh”, usually meaning they remember her from Friends but they don’t have any opinion on her, but often it’s a far more committed sound, either very negative or very positive. Hollywood certainly thinks we have a great positive reaction to her. Because, as a unit, we kind of do. Innit.

She’s nice. Look at her hair and everything. She leapt into the limelight with Friends, where spoilt and selfish Rachel turned into a sympathetic and appealing flag-bearer for young city women. Jennifer Aniston became synonymous with Rachel, and because Friends was such a broad and inoffensive series Jennifer Aniston became a role model for young girls.

I grew up watching Friends, and, like everyone else in the universe, my favourite characters were Chandler and Phoebe. But as an adult I decided that Chandler was self-righteous and Phoebe was just mean, and Ross and Rachel became my favourite characters, because they were the most real to me in an albeit idealised sitcom – and Rachel most of all. And I didn’t give credit to the scriptwriters, but to Jennifer Aniston.

You know how people say Jennifer Aniston “just plays Rachel” in every film she’s in? Bruce Almighty, Marley & Me, and so on. It’s because she very much made the Rachel character her own, independent even of scriptwriters and directors, and that’s why I give her credit for the attractive traits of the character. So Rachel married Ross, lived happily ever after… then they went on a break and Rachel went on to become Rom Com queen.

Therefore, you can’t really like Rachel and dislike Jennifer Aniston. Unless! You’re judging Jennifer Aniston on what you imagine her to be like. We all know that the media reports information (and misinformation) to us in the shape of fully-formed opinions, so our judgements on celebrities have to come from our own personal insights. She seems smug, or plastic, or robotic, or prissy, or punch-drunk…

Or maybe she just seems too… widespread. She’s in so many similar films. But at the same time, it was inevitable after Friends that she’d be typecast, so it’s an admirable ability to be able to embrace this. She thrives in her typecast form. She does what she says on the tin. And what a good-looking tin. So why so many negative noises directed at her? Over to you…

Eleanor is on the MA Scriptwriting degree at Goldsmith’s, specialising in comedy drama. Join her on Facebook here and read her own blog, here.

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2 thoughts on “What Makes "Star Quality"? By Eleanor Ball”

  1. I think the question should be: does she care? What's the problem with an actor being typecast as long as they're happy with it and the audience still wants to watch them?

    I'm sure William Roache is very happy with his monthly paycheck from Granada, and how long has he been playing Ken Barlow? He might find it difficult to find other roles outside of 'CS', and I suspect that if he were they'd be similar to what he's known for. But so what?

    Do people go and see Ken Woo films because they're all different in style and format? What about Mr Tarantino's work? If someone is good at what they do – and do it in a particular way or style – then what does it matter?

    Apart from the individual's personal desire to 'grow' and 'develop' the only other factor that really matters is that the viewing public are still willing to spend their money watching them.

    There will always be people who snipe at films stars – because, let's face it: they inhabit a different world to most of us – but kudos to Jennifer in maintaining her position as one of Hollywood's top actresses.

  2. The celebrity guff about Jennifer Aniston's hairstyle, love life and 'yearning for a baby' has obscured the fact that she's a quite sublime comedy actress. I've never been a huge Friends fan, but her timing, delivery and feel sets her apart.

    I recently saw an episode in which she cooed at the scan of her unborn baby before finally conceding that she couldn't actually make the baby out. When Ross showed her what to look for, she cooed again, excitedly, before admitting she still couldn't see it. The joke was repeated several times thereafter and each time she imbued it with something fresh and brilliantly comic.

    The media has been obsessed with her looks since Friends started. I've no idea why or how that's relevant. For what it's worth, I find her pretty plain, but that makes her no less believable as a romantic lead in the many romcoms in which her talents have been (mostly) wasted.

    Rather like another Friend, Matthew Perry (see Studio 60), the girl can really act (see The Good Girl). Without ever creating the visceral stir of the more glamorous Hollywood starlets, she commands the screen.

    What I'm saying – probably clumsily – is that she's all about talent allied to the more ephemeral quality of charisma. For me, that equals star quality.

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